What's a computer?
By Maxwell Cooter | Published: 08:20, 25 May 2010
"What's a computer?" - sang The Fall's Mark E Smith in Eat Yourself Fitter. At the time, anyone would have dismissed such a question as being rather typical Smith rhetoric but these days it doesn't quite seem so odd.
The question came up after it was reported that baseball team, The New York Yankees had banned iPads from the Yankee Stadium, saying that they contravened the stadium's no laptop policy. Bizarrely, the policy also states that no video cameras can taken in -but phones can be. There's no reason given for such arbitrary policies - but there's a lesson here for all organisations.
Let's not even concern ourselves with the petty regulations about banning laptops - only cricket beats baseball as a game for the statisticians - but look as to how computers are defined. We know an iPad is one (even with its lack of multifunctionality) but my smartphone wouldn't be - and that's even though I can call up as many websites through that as I could with the iPad. Presumably really small netbooks such as the Mbook would be banned but not a smartphone such as the Nokia N97 despite the negligible difference in size. And the video camera ban is puzzling too - given that I can a shoot a perfectly serviceable video on my phone.
I don't want to pick on the New York Yankees - as they're the most disliked club in baseball, there'll be plenty of other people doing that - but to look at how it's hard to define what a device is. We accept that there are limitations to device use: we're happy to turn off equipment when taking off and landing on a plane (although I'm not totally convinced a stray laptop would do that much damage) and we comply with restrictions on taking mobiles into exam rooms - well, mostly. But those are blanket bans on devices: airlines don't try to distinguish between laptops, netbooks and smartphones in the way that organisations like the Yankees do.
Organisations have traditionally operated like the Yankees. Information has been delivered to a particular medium (the desktop PC) and users have been limited in choice. That model is breaking down: people can receive info at the desk, the coffee shop, at home or the train. It could be received by desktop machine, laptop, tablet, netbook or smartphone - all supplied by a different manufacturer. Furthermore: the advent of virtualisation and cloud computing is going to make life more complicated, not less.
The Yankees and others like them who try to distinguish between such devices are pushing against the tide, such differentiation is increasingly becoming meaningless - what's going to be more important is how information is delivered, not the medium being used.
Follow Maxwell on Twitter on @maxcooter