Without a doubt we can say that the personal computer has transformed our lives and is still shaping our future.
As we have seen in the first chapter, the history of PCs started decades ago, as computers became more compact, less expensive, and more efficient. Although the idea that everyone would have their own computer seemed unlikely, personal computers emerged from the minds and passions of electronics hobbyists and entrepreneurs who realised the opportunity to bring computing capabilities to a much broader market.
To avoid confusion when searching for your next computer, it is important to note that while the term PC refers in general to all personal computers, Apple-branded personal computers are commonly referred to as Macs or Macbooks and their unique operating system distinguishes them from other PCs.
The first cheap, easy-to-use, mass-market computer was released by IBM in 1981 and called Personal Computer – which is where the term PC comes from. Because of the IBM PC’s open architecture, it was easy for other companies to replicate it, leading to the PC considerably influencing the personal computer market. Its specifications became one of the most popular computer design standards in the world.
Among the first uses that made personal computers so attractive for the mass population was gaming. Although limited in graphics capabilities, these games made ordinary individuals realise that they could operate a computer.
Soon, personal computers also demonstrated other capabilities and made everyday tasks quicker and simpler, in particular for small-business owners. The popularity of PCs has brought with it many connected businesses. Other products like scanners, printers, cameras and modems have created new industries to supply the demand of PC users.
The confluence of networking, computing and storage capacities in the 1990s and 2000s – coupled with the open-source culture for software development – led to the development of technologies that were increasingly focused on catering to the needs of the individual user, enabling new functions that allowed technology to enter every area of our lives. The way we use PCs has evolved in parallel with these technologies and soon individual users turned to the PC as the preferred device to carry out an ever-increasing number of activities: communicating, working and studying, making online purchases, managing our money, and entertainment.
In recent years we have entered a new era of personal computers where PCs have been integrated with other devices to facilitate our daily lives, making their way into most of our experiences.
Types of personal computers
Let’s look at the types of personal computers we use today:
Desktop and laptop computers
Among the most popular personal computers are desktops and laptops. The main and most obvious difference between the two concerns portability. As the name suggests, desktop computers are meant to be set-up and used in a permanent location – usually a desk or table. Not long ago, desktops had better capabilities than their portable alternatives, but laptops have quickly improved to achieve similar or even higher performance.
Today we use these computers both at home and at work, for a large variety of tasks such as web browsing, text, image and sound editing, gaming and so on.
When thinking of buying a new computer, here are some features to consider in advance:
Decide what you will use the new computer for. If you will use it for performing basic tasks like simple Web browsing, email and document writing you will have different requirements than those for more demanding tasks such as video and graphics editing.
You should also consider portability. If you need to carry the computer to work or to school, you should plan to buy laptop instead of a desktop.
Choose the right size of the screen. In case you consider buying a laptop, 12.5” to 14" screens offer the best balance between usability and portability. Larger screens are more appropriate if you don't have to carry them around much and smaller models are great for kids.
The Central Processing Unit or CPU has an important influence on performance, and depending on what you want to do, you can decide how much processing power you require.
RAM. More RAM allows for more applications to run at the same time, and for more data to be quickly accessible by the system at any one time, which is useful for tasks such as editing photos or video content.
Ports: depending on what kind of peripherals you need to use with your computer, it is helpful to get the connections you need right on the system, or to ensure that you have the necessary adapters.
A tablet is an ultra-portable computer typically with a mobile operating system and touchscreen display, processing circuitry, and a rechargeable battery, all in a single, thin and flat casing. Tablets are smaller and more compact than laptops, and while they can carry out the majority of functions other personal computers do, their internal components are less powerful than those in regular laptops.
Tips for easily handling any tablet
Every gadget has its own specific set of user instructions, but there are some very basic gestures you can use to easily navigate on your tablet without having to connect a keyboard or mouse. Here are some of the most commonly used gestures:
You can tap the touchscreen to activate it and also to launch any application. This is similar to left clicking on your computer with a mouse.
When you tap and hold the touchscreen it can show special menus for further action; it can also allow you to select text, dragging your finger to select the portion you want to edit, copy or delete.
When you are reading, you need to move up and down to progress further. The Scroll feature helps you to do this. All you need to do is touch a blank part of the screen and swipe up or down.
