Microsoft’s New “Surface” Tablet: A Rearview Mirror Technology


Microsoft Surface Tablet

The Microsoft Surface Tablet with Windows RT features a 10.6 inch ClearType HD display, processing is [provided by an NVIDIA Tegra based ARM processor, and it will come with a choice of 32GB or 64GB of built in storage.


The New Microsoft Surface Tablet & the Rear-view Mirror Effect

by R.J. Jacquez

 Herbert Marshall McLuhan, the late, great philosper, who is known for coining powerful expressions, such as “the medium is the message,” had one quote in particular that has stuck with me for a long time, namely:

“The past went that-a-way. When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”

This became known as the rear-view mirror effect.

We march backwards into the future. Wow. Very powerful stuff indeed.

I believe this helps us understand what we are seeing today in this new era of mobile computing. It’s human nature to hold on to principles we feel comfortable with, as we tackle new paradigm shifts. I’m seeing this everywhere in eLearning and mLearning, including how tool vendors scramble to figure out how to get their users from eLearning to mLearning.

And I saw this effect again yesterday as I watched Microsoft unveiled their upcoming Tablet called Surface. I admire the fact that in designing and manufacturing a Tablet, Microsoft chose not to “copycat” the iPad and instead took a chance with a bold new approach to Tablet computing. Having said that, I’m not sure I agree with their approach as compared to Apple with their iPad.

In fact I think Microsoft’s latest move epitomizes what Mr. McLuhan meant by the rear-view mirror effect. Microsoft is holding on to everything they know about the PC as they figure out how to compete in a mobile, Post-PC era. While watching the Keynote video, I noticed Steven Sinofsky from Microsoft described Microsoft’s vision of the tablet as follows:

“We have a vision for reimagining the Tablet, we see a Tablet that has been designed the way Windows has been designed. We see a Tablet that represents a unique vision for the seamless expression of entertainment and creativity. A Tablet that works and play that way that you want to. A tablet that’s a great PC. A PC that’s a great Tablet.”

I was right there with him until he said “A Tablet that’s a great PC. A PC that’s a great Tablet.” And then I heard another thing that made me think that Microsoft doesn’t really understand mobile. This one is from Steve Ballmer himself

“If you use your PC to design and create things, this is for you. Imagine if we built this so we could use all the apps you’re familiar with.”

In seeing the demos in the video, it’s clear to me that Microsoft really looks at a Tablet as a traditional PC. The Surface even comes with a USB port, so does mean users will be able to attach a mouse? What about the beauty of touch computing? They also showed a full blown version of Word running on the Tablet. They are literally taking everything in Windows in “shrinking” it down for the 10″ tablet display. Read the rest at


The “rear-view mirror effect” is one thing, but it’s not the only McLuhan idea to be applied here to understand this situation. One of Marshall McLuhan’s less well-known ideas is that the content of any medium is always another medium, usually an older one (McLuhan, 1994, p. 8). In his most famous work, Understanding Media (1964), he offers as examples the notion that the content of writing is speech, of print is the written word, and of the telegraph is print. An extension of this idea is that any new medium initially tends to imitate the old medium that is its content, as (Logan, 2000, p. 19) notes: “When a medium first appears, it uses the content of another medium exclusively for its content until its users have learned to exploit the new medium to develop new forms of expression.” Numerous examples can be cited. The first literary works to appear in written form were transcriptions of stories that had traditionally been narrated orally, such as Homer’s Iliad, the Hebrew scriptures, and the Hindu Vedas (Logan, 2000, p. 19). Only later did authors develop writing styles that better exploited the new print medium. The early telephone was known as the “talking telegraph” and the early cinema filmed the performances of stage plays, which were shot from a single stationery camera. While the French Lumière brothers offered the first public film screening in 1895, it was not until two to three decades later that a distinctive “new grammar” for film began to emerge with the work of filmmakers such as Griffiths, Eisenstein and Pudovkin. Likewise, movies and vaudeville entertainments were the initial content of television, with programs specifically crafted to exploit the biases of the new medium only developing later.

It seems clear that Microsoft’s new “Surface” tablet imitates its PC laptop predecessor and is a derivative of it. As such, it seems to be a step backward from Apple’s iPad tablet and this technology will evolve in form and function until it arrrives at its own unique grammar and functionality……..AlexK

You can’t navigate into the future by gazing into the rear-view mirror.

One Response to “Microsoft’s New “Surface” Tablet: A Rearview Mirror Technology”

  1. Reblogged this on Q80Y Pilots.

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