Mobile Internet Devices

Here are two stories worth looking at that I found over the weekend. The first one is a New York Times story about midsize portable PCs, “Do You Have That Portable in a Midsize?” Intel is calling them “Mobile Internet Devices” or (cleverly) M.I.D.s, because they’re about halfway in size between a laptop PC and a cell phone.

These are the kinds of PCs I predict all kids and teens (and most of us, really) will be carrying around within five to seven years. (Why so long? Read on.) They’re natural extensions of the cell phone, and they’ll bring us everything that we must sit down at a PC – whether desktop or laptop – to access now.

So far there have been a few attempts to create M.I.D.-like PCs, but the technology is only now reaching the point at which they’re becoming almost practical.

I say “almost” because if you read this piece, you’ll learn that the folks at Intel have not yet created a chip small and efficient enough to be able to run a real PC operating system – such as Microsoft Windows XP – on a small device. If you want a peek, however, into what I feel will be the future, take a look at this article. In ten years or less, a library “PC lab” will look about as up-to-date as a table covered with dial telephones.

But the role of libraries will still be critical to provide access to those who can’t afford Web access. But what will Web access look like in 2018? That’s what interests me. It may be, as NY Times writer John Markoff suggests, very possible to use all the cool Web stuff you can imagine on a cell phone-sized screen. Maybe the M.I.D. won’t be necessary at all:

I’ve been struck recently to see that when Web sites like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter are redesigned for the iPhone, the user experience is actually better than on a full Web screen. It turns out that a high-resolution, palm-size, three-and-a-half-inch screen is just fine for seeing what your friends are up to, and for reading your e-mail and even your newspaper.

The other tech piece I found that interested me comes from the BBC News site: “Power-hungry IT firms change focus.” Most of us like to think that information technology, which we in libraries have become more and more dependent on, is at least fairly sound ecologically. Well, this story tells us, think again. Information technology – in particularly the huge data centers and server farms that keep the Internet running – use incredible amounts of energy.

Hewlett-Packard, for example used to have 85 data centers around the world consuming huge quantities of electricity for its servers and for air conditioning. Soon it will have only six. The story tells us:

But if data centres gobble up huge amounts of energy, this is only a fraction of the amount the ICT sector is responsible for as a whole, warns Peter Madden, who heads Forum for the Future, a charity focused on sustainability issues.

“There is a huge trail of energy and raw materials used in the supply chain.”

UN data suggests that the manufacture of one computer uses 75 times its weight in raw materials and water.

“And of course, there is the energy used over the lifetime of a computer,” says Mr Madden.

Mr Madden is among those who say there needs to be a change in design so that hardware is easier to dismantle and re-use, in order to reduce the amount going to landfill, whether it is aluminium chips, plastic or copper cables.

So when you’re recycling paper or using recycled magazine covers in your crafts programs, that’s great. But also take a look over at your public and staff PCs and think about how much energy they’re using every day and, in many cases, all night long. And are you recycling your inkjet cartridges and laser-printer toner cartridges, too?