Once upon a time, not so long ago in the grand scheme of things, computers were controlled by the command line commandos. These guys were the high priests of the dawning information age who often labored behind glass walls that separated the temperature-controlled room from the rest of the world. They were gifted in their ability to remember arcane commands to do really complicated stuff on their systems that had 1/2000th the power and 1/2000th the memory of the computers that pass for cell phones in our pockets or handbags. Stated another way, that is 0.05% for both power and memory of today’s omnipresent devices whose primary purpose is to make phone calls. The value of that function notwithstanding, these devices also have digital cameras that take pictures with higher resolution than was possible with 35mm film, cameras that also record and playback high-definition video. These computers-in-the-pocket also make available high-quality digital music and serve as game machines that surpass anything that most people could have dreamed of in a portable form factor just a few short years ago.
Before these incredible devices wended their way into ubiquity, however, the world had to deal with microcomputers that had 64 kilobytes of memory and required a priesthood of their own to operate them. But then came the graphical user interface (GUI), followed closely by multimedia, which was the first step in the digital convergence that describes where the world finds itself today. The result of all those developments is that now the real story is no longer about computers, but rather it is what we do, not only with them but also with the digital technologies on which they are based.
Today’s average consumer computers (including many laptops!) come with 8 gigabytes of memory, and hard-disk drives that can easily exceed a terabyte (That is a million megabytes in non-geek talk!). Although computers are no longer the main story, however, they will continue to play a major role in the drama that digital technologies are writing. Despite their crucial role, however, the number of devices that operate digitally and connect to the Internet makes it impossible to focus our attention solely on what has traditionally been called “the computer.” Instead, we not only deal here with how to use these seemingly all-powerful tools, but also with what it will take to have these devices work together with trillions of other digital contrivances. Most of those devices will not be computers per se, but will of them will all work together to accomplish useful tasks in education and beyond.