This evening, Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, took the stage at the Code Conference in Southern California.
Nadella has only been CEO of Microsoft for a few months now, and he really needed to make a good impression in front of the high-powered crowd full of fellow tech executives, investors, and opinion-havers.
So Nadella rolled out a catch-phrase. He said he believes we have entered the “post-post-PC era.” He said you’re no longer married to any one device, and that apps and services should be built for all devices.
His interviewers, Code editors Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, mostly laughed off the catch-phrase and didn’t let him explain more.
But what did Nadella mean?
During the interview, Nadella said he got the idea from a blog post from a blog post written by Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snapchat.
Snapchat is a startup that makes an app you can use to send self-destructing/disappearing photos to friends. Last fall, it supposedly turned down a $US4 billion buyout offer from Facebook.
Here is the blog post Nadella was referring to. It’s actual a transcription of a speech he gave in January:
I was asked to speak here today on a topic I’m sure you’re all familiar with: sexting in the post-PC era.
I’ve always thought it was a bit odd that this period in our history has been called the “post-personal computer” era — when really it should be called the “more-personal computer” era.
I read a great story yesterday about a man named Mister Macintosh. He was a man designed by Steve Jobs to live inside the Macintosh computer when it launched, 30 years ago from yesterday. He would appear every so often, hidden behind a pull-down menu or popping out from behind an icon — just quickly and infrequently enough that you almost thought he wasn’t real.
Until yesterday, I hadn’t realised that Steve’s idea of tying a man to a computer had happened so early in his career. But, at the time, the Macintosh was forced to ship without Mister Macintosh because the engineers were constrained to only 128 kilobytes of memory. It wasn’t until much later in Steve’s career that he would truly tie man to machine — the launch of the iPhone on June 29, 2007.
In the past, technical constraints meant that computers were typically found in physical locations: the car, the home, the school. The iPhone tied a computer uniquely to a phone number — to YOU.
Not all that long ago, communication was location-dependent. We were either in the same room together, in which case we could talk face-to-face, or we were across the world from each other, in which case I could call your office or send a letter to your home. It is only very recently that we have begun to tie phone numbers to individual identities for the purpose of computation and communication.
I say all this to establish that smartphones are simply the culmination of Steve’s journey to identify man with machine — and bring about the age of the More-Personal Computer.
There are three characteristics of the More-Personal Computer that are particularly relevant to our work at Snapchat:
1) Internet Everywhere
2) Fast + Easy Media Creation
When we first started working on Snapchat in 2011, it was just a toy. In many ways it still is — but to quote Eames, “Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are preludes to serious ideas.”
The reason to use a toy doesn’t have to be explained — it’s just fun. But using a toy is a terrific opportunity to learn.
And boy, have we been learning.
Internet Everywhere means that our old conception of the world separated into an online and an offline space is no longer relevant. Traditional social media required that we live experiences in the offline world, record those experiences, and then post them online to recreate the experience and talk about it. For example, I go on vacation, take a bunch of pictures, come back home, pick the good ones, post them online, and talk about them with my friends.
This traditional social media view of identity is actually quite radical: you are the sum of your published experience. Otherwise known as: pics or it didn’t happen.
Or in the case of Instagram: beautiful pics or it didn’t happen AND you’re not cool.
This notion of a profile made a lot of sense in the binary experience of online and offline. It was designed to recreate who I am online so that people could interact with me even if I wasn’t logged on at that particular moment.
Snapchat relies on Internet Everywhere to provide a totally different experience. Snapchat says that we are not the sum of everything we have said or done or experienced or published — we are the result. We are who we are today, right now.
We no longer have to capture the “real world” and recreate it online — we simply live and communicate at the same time.
Communication relies on the creation of media and is constrained by the speed at which that media is created and shared. It takes time to package your emotions, feelings and thoughts into media content like speech, writing, or photography.
Indeed, humans have always used media to understand themselves and share with others. I’ll spare you the Gaelic with this translation of Robert Burns, “Oh would some power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”
When I heard that quote, I couldn’t help but think of self-portraits. Or for us Millennials: the selfie! Self-portraits help us understand the way that others see us — they represent how we feel, where we are, and what we’re doing. They are arguably the most popular form of self-expression.
In the past, lifelike self-portraits took weeks and millions of brush strokes to complete. In the world of Fast + Easy Media Creation, the selfie is immediate. It represents who we are and how we feel — right now.
And until now, the photographic process was far too slow for conversation. But with Fast + Easy Media Creation we are able to communicate through photos, not just communicate around them like we did on social media. When we start communicating through media we light up. It’s fun.
The selfie makes sense as the fundamental unit of communication on Snapchat because it marks the transition between digital media as self-expression and digital media as communication.
And this brings us to the importance of ephemerality at the core of conversation.
Snapchat discards content to focus on the feeling that content brings to you, not the way that content looks. This is a conservative idea, the natural response to radical transparency that restores integrity and context to conversation.
Snapchat sets expectations around conversation that mirror the expectations we have when we’re talking in-person.
That’s what Snapchat is all about. Talking through content not around it. With friends, not strangers. Identity tied to now, today. Room for growth, emotional risk, expression, mistakes, room for YOU.
The Era of More Personal Computing has provided the technical infrastructure for more personal communication. We feel so fortunate to be a part of this incredible transformation.
Snapchat is a product built from the heart — that is the reason why we are in Los Angeles. I often talk with people about the conflicts between technology companies and content companies — I’ve found that one of the biggest issues is that frequently technology companies view movies, music, and television as INFORMATION. Directors, producers, musicians, and actors view them as feelings, as expression. Not to be searched, sorted, and viewed — but EXPERIENCED.
Snapchat focuses on the experience of conversation — not the transfer of information. We’re thrilled to be a part of this community.
Thank you for inviting me today and thank you for being a part of our journey. Our team looks forward to getting to know all of you.
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