The Demise of the Desktop: Digital Natives Are Mobile

Nov 07, 2013


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For the first time ever, I'm writing this column on my iPhone. In all my years as a writer, this is something I've never done, and more importantly, never wanted to do. Sure, every once in a while I'll compose a long email while I'm on the train, but once I hit about 300 words, my thumbs get tired and I find myself dreaming of a full sized keyboard. This time though, I didn't have a choice.

A few days ago, I opened up my laptop and was met with a horrific scene: the screen I've stared at for over a year, watching Netflix and scrolling through Facebook was...cracked. I have no idea how this happened (although I suspect the new kitten in my house), and I guess it doesn't even matter really, but I do know that when I saw that crack, I was filled with terror. My first thoughts weren't about the money I'd spent buying the laptop a year ago, or even the thousands of pictures and documents I had saved to the hard drive (I always back up). Nope, my first thoughts were: how will I watch my shows on Hulu and how will I write my column? I mean, how could I possibly live without a laptop? It's impossible, right?

Actually, no, it's not. Turns out it's not that hard at all. 

I still remember the big day when we got our first family computer in 1991--a hulking Gateway desktop that required both my parents to lift it onto the desk. Even now, I consider my laptop my main lifeline, and will often forgo checking my email on my phone or tablet, opting instead for the comfort of a touchpad and 15-inch screen.

So when I saw my laptop screen had busted, I panicked. There are, after all, certain things you just can't do on a mobile device, right? I've learned over the past few days that this isn't really true. I have a Google Nexus and an iPhone, and between the two of them, I was able to check my email, watch my shows on Hulu, scour Facebook, Twitter, etc., and yes, even write my column (though my thumbs were sore). With all the new devices that have come out on the mobile market, the list of "things you need a laptop to do" has gotten a hell of a lot smaller, and it seems like consumers are taking note. 

The day after I discovered my laptop was kaput, I read an article on Time.com called "More Than 33 Percent of Kids Under Two Use Tablets So Prepare for an Army of Robot Babies." Initially, I had to laugh. It's such an absurd title that that it couldn't possibly be true. Yet, when I continued reading the article, I realized, there was some truth to the humor. According to the research mentioned, 72% of children eight and under have used tablets or smartphones. When compared to 2011 data that showed only 38% children used mobile devices or tablets, the jump is amazing. Alarming...but amazing. Time also noted that children aren't just spending more time on tablets, they are spending less time on computers and watching TV.

Time wasn't the only news source to allude to the demise of the computer. Buzzfeed also covered the study with the headline, "The Babies Are Going Mobile: Or, how the smartphone may be quietly teaching the little ones to forget about PCs." Put that way, it's clear that the machines I grew up with, which aren't even that old in the first place, are quickly going out of style.

I dug a little deeper into the popularity of mobile devices. A Pew Research Center study in September 2013 found that 56% of American adults have a smartphone, and, perhaps more interestingly, 35% of Americans ages 16 and older own a tablet computer. Considering the first iPad was released in 2010-just three short years ago -- that's a lot of people. In addition, back in January 2013, ExtremeTech reported that the NPD expected 240 million tablets to ship this year, but only 207 million laptops.

Is it possible that the laptop I've come to rely on and love over the years will be bowing out of the limelight soon? All the numbers seem to point to yes. But that's in the future. For now, I'm going to enjoy my brand new MacBook, and give my iPhone and Nexus a break.