Saturday, 18 January 2014

Will we need the computer mouse in the future

In the era of touch-screens, styluses and those weird little Nokia plectrum dealies (what is up with those exactly?) we have to ask questions about the future of the humble mouse. Is he now considered vermin? Do we cast him aside, banishing him to the world of grammar phones, 8-track tapes and pet rocks?

The other night, I watched Star Trek IV (yeah, the one with the whales) and apart from the fact that it had aged considerably better than the vast majority of mid 80’s movies, I noticed one thing in particular. Mr. Scott, when faced with a 20th Century computer, had no idea what a mouse was. At first, he considers it to be some sort of audio device and talks into it.  Have we always considered the mouse a means to an end? A necessary device that will be outmoded by progress? Considering this, I thought about more science fiction (increasingly where we draw our designs for contemporary technology from) and realized that appearances by any sort of hand-held computer interfaces were limited almost exclusively to communications devices and those wrist-things (even then they talked into them more than they pushed buttons) So, are the little mouse’s days numbered?

Laptops tend to use those funny little black pads (though many people attach mice to them for convenience) and whilst I doubt this idea will spread to PC, the current crop of hi-tech gadgets and gizmos are effectively cutting out our ‘mousefied middle men’ and moving steadily into the realm of touch screens and direct Human contact. How long before voice recognition? I can’t say, but I am excited about the idea of a holodeck.

The thing is; the keyboard and mouse pretty much have to be separate from the computer unit itself. Even if I had a touch screen computer, I can’t imagine sitting here and writing this article by tapping on the glass. If the computer were upright and touch-operated (not unlike those in the movie Avatar) it would still not allow me to type words for any length of time (and voice recording would be no substitute for typing anyway). So we’ve surmised that the keyboard has got to stay. What would happen if we had a touch screen and a keyboard but no mouse? Would civilisation decline? Actually, I doubt it, but I do think it would be inconvenient and take a lot of getting used to.

So is the computer mouse a dead technology? Not as far as I can see. But are the tides of progress threatening to wash over its shores? Quite possibly, however, this would involve a fairly drastic re-design of the home computer set up and such a venture always carries risks, so I think its safe the say the mouse is safe for a few years yet. Now when are they going to get around to that holodeck?