This generational shift is not about the hardware

Worldwide personal computer shipments just filed their seventh consecutive quarter of flat sales growth, according to research house IDC. If that was the economy of an industrial nation, it’d be cause for wariness, if not outright alarm. Although, given the current economic climate, some European nations might be quietly pleased.

IDC suggests it’s tablets and smart phones that are eroding PC sales. Which makes sense; last year, iSupply forecast that Internet-enabled consumer electronics devices would surpass PCs in sales in 2013, and that day might come sooner.


In a ComputerWorld (U.S.) article, analyst Zeus Karravala called it “a generational change … this isn’t a temporary phenomenon.” His reasoning: While PCs are great for information creation, tablets and smart phones are better for information consumption, “and we’re mainly consumers, not creators.”

While I agree with Kerravala, a very intelligent man who’s enlightened me more than once in an interview, I’d substitute “content” for “information.” Therein, in my opinion, lies the generational shift.

Information is suited to a keyboard and a monitor. A smart phone or a tablet, though they may have virtual keyboards and are essentially just display devices, has neither. No one refers to a tablet’s 10-inch monitor. So information, while useful, is less accessible to a tablet user than content.
Give a tablet user content, now, and he’s, well, content. Something he can get his hands dirty with, so to speak, something he can dig into with his fingers and interact with. (There’s a reason writers at the U.K. Web site The Register refer to tablets as “fondleslabs.”)

You could say my argument’s based on a faulty semantic premise: that information isn’t a form of content. And, of course, information is a form of content. But when we view it as simply information, it imposes a particular role: to inform. Content not only informs, it engages, it interacts, it entertains.

When we view the act of information creation as content creation, when we go through that looking glass, it changes the nature of the information our systems and applications must create.

And given it’s becoming a tablet world, we have to change that perspective now.

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