The PC: An Oxymoron. The PCE: Pure Moxie
Let’s face it, we’ve been had. All of us. Duped, tricked, gypped, swindled, and hoodwinked. Incredibly, every last one of us, our collective psyche, has been deluded into thinking that that thing on our desk is a Personal Computer. Well folks, I’ve got news for you – it’s not.
Originally “coined” by Dr. Roberts and “invented” by IBM, the “Personal Computer” name was created to differentiate this smaller device or “microprocessor” from the more robust mainframe and minicomputers being offered. Unfortunately, like so many innovations in technology, the Personal Computer moniker was quickly compressed into an acronym (“PC”) and the scam was on. In no time, the “PC” nomenclature had become ubiquitous as society plunged headlong into the Information Age, so quickly in fact, that we forgot to consider what it was that we were using.
In its purest form, you would expect a Personal Computer to be just that – a Computer designed for the needs of a Person. Pretty simple, right? Well, they got half of it right – it IS a Computer, but it is anything but Personal. Perhaps if the inventors were trying to describe an “ownership” relationship it could have been called an “IC” - an Individual Computer. Or perhaps PC could refer to a Public Computer at work, or a Private Computer at home, even a reference to a Particular Computer would be okay; but a Personal Computer it is not.
In case we’ve forgotten, the word Personal is a prefix affixed to situations which describe the unique consideration of a physical self or “body” in all of its manifestations. Personal Trainers provide customized fitness programs based on different body types; a Personal Foul discriminates based on a discrete infraction by a single player, a Personal Bodyguard is charged with protecting the physical wellbeing of a select individual, and Personal Effects and Personal Hygiene identify an increasingly intimate and unique subset of articles and attributes. When the PC’s usage of “Personal” is contrasted with its meaning in every other aspect of our culture, it becomes evident that the phrase “Personal Computer” is actually an oxymoron, a “combination of contradictory or incongruous words,” (which also include phrases such as jumbo shrimp, safe sex, Social Security, and Advantage Chrysler). Folks, what you’ve got on your desk is NOT a Personal Computer.
As far as I can tell, there is very little about the PC that suggests it was ever designed to be Personal - optimized for the physical, bodily needs of the human as a species - let alone the unique size, shape, and preferences of individual persons. When you think about it, today’s PC scenario usually involves purchasing a unit, plugging it in, going through the labyrinth of decisions to get a desk, a chair, arrange the screen, keyboard, mouse, and hardware, and then finally inserting a person into the equation. Funny, but it seems to me that if this were truly a Personal computer, this equation would be reversed. You would START with the Person, getting them first in an optimal 108-degree reclined sitting position, supported with a footrest to reduce pressure points, and then supporting the wrists and forearms to minimize the chance of carpal tunnel and repetitive stress injury while interfacing with the keyboard and mouse. Only when the physical requirements of the body have been met should the cascading intellectual and usage decisions of hardware placement and device orientation be considered. Because computers have never been designed with a proactive focus on the needs of the human body, they have no business being called Personal. Heck, even the computer industry’s selection of the word “desktop” is a telling revelation of their priorities – focusing on furniture and where the hardware will sit – rather than how it will be used and accessed by the human operator.
HOPE IS ON THE WAY
I wish I could say that I thought this all up myself, but a radical company called Personal Computing Environments (PCE pronounced “Peace”) beat me to it. Fresh off their selection as a finalist for PC Magazine’s “Best of Comdex Award – PC Category,” PCE showcased their product at WinHEC, CeBIT, and also had a strong presence at an earlier E3 show, being featured in the booths of both Illuminix and ATI, which is where I stumbled upon them. To say that PCE has launched IT’s next disruptive technology would be the understatement of the year. This pioneering Nevada-based firm has obliterated the status quo by introducing an entirely new form factor, a revolutionary revamping of the computer workstation designed to be comfortable, ergonomic, and most important - centered around the human.
PCE’s “environments” integrate an award-winning Freedom chair into a modular frame design, creating a cockpit that surrounds the user in a cocoon of high performance computing, entertainment, and display technology. The company’s first product, the MasterPeace, was cited in a CNN report as “The future of the workspace,” and they have received kudos from Popular Science and Wired magazine as well.
GOOD ERGONOMICS = GOOD ECONOMICS
PCE Vice President Douglas O’Bryon consistently and passionately referred to their launch as a “crusade,” a counter-cultural movement flying in the face of every current message in the mainstream tech media. “They say make products cheaper, we say make them better. They try to improve the bottom line by buying inexpensive desks, chairs, and computers. We improve the bottom line AND morale AND employee health by creating a superior workspace which maximizes employee productivity and minimizes work-related injuries.” The PCE executive continued, “Ergonomics is NOT fitting the WORKER to the JOB, it’s fitting the JOB to the WORKER. We’ve become a nation of knowledge workers, enabled by the computer, and the body is increasingly identified as the weak link in this cerebral supply chain. By first cradling humans in an ergonomically healthy and productive position and then aligning the supporting technology for each user, we can minimize the causes of neck, back, and wrist injuries associated with extended computer usage.” It sounds like their, “Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” strategy is the right message at the right time, especially for firms with skyrocketing health insurance costs often associated with carpal tunnel syndrome and other ergonomic maladies.
To continue their “human first” message, these Personal Computing Environments have a modular design which can be adapted to any computer-related task from financial trading and web design, to video gaming and programming. “Think of this as a delivery mechanism for all of the latest technology,” was how O’Bryon put it, meaning it didn’t matter if you wanted Samsung or Sony, a video camera or DVD, one monitor or four monitors, each environment could be created and expanded for the unique technological and physical needs of each user. The company appears uniquely positioned to capitalize on the anticipated massive PC replacement cycle as hardware purchased after Y2K sinks into obsolescence (under the weight of 6 years of digital pictures and Napster downloads).
PCE’s pricing is designed to be just as flexible as their customized environments. For under $2400, buyers can purchase an ergonomic technology environment in a variety of colors, and with the choice of either a DAD racing chair (for gamers) or the plush, more “civilized” Freedom chair designed by Humanscale (think Aeron meets La Z Boy) and both include a footrest. The fun begins once immersed in your Computing Environment as you decide how to make it Personal. Do you want one flat panel or two? A six-speaker surround sound system or an external hard drive? A Dell or an HP? At PCE, it really doesn’t matter where you start, as each Environment is designed to scale and evolve with the changing needs of each user. As they say around here, “WE make the Environment, YOU make it Personal,” and after sitting in this for a few minutes, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back!
I can happily say I’ve finally discovered a true Personal computer, and the guys at PCE are quick agree, but they don’t want to stop there. “The next frontier is not about the PC, it’s all about the E, the Environment. It’s not about the computer, it’s about Comfort. It’s not about programs, it’s about Productivity. It’s not about hardware, it’s about the Human.” Frankly, it’s about time!
Check out their website at www.mypce.com, if for no other reason than to read their tag line: “PCE – THIS time it’s Personal.
Disclosure: I had honor of helping to launch this firm, which just went public in 2006. I was also the PCE executive on the convention floor at E3 (the VP who was interviewed), and I also wrote this entire article – effectively “interviewing myself” for the purpose of this blog. I hope you enjoyed it, I hope it made you think, and I welcome your feedback.