Five surprising changes in 2010

  1. I was among the first Canadians to own a Kindle. I justified my purchase as “research”. The Kindle was not satisfying for anything but fiction and I predicted it would be obsolete within a few years. Then I got an iPad and everything changed. My slow Kindle was immediately obsolete. I stopped buying paper books altogether and threw away 80% of my book collection. My home office has been greatly simplified. Paper books still have a purpose, but they are now a niche product as far as I am concerned. I have not set foot in a library all year, even though I used to go to our local library with the kids every week. I am now buying an ebook a week, but many of these ebooks cost less than the shipping cost of a conventional book. In fact, more and more ebooks are aggressively priced (3$ or less).
  2. I started the year working on a powerful and expensive computer grid. Yet, during the year my home iMac with its 4 cores and 2 terabyte disk became my new high performance system. Meanwhile, my iPad became my new laptop. I am typing this blog entry on my iPad. For the first time in my life, I have downsized my computing needs. It appears puzzling until you realize that I have simply increased my dependency on the cloud: much of the computing power I need comes from large server farms.
  3. While we were never television fans, it recently took us weeks to realize we had lost the remote to change channel. And I am not even bothering to get a new remote: as a family, we have broken free of our dependency on television.
  4. My reflex when something breaks is now to try to fix it. I have setup an electronics shop in my basement. I am working on my second model sailboat. I am also building a robot from scratch. I learned how to put snow tires on my car, all by myself. I also taught myself how to fish. Much of these new skills came through the web, much of it by YouTube.
  5. Blogging became more important and efficient in 2010. Mostly thanks to Twitter, it has become much easier to discover great blog posts. In fact, I no longer rely primarily on RSS Readers: the people I follow on Twitter are efficient at recommending content. Instapaper made blog reading much less disruptive: if I find something I want to read during my work day, I just mark it for later and usually read it on my iPad in the evening. But also, my personal blog has become much more rewarding. In fact, I now consider blogging an integral part of my scholarship. Given a choice between blogging and writing research papers, I’d become a blogger.

My take away lesson? We are replacing physical objects and processes by bits and software faster than I would have predicted at the beginning of the year. We are also becoming a civilization of autodidacts. Scholarship is being fundamentally reshaped under our noses without anyone noticing. I think that much of the establishment is greatly underestimating the amplitude and significance of these changes. The proof is how badly prepared the American government was with respect to Wikileaks.

Much of this change is dangerous. I dislike our new dependency on Google and Amazon. I fear that there will be a price to pay. I am concerned regarding our unstable economy. I fear a collapse of our currencies. But I have also great hopes.

What is in store for 2011? Who knows?

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

10 thoughts on “Five surprising changes in 2010”

  1. I also am happy with ebooks and Instapaper, which can generate an .epub file containing blog posts. However I did not like LCD screens for reading – ebook readers have a lower speed of page turning, but they do not tire the eyes due to lack of backlighting.

  2. YouTube is now my go-to website when I want to learn how to do something. I used to be a big consumer of books for that purpose. I think this is going to have a big impact on the production of “dummy”-style books, maybe even on certain types of evening classes.

    I am also worried about Google/Apple/Amazon dominance. Monopolies are never good for the consumer.

  3. There is an entire generation behind you that has grown with computers in their lives. 18 & 20 year olds that have had far more interaction with computers throughout their student lives. You’ve changed your methods of consumption, and the tools you are using are still expensive and inaccessible to those of a lower income.

    So, while your scholarship is changing, for others it’s been a heuristic process.

  4. Happy New Year!

    Yes, I’ve also started what will be a long, slow move towards purely electronic reading. IEEE and ACM now have iPad apps; IEEE’s can be used to read Spectrum (ACM’s is less useful). I got my first ebook textbook. ReadItLater is my version of Instapaper; it has a very nice iPad version.

    On the other hand I’ve got at least a half-dozen boxes of papers I need to scan in. Most academic publishers are still trying to push a page-at-a-time, read-it-online model of ebooks, which provides an unacceptable user experience. And while I save many articles tho ReadItLater, I’m not so good about the “reading it later” part of the workflow.

  5. Sounds like you had a great and rewarding year, Daniel! Glad to hear it!

    Minor quibble, and I’m not a researcher, so I may have this wrong, but I’m not sure blogging is a substitute for writing research papers. At least in academia and research labs, I thought that worth is still determined by your volume of publications and citations, and the value of blogging is heavily discounted no matter how popular or influential the blog is. Is that not true?

  6. My wife and I cancelled cable years ago and don’t feel that we are missing anything. We now get the majority of our content from online sources — and it’s a growing trend among those I know to do the same.

  7. @Greg

    At least in academia and research labs, I thought that worth is still determined by your volume of publications and citations, and the value of blogging is heavily discounted no matter (…)

    That is formally correct, of course. However, most scientists who know me, know me directly or indirectly through my blog.

  8. I liked your article. Software as a service being the next big thing. Many companies are trying to extend their monopoly by pushing their cloud architecture. The next three years will be interesting to see the various flavors. I would not like a monopoly anytime whether it is the Microsoft of the 90’s or the Google/Apple/Microsoft/Amazon in the 2010’s.

  9. Seems like you have a pretty good year and a lot of insights too. I think this year for the gadgets, it would be the year of ebooks still, tablets, android, iPad and iPhone.

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