Monday, March 02, 2009

Netbooks and Theatre

Over at The Artful Manager, Andrew Taylor writes about "What Can We Learn From the Netbook?" Be sure to read the article he links to as well.

I just ordered a netbook yesterday -- one with Linux, not Windows -- so this has been on my mind. Andrew quotes certain part of the article, and draws certain conclusions, but I would draw you attention to a different part. To wit:

Netbooks have ended the performance wars. It used to be that when you went to an electronics store to buy a computer, you picked the most powerful one you could afford. Because, who knew? Maybe someday you'd need to play a cutting-edge videogame or edit your masterpiece indie flick. For 15 years, the PC industry obliged our what-if paranoia by pushing performance. Intel and AMD tossed out blisteringly fast chips, hard drives went on a terabyte gallop, RAM exploded, and high-end graphics cards let you play Blu-ray movies on your sprawling 17-inch laptop screen. That dream machine could do almost anything.

But here's the catch: Most of the time, we do almost nothing. Our most common tasks—email, Web surfing, watching streamed videos—require very little processing power. Only a few people, like graphic designers and hardcore gamers, actually need heavy-duty hardware. For years now, without anyone really noticing, the PC industry has functioned like a car company selling SUVs: It pushed absurdly powerful machines because the profit margins were high, while customers lapped up the fantasy that they could go off-roading, even though they never did. So coders took advantage of that surplus power to write ever-bulkier applications and operating systems.

What netbook makers have done, in effect, is turn back the clock: Their machines perform the way laptops did four years ago. And it turns out that four years ago (more or less) is plenty.
What I learn from netbooks I learn by analogy: corporate regional institutions = SUV's and monster laptops; the theatres of the future (and of the past) = netbooks. Huge and expensive versus small and inexpensive. Providing more than is necessary versus providing what is called for.


RVCBard said...

I really need to get myself one of these, preferably with Ubuntu.

The Artful Manager said...

Hey Scott,

Thanks for the link, and good luck with the netbook. I'll be eager to hear if the beautiful metaphor matches the actual utility. I continue to wait on the fence, frozen by the choices.

As to your other point, I completely agree. If the last three decades in the nonprofit arts were about revenue innovation (finding new streams of income, luring alternative earned income, grabbing existing philanthropy toward our cause), the NEXT decade will likely be about COST innovation (questioning the corporate form and the need to grow year over year, yet still growing the aesthetic and craft of collective work).

As with most other industries, sadly, real innovation will not come from the current power players, but from the unexpected fringe.