July 18, 2013

The Unacknowledged Compromise

The Loop > Magazine > Issue 6

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By Matt Gemmell

Comparisons are one of the mainstays of tech journalism. Each new offering is inevitably framed in terms of how it measures up to not only the previous model, but also the competition—where “competition” means just about anything the reviewer wants it to.

We live in a world where the word “computer” has become amorphous and vague. Your wristwatch may very well be a computer, even if you don’t think of it as one. Personal computing devices have now reached out from the home, infiltrating not just our luggage, but our pockets, too. We already have too many categories of device, and it’s commonplace to see a traveller unloading not only a laptop, but also a tablet and the omnipresent smartphone from the same small bag.

Clearly, there’s no shortage of choice. And yet, there’s a peculiar incongruity between our acknowledged multi-device world, and how the technology industry seems to view (and review) products. Each new device is stacked up against its forebearers, even across different device categories and platforms, as if the substitution of one for the other reflects reality. We read about alternatives, whereas what we’re often looking for are companions.

The games industry is probably the archetype of this sort of implicit partisanship. I vividly (and with considerable fondness) remember how fiercely platform-aligned the videogames magazines of the ’80s and ’90s were. The “other” platform and its mascots (be they Mario and Samus, or Sonic and Kid Chameleon) were the butt of jokes and main-spirited pity. It was fun, certainly, and it reflected the reality of children being given a single games console as a Christmas or birthday gift. It also sold magazines, and that factor can’t be ignored.

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