In response to his non-existent post, I will engage in a tirade describing where computing has taken me.
First, there was my PC. My first real computer of my very own. At the time I was a poor teenager in secondary school and my options were limited. Gateway 2000 (still charging extra for Holstein-style cardboard boxes) and Dell were not the most affordable girls on 8th street. No, with only a lifeguard's salary and some babysitting money I was forced to be frugal. I needed Helga… on the darkest corner… with sweat pants on. Preferably those sweat pants would be two or three sizes too small and I could knock a few more dollars off. Do you know how little a lifeguard is paid?
And so, I invested in a little computer company with an ugly web page, terrible service and cheap parts. My computer was addressed with “SK” (for Saskatchewan), but without “Canada”, and made a fun journey to Slovakia during the long months between my order placement and the eventual arrival.
But it did come. And when it finally came, I enjoyed a long and glorious marriage to Windows 95. That was not to last, however. As I grew older and bought more computers I had to keep buying software. Software I really didn't find that valuable. “Why does Microsoft Office cost $400?” I'd wonder. Word is basically Notepad stocked with fonts and tables. I'm sure I don't use Excel for anything VisiCalc couldn't handle. PowerPoint? I'd rather just draw on a whiteboard.
And so, as the years passed and my purchases turned to theft, I decided there must be a better way. Linux and OpenOffice was a short-lived affair. I still use Linux and it's pleasant, but I'm not going to pretend the open source world often provides me with software that makes me giddy.
Then, one day, Google quietly released Gmail. I say quietly, because most normal people (not you, likely, if you're reading this blog) still don't even know Google has an email service. Google doesn't advertise — and it shows. However, Gmail quickly became the golden hammer that replaced every other application I was using. Search, it turns out, is really important; Google has a pretty good handle on that, I guess.
As more years passed I stopped using desktop applications. Full stop. I use Google Documents instead of Word. I use Google Spreadsheets instead of Excel. I use Google Mail for email. I use Picasa Web Albums to organize my photos. I use del.icio.us to bookmark webpages. I use Google Reader for the news. I use Google Calendar to organize my time. I use Strongspace to store my files. If someone forces me to create slides (barf), I'll use HTML; the browser is my operating system now.
It wasn't until after I'd made this change that I started traveling semi-regularly. I'd get on a plane and my laptop would be nothing but a husk, a corpse. Without the internet – without my applications and data – it was nothing but a $2000 Solitaire machine.
Recently Google released Gears as open source. Mozilla has Offline Events planned for Firefox 3. Things are looking up. With software this good, I'll never have a reason to get away from Google and that frightens me. Here's hoping The Wikimedia Foundation overtakes them soon.
Essay originally published on Hungry, Horny, Sleepy, Curious. (2007).