Trousers: Extraordinary Ordinary Things

Ubiquity is dedicated to helping computing professionals and informed laymen better imagine and understand the future of computing. Extraordinary Ordinary Things is dedicated to bringing to mind truly world-transforming things that have become so embedded in daily life that we scarcely even notice them.

These two ideas may seem to be rather far apart, if not incongruous. In reality, they are quite close together, almost like conjoined twins. Computers today underlie virtually everything that makes up the modern world, either directly, but most often indirectly, by how they permit commercial, cultural, and scientific ideas to be converted into life-altering products and services.

When I was a child growing up in Los Angeles in the 1940s, a sure sign that I had passed an important milestone in my development was when I was allowed to “put on big-boy pants.”

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Telephone: Extraordinary ordinary things

In an exuberant song from Lerner and Loewe’s delightful musical comedy “Paint Your Wagon,” the principal character sings: 

Where am I goin'?
I don't know
Where am I headin'?
I ain't certain
All I know
Is I am on my way

When will I be there?
I don't know
When will I get there?
I ain't certain
All that I know
Is I am on my way

If this sounds like a cavalier approach to life, it really isn’t, especially for professionals in computer science, computer programming, and knowledgeable laymen. Virtually any mass-manufactured and globally distributed product today depends on computing and will most likely continue to do so in the near, medium, and long-term future. However, computing itself is changing so rapidly and influencing so many things that, not surprisingly, computing professionals feel much the same way about their future.

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Ballpoint Pen: Extraordinary ordinary things

Has this ever happened to you? Someone says to you, “Make a note of this.” So you whip out your smartphone, open a file, and start your fingers whizzing over the virtual keyboard or start writing on the screen with a stylus to input the information. However, if you are not a millennial, you would more likely grab a piece of paper, whip out your ballpoint pen, and start making notes in dark, indelible blue or black ink.

Even if you are a millennial, chances are you nevertheless walk about with one or more ballpoint pens, simply because they are handy, apparently simple, and cheap.

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The Robot: Extraordinary ordinary things

It may seem odd to suggest that the robot should legitimately qualify as an extraordinary ordinary thing. For most people, the term “robot” most likely conjures up the image of a clumsily massive whirling humanoid-like machine, which is not something we commonly encounter every day. Moreover, the robot is often viewed as something malevolent and to be feared.

In recent years, the more modern term “bot,” short for robot, may have somewhat modified this disconcerting perception. Most people have certainly heard of robots used in industry, such as in assembling motorcars (robotic arms). They also certainly know that such robots in no way resemble humans and are incapable of deliberately doing human beings any harm.

While the term “robot” was coined only in the early 20th century, the concept of a robot, humanoid or otherwise, goes back centuries and even millennia.

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