Got a rather interesting question sent in:

“I have configured my laptop to never automatically connect to the internet and find that having an extra step makes you think! The web was made for computers not computers for the web?" - Peter B.

There is so much to talk about here! Let's break this down a bit.

Not auto-connecting is brilliant

Over the last few decades, we have become far too connected. Always On-Line.

The hard truth is that human beings just aren't built to exist in a state where we are always On-Line, hyper-connected, and talking to billions of people at once. It's just not natural.

It causes a measurable up-tick in both anxiety and depression.

This is made significantly worse by systems that “Gamify” interactions (think Twitter, Facebook, etc.) in order to encourage a hyper-awareness and constant-connectedness. Thus increasing the negative impacts we had already measured and seen from extreme levels of On-Line-y-ness. Even Social Media executives know very well of the damage this causes (many refuse to allow their families to utilize the very services they create – that tells you something).

Peter, by you opting to not be “On-Line by default”, you've taken your computing back in time a few years. And I think that is a wise, wise move.

There was a time – notably throughout the 1980s and 1990s – where one could utilize your computer to connect to the Internet (or BBS's… or other On-Line networks)… but you had to make a conscious choice to do so. By default, our computers were Off-Line. On-Line was a choice. An active state. And a temporary one at that.

Back in those days:

  • You would connect.
  • Do something (email, look up information, post a message, download a file, etc.).
  • Then disconnect.

Thus returning to the natural Off-Line state of being human. While it was possible to spend too much time On-Line, that wasn't the norm. And you really had to work to do it.

Nowadays most of us have several always connected computing devices available to yell at us at all times. And you, my friend, having taken an excellent step in limiting the potential damage that such an environment can cause.

In fact, I do a (semi-sorta-) similar thing here in the Lunduke house. Most of my computers are connected via Ethernet. This forces me to sit down at a workstation when I want to spend time On-Line, thus reducing my Always On-Line time. At least a little.

Lately I've found myself using my phone/pda more often to spend time on Social Media… and I regret it immensely. It has a noticably negative impact on my overall life. I need to be more like you, Peter!

What are our computers built for?

Now to the actual question part of your question: Is the Web made for Computers? Or are Computers made for the Web?

I think the answer, for people like you and I, is obvious. The “Web” (and the Internet in general) is made for computers. It is simply one piece of functionality we can utilize.

But, for many, the answer would be the opposite. So many people use computers for the nearly exclusive purpose of being On-Line. Social Media, E-Mail, etc..

Which, I suppose, is really ok. Different people have different needs – and different attitudes – when it comes to computers (and computing devices… which I include Smartphones and tablets in that category). Most of what I do (and I suspect you're the same) is in software, and working with files, that have no dependency on any form of network connection. I think that we are bit more… old-school that way.

In all reality, this is a conversation that's been going on for decades.

What we're really talking about here is the difference between Thin Clients and Thick Clients.

Thin Clients vs Thick Clients

A Thick Client is what you or I would call “a computer.” Something with dedicated local storage and the ability to run multiple pieces of software. General purpose computing.

A Thin Client is really reliant on some form of network connection in order to do much. Data storage is somewhere else (up on a server) and, in some cases, a chunk (or even all) of the processing is done on that server as well. The Thin Client displays whatever the server wants you to see, and you have some method of sending commands/data to it (think “terminal”).

Nowadays, many people use their computers as mostly Thin Clients… but with a small amount of local data storage and software thrown in. ChromeOS / Chromebooks are a good example of this. Heck, even using Linux / Mac / Windows but focusing mostly on “Web Services” like Google Docs or Office 365… means you're really using your computer as more of a Thin Client.

Not everyone, mind you. Lots of us still use our computers in a predominantly “Thick Client” fashion – running software locally, storing data locally – with a sprinkling in of On-Line services.

Thinking about it in this way, the “Web” was clearly built with Thin Clients in mind. Documents, made with a simple markup language, connected to other On-Line documents using Hyperlinks.

Quick shout-out to Douglas Engelbart for leading the team which developed the first publicly demonstrated Hypertext system. If you've never seen the Mother of All Demos, do yourself a favor and check it out. What they pulled off in the 1960s is nothing short of spectacular. Breathtaking. So much of what we now use, and take for granted, was created back in the ‘60s by Engelbart's team.

Nowadays, the functionality of “Web Browsers” has been expanded significantly – with the goal of emulating (or using) Thick Client style computing… but in a Thin Client. The net result is that more On-Line services are built to replace traditional local software, for better or worse (it's worse), and more users move to using their computers in that Thin Client way.

So.

The Web and Computers. Which is made for which?

There's the answer many will give you nowadays: “The Web is the vital part of computing, and computers are built to utilize the Web.”

And then there's the right answer (tm): “The Web, like any On-Line thing, is just one type of activity or functionality that a computer can be utilized for. A great one. A cool one. But just one type, nonetheless. Therefor the Web is built for computers.”

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