Inside a desktop computer

The Magical Vs. The Hackable

Today I read a great article on Make  by Gregory Hill about the differences between a magical and a hackable system. On a complete system like a computer with full-blown Windows, Mac or Linux OS, you can download and install millions of programs and learn how to program, how to make a website, how to put up a blog etc… You can create. This is a hackable system. Most programmers got their start messing around with their own computer as kids or teenagers.

Kids playing with Ipad
Photo by iChris

On a tablet or smartphone however, the magical experience separates us from the nuts and bolts.

From the article, “tablets strike us with awe by their magic, seven sensors that can help track our every movement, providing us with detailed data about our daily lives. This is cool, but creates an illusionary distance between us and the technology that drives these experiences.”

To write an app for your tablet, you need to get a real computer. Unless you have a keyboard, even typing a blog post is a pain. What it does best is allow you to consume what others have created. I find that kind of sad.

The Hardware Perspective

Inside a desktop computerThe magical vs. hackable comparison is true of hardware as well. Desktop computers are inherently hackable systems. Take off a screw or two and wow, you’re looking at the innards of your computer.

You can see the drives, the RAM, how they connect. You can see how easy it might be to swap one out for a bigger, better, faster version. For this reason, I still have a desktop computer. I love that you can keep them going by swapping out parts as needed.

Move to the laptop and popping it open and swapping out parts gets a bit rougher, it’s a tight spot in there. The slicker and skinnier the laptop, the harder it is to take apart and put back. But move now, to tablets, and you’re completely out of luck. At best, you can swap out the miniSD card.

The Next Gen

What does this mean for you? Well for one, think about how ditching the hackable system for a magical one will affect your ability to create – whether it’s writing or photo processing or coding. But more importantly, if you are buying a computer for a student, consider getting them a “hackable” system so they might be inspired to create instead of consuming, to hack instead of replacing every two years. You may think they are “not the type to do that stuff” but none of us were the type until the day we decided to try. Had we been holding a shiny, magical tablet at the time, we may not have gotten very far.

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