Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Information Appliance

Tools and appliances are best when they are designed for one purpose and only used for that purpose. We buy many tools to help us with our daily tasks. I have 4 hammers in my garage and each is designed for a specific purposes. Likewise, in the kitchen there are 6 or 7 different knives, again each with their own purpose. However there is always someone out there trying to sell you a "bargain", the multi-purpose gadget.

Multi-purpose gadgets always turn out to be useless at doing the many tasks that they are supposed to cover. A long time ago Mad magazine send the concept up by proposing a coffee grinder/pencil sharpener/garbage disposal. (Imagine how your coffee would taste from this machine!) After many experiences with eagerly buying a multi-purpose gadget and then being disappointed I have firmly forsworn the whole concept. Each tool for one purpose and one purpose for each tool. When I was looking for a coffee maker recently, my main selection criteria was to avoid the models with a built in clock radio.

On the other hand, information is different. We have entered a new era, the digital age where all information is represented digitally: sound, pictures, video, text, diagrams, charts. We create, massage and consume all information in digital form. In the digital age we do not have, need or want separate appliances for each form of information. One type of appliance, the information appliance is sufficient to handle all our information needs. Here are some of the information tasks that I do at home:
  • Personal communication by email and instant messaging.
  • Track home finances and do taxes.
  • Edit pictures and video, create slide shows and home videos.
  • Consume media, magazines, music, video.
  • Play games.
  • Shopping and research for shopping/living.
  • Research for hobbies.
  • Create presentations and writing for non-work activities.
  • Analytic research of stocks.
  • Write blog.
This does not include work activities, and all these activities are done with the same information appliance. Now I know that there are a different definitions of what an information appliance is. There are also people out there who want to sell us a different appliance for every purpose. We will get to all that, but for now I want you to contemplate the fact that one suitably specified information appliance is sufficient for all your information processing needs.

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