It's (NOT) All About the Pentium, Baby!

Written By Dave on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 | 5:41:00 PM

Whoa! I know what you're thinking! A triple throwback! 

  1. A reference to the Pentium processor from the nineties
  2. A loose allusion to "It's All About the Benjamins", the Puff Daddy song from 1997
  3. An homage to the perpetually underrated Weird Al song, "It's All About the Pentiums"

But there is truth in the statement. Oftentimes people rely too much on bleeding-edge technology (check out the line at the Apple store whenever a new iteration of a device is released). The crazed frenzy for new technology is misguided; current technology typically satiates (for the most part) whatever needs we have.

I was on the local news a few weeks ago talking about "back to school" technology. My position is that it is not worth it to go out and buy the latest and greatest technology. I say this for two reasons.

It is increasingly less important to upgrade hardware.
In a world where productivity happens on the cloud, why bother with a faster processor? I can understand if people want devices with longer battery life (although there seem to be plenty of power opportunities in the workplace, schools, and even in public). But faster does not necessarily equate to more speed, especially if work is being done on the server side.

The iPad is a perfect example. People were drooling at the prospect of the "New iPad" - with a faster processor, improved camera, and Retina display. The processor ended up being marginally better (the iPad 2 was probably the quickest, snappiest tablet on the market at the time anyhow), and the camera received poor reviews. The Retina display is a bonus if you are a videophile or rely on the device for pictures or movies. But then again, videophiles should shudder at the thought of a 9.7" screen.

Steve Jobs said it best when he envisioned devices as gateways into your personal data - the cloud (as Steve saw it) is where the majority of our content would live. Our devices (phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) just provide access. And his vision of an Apple ecosystem to leverage this is, in fact, pretty seamless. But devices are constantly becoming less beholden to specific ecosystems. Google Drive is the quintessential example. Devices are converging to the paradigm of cloud computing, so it really doesn't matter what device you use to access it.

You should exploit what you have.
Maximizing productivity is the single most important feature of devices. If you have a wonderful workflow that works great - then don't abandon it in the hopes of improving your workflow even more. It doesn't work like that; new does not equal better. It's like those post-apocalyptic movies. The boat in Waterworld was not new, but boy was it optimized for Kevin Costner's character. It was utilitarian - every nook and cranny of that boat served a purpose. And so should your technology. 

Trimaran from Waterworld: Courtesy of Blogspot
Thanks, Blogspot, for hooking me up with this
sweet pic from one of the finest movies ever!

I have nine computers. Most of them are for very specific purposes. Before you scoff, realize that my job is educational technology. But for ninety percent of my computing, I use one device - my Chromebook. I have a $249 Samsung Chromebook, which is probably my least expensive device. It certainly isn't as beefy as my MacBook Pro. Yet I use it the most because it does everything I need it to on a daily basis (I use my MacBook and my PC desktop for heavy lifting in specialized software). And I am universally more productive with my Chromebook than any of my other fancier devices. It has a keyboard (immediately promoting it ahead of my Nexus 7 and iPad 2 in the realm of productivity). It is extremely portable, has an amazing battery life, and because I rely on the cloud for so much of what I do, it is the perfect choice. And because it is cheap, I don't mind if it gets beat up (or even lost!). I actually think that one of the strengths of the Chromebook (or any cloud device) is that losing the device - while it may hurt the wallet - makes it extraordinarily easy to retrieve all your documents.

In conclusion, I would again point you to the Horizon Report (both K-12 and Higher Ed - check out the "Short Lists") as a reliable anemometer for the blowing winds of educational technology. In both 2013 reports, there is no mention of specific devices. We are at a point in our society when we are limited by ideas; physical limitations are not our limiting factor anymore. Flipped classrooms, MOOCs, game-based learning all made it to the Horizon Report.

The new iPad Air, somehow, did not make the list (although I'm sure the line for the iPad Air will be unnecessarily long).

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