Tanking PC sales -- disturbing and encouraging



By Tom Ehrich

Okay, my blog beat is life and faith, not technology. But I still have an opinion on tanking personal computer sales.

The tech blogosphere is alarmed by sagging sales of desktop and laptop computers. Some call it “death of the PC.”

The common wisdom is that people are switching to tablet computers and smartphones. Some blame lackluster PC hardware offerings by Dell et al. Some blame Microsoft’s latest iteration of Windows.

I think the problem is much more disturbing and encouraging than that.

On the disturbing side is the question of creating content vs. consuming content.

Some use technology to write articles, essays, on up to dissertations and books. Or to manage spreadsheets, create presentations, manage databases, track customers, write code — in other words, to do the work that business, education and the arts require.

That is work for a desktop or laptop. None of that content-creation work can be satisfactorily done on a mobile device. I have tried. Without a cursor or decent keyboard and without an ability to keep several apps open, the iPad makes content-creation frustrating, often nightmarish.

Mobile devices are made for consuming content — playing games, watching videos, reading emails, articles and books, checking the weather, and using social media. Oh, and telephone calling.

I use four devices — desktop at my office, laptop on the road, tablet on the sofa, and smartphone on the move — and each is great.

The disturbing decline, it seems to me, is in content creation. Fewer people are writing, managing data, making the quality of contribution that constitutes “creation.” Too many are like locusts, feasting on the work of others.

I read the stats on declining PC sales and see less writing, less thinking, less dreaming, less desire to develop one’s mind. I see more hunger for fun and games.

On the encouraging side, I think people who do create content are shifting how they work. They use web apps, accessed by a browser, not requiring the latest in PC hardware. They are simplifying how they create content, moving to tools like Draft, a splendid app just for writing, as opposed to the bloatware put out by Microsoft.

How much better could Office or Windows get? The problem isn’t Office 2013 or Windows 8; it’s the upgrade path itself no longer seeming necessary.

On the one hand, we aren’t educating enough people who yearn to write, think and create. That’s a problem. On the other hand, people are abandoning the upgrade treadmill and extending the useful life of what they own. That sounds wise.

This isn’t “death of the PC.” It’s something far more complex and worthy of sustained attention.

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