Welcome to the (Functional) Future

On September 1, 2011, in Carrie Cuinn, Tech Nerd, by CarrieCuinn

I love living in the future.

I get woken up in the morning by my hand-held personal computer / communications device, which is programmed to notify me via sound and vibration at the exact moment I want to be awake. Without getting out of bed I can slide my finger across the touch-sensitive screen, and by the use of wireless signal I can access my electronic mail (all six accounts – business and personal), watch a video that my boyfriend sent me about his morning (recorded and emailed to me while he walked to work), comment on my mother’s Facebook status (which usually requires Googling something for her, as she expects me to provide tech support from 3000+ miles away), reply to several Twitter comments, check the weather and headlines (anywhere in the world), and read a few blog posts from writers I admire, if I have enough time.

When I get out of bed I’ve already gotten a sense of the day – how my loved ones are doing, whether my son will need a jacket when he leaves the house to get on the school bus, major news items, and the highlights of what happened to my friends in other time zones while I was sleeping.

I can walk into the kitchen and pour myself a hot cup of coffee, because the coffee maker knows what time it is and knows to turn itself on 15 minutes before I get to it. By placing my smart phone onto a docking station in the kitchen, I can listen to my favorite music while I make breakfast. The temperature in my apartment is carefully regulated by an air conditioning system which knows I prefer it to be about 78 degrees.

When I have free time I can watch a movie, streamed over the Internet, on my television because my gaming system has a deal with Netflix, and I can watch tv shows via Hulu the same way. Anything I can’t get in the living room is usually available online, and I can watch it on my open-source-software-powered desktop. The 23″ 500000:1 dynamic contrast monitor cost less than a high school kid makes in a week of an after-school job. If I want to read I can turn on my nook and access my digital books, more than I will ever actually get through.

If I want sushi for lunch I can go online to the restaurant’s website and order the special, which will be delivered to me in 20 minutes, and they make an excellent spicy tuna roll. My bills are paid online, my banking is handled that way as well, and if I need to have a conference with my son’s 3rd grade teacher, she has a website I can access too. My online calendar tells me when my deadlines are coming up and which writing project is due, and there are other websites to track where my stories are and how long I should expect to wait for a reply.

When I was a child I dreamed long and hard about the day I’d be allowed to have my own phone line installed in my bedroom, something that didn’t actually happen until I was almost out of high school. I read about worlds like the one we have now in science fiction novels, wishing I was there instead. The future is here, and I for one am not going back.

The problem is that technology is designed to make our lives easier. It has had the side effect of making us lazy as well. “Plug and play” means that you can take a device, plug it into your computer, and have the two talk to each other. “Graphic User Interface” or GUI, is the piece of programming that lets you look at a computer running Windows, Mac OS, or Ubuntu, and see basically the same thing: a “desktop” with colorful icons linking you to the programs and files you use. Even our smart phones come preloaded with the basic applications you’ll probably need to get through you’re day. All of this, without having to know much, if anything, about how your technology actually works. The future is functional, but we’re not.

In upcoming posts I will talk about why your devices work the way they do, and how you can adapt them to better serve your needs. By knowing a little bit about new programs, or how to best use the ones you already have, you can take control over the things that are designed to make your life easier. You can become more organized, more efficient, more knowledgeable. The future is available, and most of the best options are free or low-cost if you’re willing to put in a little effort. I don’t want you to buy bigger, I want you to use smarter, and get everything you can out of the technology you have.

Thank you for being here with me.

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4 Responses to Welcome to the (Functional) Future

  1. Hi Carrie.

    Welcome to the Functional Nerds!

    I’ve been mucking around lately with the idea of the future we got, as opposed to the future earlier SF dreamed of.

    A future based on communication and correspondence is the future we got…and the technology you outline here highlights that future. I look forward to the “non fiction” side of my idea in your future columns.

    You also made me hungry for sushi! 🙂

  2. Carrie Cuinn says:

    Thank you! If there’s ever anything you want me to talk more about, let me know.

  3. galen dara says:

    oh! oh! oh!… it’s here!! Carrie is a functional nerd!! (sry, I’m a little behind on these things)

    and wow… exceptional post, i cannot wait to hear more! (I am one of those, “without having to know much, if anything, about how your technology actually works”. Please help me be functional!)

  4. […] Nerds. My first column went live on Sept 1 (an intro to what I’ll be talking about, read it here) and my next, an actual useful piece about storing data in the cloud, is scheduled to be up Sept […]

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