What do you see, when you look at a computer—at your own laptop, more precisely? Yousee a flat, thin, grey-and-black box. Less evidently, you see something to type on and lookat. Nonetheless, even with the second perceptions included, what are you seeing is hardlythe computer at all. That grey and black box happens to be a computer right now, righthere and now, and maybe even an expensive computer. Nevertheless, it will soon besomething so unlike a computer that it will be difficult even to give away.We will all discard our laptops within the next five years, even though they may stillwork perfectly—even though the screens, keyboards, mice and internet connections maystill flawlessly perform their tasks. Fifty years from now, early twenty-first-centurylaptops will be oddities like the brass scientific tools of the late nineteenth century. Thelatter now appear more like the arcane accoutrements of alchemy, designed to measurephenomena whose existence we no longer even recognize. How can high-tech machines,each possessing more computing power than the entire Apollo space program, lose theirvalue in such a short period of time? How can they transform so quickly from exciting,useful and status-enhancing machines to complex pieces of junk? It’s because of thenature of our perceptions themselves, and the oft-invisible interaction between thoseperceptions and the underlying complexity of the world.Your laptop is a note in a symphony currently being played by an orchestra ofincalculable size. It’s a very small part of a much greater whole. Most of its capacityresides beyond its hard shell. It maintains its function only because a vast array of othertechnologies are currently and harmoniously at play. It is fed, for example, by a powergrid whose function is invisibly dependent on the stability of a myriad of complexphysical, biological, economic and interpersonal systems. The factories that make its partsare still in operation. The operating system that enables its function is based on thoseparts, and not on others yet to be created. Its video hardware runs the technology expectedby the creative people who post their content on the web. Your laptop is in communicationwith a certain, specified ecosystem of other devices and web servers.And, finally, all this is made possible by an even less visible element: the social contractof trust—the interconnected and fundamentally honest political and economic systems thatmake the reliable electrical grid a reality. This interdependency of part on whole, invisiblein systems that work, becomes starkly evident in systems that don’t. The higher-order,surrounding systems that enable personal computing hardly exist at all in corrupt, thirdworldcountries, so that the power lines, electrical switches, outlets, and all the otherentities so hopefully and concretely indicative of such a grid are absent or compromised,

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