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A personal computer incapable of connecting to the Internet can provide remarkably more value than one that can be connected.

There's plenty to be said about a statement like that. It's bold, certainly. Good enough to kick off this 85 or so part series. By the end of the series I'll have laid out the reasoning behind that statement and I'll also have published an actual implementation of such a computer.

You may experience a tinge of anxiety while imagining this computer without Internet. These days it's certainly all about the Internet. When was the last time you heard of new technology that didn't depend on it in some way? Whether activating your video game, using your smartphone, perusing your GPS watch data on a website, watching Netflix or YouTube, downloading e-books, e-mail, Facebook, chat, dating, banking, search, blogs, music, buying tickets, mail order shopping, Twitter, the news, classifieds, reviews, recipes, and so much else. What in the world would this unconnectable computer do, if none of those things?

Great question!

If your laptop, tablet, or phone suddenly lost its ability to connect to the Internet, you'd chuck it in the trash straight away. Imagine that! As useless as wheel-less car. Rest easy knowing that I am not proposing such a senseless idea. You can't simply take away the Internet without also changing how the computer works. Nor am I proposing to ditch the Internet and all of its precious connected devices, because that's certain to trigger the young men of this generation to protest in the streets. But prepare yourself for a very different kind of computing experience.

If you're old enough or hip enough, you may know that it used to be normal for computers to not be connected to the Internet and often to no network at all. Those computers were very awkward to use and vastly underpowered compared to modern computers yet they clearly provided value. Often this value was for a specific purpose - perhaps spreadsheet calculations, word processing, databases, reporting, or other ways of increasing their user's efficiency. They were tools, primarily, used to get a job done quicker and at a lower cost. I doubt you're thinking good thoughts about those kinds of computers. You'll be pleased to know that I'm not suggesting we return to those early days. Not the bad parts anyway. The parts about value and efficiency are worth a closer look, especially considering how much better we can do with what we've learned over the last two decades combined with powerful and cheap modern hardware.

Why, you may ask, am I even on this strange topic? To be honest, the unconnectable computer is not my main point. Rather it is value that is of primary importance, and it strikes me that a computer can offer high value only if it cannot be connected to the Internet. This high value is to be offered to you as an individual. It is to be ten, a hundred, even a thousand times greater than what you currently experience. Enough to be worth the effort.

To continue to take my liberties, you're probably now wondering just what I mean by value. I see value as a balance between reward and risk. On one side, you might see reward in less work, higher pay, better relationships, a sterling reputation, a luxurious home, good health, long life, a fast car, security, friends, family, good food, psychedelic trips, video games, yet another adrenaline adventure, or whatever. It may be that you value stability and predictability. In any case, you are probably not completely satisfied with your situation in life. Its future if not its present.

The other side of the value equation is risk in that anything you have may be lost any time for any number of reasons. Some of these reasons might be within your control, and others not. The choices you make and the actions you take in pursuit of your rewards may have unintended or unlikely consequences. Or perhaps your actions have likely consequences that you ignore. In some cases, a group or a person is out to get you or seeks to control you (at your expense). There is always risk.

Generally we each understand this equation. A diet of fast-food and sugary snacks might be a series of short-term rewards, but the risks are both high and well-known so that it's seen as a low-value activity. Alternatively, a few years of sacrifice, dedication, and effort in university is rewarded by a degree that can return dividends throughout one's life, at moderate risk (depending on the loan situation). Thus a relatively respectable activity.

Serious problems arise when the risk portion of the value equation is obscured, ignored, or misunderstood. When that happens, we end up with a twisted and dangerous perspective that leads to unsustainable behaviour patterns. Excessive tuition paid for by high-interest undischargable loans can turn the university path into a dead end. The eventual link to lung cancer and other disease really made us think hard about smoking so much. And back to the original point, it is becoming clearer to many that the Internet represents a tremendous risk that nearly everyone - me, you, and everyone you know - is vulnerable to.

Now, I could cheat and say that by taking your computer and making it incapable of connecting to the Internet, you've reduced your risk to a thousandth of its prior level while reducing the reward to a hundredth, and so your computer is now ten times as valuable. Even if you bought that magical math, it's not very interesting.

If the reward component was instead multiplied by ten, a hundred, or even a thousand, in combination with greatly reduced risk, the situation becomes quite interesting indeed. Over the next 84 or so parts I'll be exploring in greater detail both the risk and reward components of value as they relate to personal computers.

Continued in Part 2 - Risk and Reward