When you need to move from one picture to another or from one page of a document to the next, you need to swipe left or right to go forwards or backwards respectively.
To read small text and see images more closely, you need to zoom in. Or if the text is too large, you need to zoom out. For this, you have a feature called pinch and zoom which helps you to zoom in and out.
The double tap gesture can also be used to zoom in or out of content shown on your touchscreen as well as for selecting fields to enter data.
Smartphones are mobile devices that combine the functionalities of phones with those of mobile computers. With strong hardware capabilities and dedicated mobile operating systems which support multimedia functionalities (including music, cameras and gaming), as well as internet access alongside core phone functions, smartphones have become the most popular mobile devices. Additionally, they include various sensors such as a magnetometer, proximity sensors, barometer, gyroscope, or accelerometer, that allow us to use the smartphone well beyond its traditional functions, like measuring health parameters or determine orientation in space. We will discuss more about the remarkable functions of smartphones in the next section.
As the name suggests, wearable computers are electronic devices that are integrated in objects that we wear close to or on the surface of the skin, such as watches, sport equipment, glasses or even clothes. These devices are used for health and fitness, navigation, social networking and gaming. Undoubtedly, wearables represent a new horizon in personal computing.
Wearables for health and fitness
Wearables are most associated with the health and wellness sectors. Smart watches, like Fitbit or Apple Watch, have reshaped the way we look after and monitor our health, from heart rate monitoring to tracking our daily steps. These devices inherently encourage healthier lifestyles because of the data they collect. They are usually paired with a mobile app where you can clearly see the information gathered by the device, with different methods used to support users in reaching their fitness goals, from brightly coloured graphs and progress bars to notifications, challenges and the motivation of being connected with other users. Knowing how far you run encourages you to push yourself further to beat your old record. Seeing that you’re almost at your daily 10,000 step goal encourages you to go for a walk outside. Even tracking your sleep could help you understand how your habits influence your sleep quality. Wearable technology is intended to make your health and wellness journey more enjoyable.
Looking at the multitude of personal computers and how we use them today it's clear that personal computing has moved beyond hardware to fit into every aspect of our lives, from relationships and work to entertainment, hobbies and even our homes. As we allow more technology into our lives to make it easier, we are also spending more and more time interacting with it to the detriment of real-life interaction – the average office worker sends and receives tens of electronic messages a day, but spends less and less time talking to colleagues face-to-face and relaxing with friends and family.
We often talk about work-life balance, but maybe we should be talking about tech-life balance too. No doubt technology largely improves our lives, but if we don’t find the best way to control our tech-life balance it can take a heavy toll on our work, relationships, health, and overall well-being. Here are some simple tips to help you balance technology use:
Understand why we use technology: we are in control and have a choice about how we manage our time and handle digital distractions. We need to evaluate our technology needs honestly and take responsibility for our actions. Maybe, instead of replying instantly to every email, put boundaries in place and only check your devices at a specific time during the day.
Automate where possible: optimising the use of tech is not only about minimising its use, it's also about getting the most benefits out of it and using it with purpose. Look into apps and features that can do something without your involvement. A good example is email software. Email is an essential part of a work day, but different messages have different levels of priority. You can automate the mail app you use to show you only high-priority emails and send low-priority ones into a dedicated folder to check later. You can also set a filter that will guard you against spam.
Be practical with notifications: notifications are useful when you’re expecting something important or critical, but too many low-value notifications make you want to reach out to your mobile phone or laptop for no reason, doubling your screen time. Simply turn off notifications from apps you don’t use.
Create tech-free rules: think about your priorities and set a few rules that will help you stay in line. Some examples can be: no devices at the dinner table, turning off all your devices at a certain time before bed, and creating technology-free zones where you and your family (or colleagues) will not use smartphones, tablets, TVs or other gadgets.
Today, the definition of a personal computer has changed because of varied uses, forms, new systems, and the possibility to connect them to larger networks. They have become the main tools we use for entertainment, as well as information, being much more affordable, and anyone can learn to use them. An increasing number of people do business at home on their own personal computers, or one provided by the company, and only need to travel to a place of employment a few days a week. Even more, having just a personal computer with internet connection it is possible to start, manage and grow a business. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, and Alibaba all are websites created by the use of computers and the internet.