The Computer For the 21st Century

Sal awakens; she smells coffee. A few minutes ago her alarm clock, alerted by her restless rolling before waking, had quietly asked, “Coffee?” and she had mumbled, “Yes.” “Yes” and “no” are the only words it knows.

Sal looks out her windows at her neighborhood. Sunlight and a fence are visible through one, and through others she sees electronic trails that have been kept for her of neighbors coming and going during the early morning. Privacy conventions and practical data rates prevent displaying video footage, but time markers and electronic tracks on the neighborhood map let Sal feel cozy in her street.

On the way to work Sal glances in the foreview mirror to check the traffic. She spots a slowdown ahead and also notices on a side street the telltale green in the foreview of a food shop, and a new one at that. She decides to take the next exit and get a cup of coffee while avoiding the jam.

Once Sal arrives at work, the foreview helps her find a parking spot quickly. As she walks into the building, the machines in her office prepare to log her in but do not complete the sequence until she actually enters her office. On her way, she stops by the offices of four or five colleagues to exchange greetings and news.

Sal glances out her windows: a gray day in Silicon Valley, 75 percent humidity and 40 percent chance of afternoon showers; meanwhile it has been a quiet morning at the East Coast office. Usually the activity indicator shows at least one spontaneous, urgent meeting by now. She chooses not to shift the window on the home office back three hours—too much chance of being caught by surprise. But she knows others who do, usually people who never get a call from the East but just want to feel involved.
The telltale by the door that Sal programmed her first day on the job is blinking: fresh coffee. She heads for the coffee machine.

Coming back to her office, Sal picks up a tab and “waves” it to her friend Joe in the design group, with whom she has a joint assignment. They are sharing a virtual office for a few weeks. The sharing can take many forms — in this case, the two have given each other access to their location detectors and to each other’s screen contents and location. Sal chooses to keep miniature versions of all Joe’s tabs and pads in view and three-dimensionally correct in a little suite of tabs in the back corner of her desk. She can’t see what anything says, but she feels more in touch with his work when noticing the displays change out of the corner of her eye, and she can easily enlarge anything if necessary.

A blank tab on Sal’s desk beeps and displays the word “Joe” on it. She picks it up and gestures with it toward her live board. Joe wants to discuss a document with her, and now it shows up on the wall as she hears Joe’s voice…

Mark Weiser (1991) “The Computer For the 21st Century”.

If you haven’t already, go read the whole thing now. Mark Weiser was such an awesome guy – CTO of Xerox Parc in its glory days, he coined the term “ubiquitous computing” all the way back in 1988 – describing a future of invisible computers embedded in everyday objects. And yes, the “pad” device he describes in this paper does sound an awful lot like an iPad, doesn’t it?