Some of us dream of the day that our synthetic eyes capture all that our minds deem appropriate, where DragonThink turns our thoughts directly into papers and quantum fluctuation allows us to be both in class and deep in slumber. Unfortunately, this won’t be happening anytime soon, at least outside of William Gibson novels. How can you find your own academe-friendly techno-bliss?
Last week, I talked about creating a walkable environment for myself by living near campus. It got me thinking about my reliance on unified scenes in my personal and academic lives. I, like some others I have spoken to, feel a buzz in the back of our necks when everything “fits,” and all of our various deals in life work together harmoniously. For the apartment, it was all about making myself less reliant on transportation and coordination, to make it easier to plan my day. For tech, it’s a little different. The basic question I try to answer is:; “How can I do what I need to do with the absolute least resistance from my technology?”
The basic answer to that question is another question; ”How sedentary are you going to be?” It’s not as though there’s a universal rule that says desktops are better than laptops, but laptops are better than cell phones. Even when they’re all powered by Android or iPhone OS or Windows or Linux, the devices simply do different things: I don’t make many calls from my desktop, and the thought of typing a paper on my cell makes my fingers fuse in terror. In a unified scene, you want to be nimble and able to chose the right machine for the right job. After analyzing my usage for the past week, I’ve found a few easy tips for achieving techno-bliss.
First, Learn to Love the Cloud. It’s a sentiment echoed often at ProfHacker (maybe it’s just me?) but techno-bliss comes from repudiating attachment. I’m writing this on my desktop PC right now, but there is nothing that makes me favor this over, say, my netbook. It’s just there and it has some extra screens that allow me to also talk with friends, or browse relevant articles. My PC is essentially the same as the college computer, or the one I use at work – the grand majority of what I do on this machine can be done on any machine that lets me access a web browser. If you’re not always anxious about where a particular file is, then your technological environment is much happier.
At the risk of sounding like a one-trick pony, Google is great for this. The fact that the inbox on my Android phone is the same as the one on my laptop screen is fantastic when it comes to managing my email. It allows me to put a lot of trust in the various devices I use, which is important when you suddenly need to find that email regarding the meeting that you thought was in a half an hour. . . .
This brings me to my second point: Learn what’s replaceable. Every piece of technology you own should have a clearly defined purpose. For instance, my laptop is great for taking notes during class. Its screen is too small for me to really get distracted by shiny web sites, but its keyboard is nearly full size and very comfortable. It is sleek, portable, and running a nice customized Linux build. It is the best word processing device I have ever used.
My phone is a superhero. It can take pictures, manage Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, etc., provide GPS directions and give my laptop a wifi signal when it is lacking. It is the absolute cornerstone of this plan. It greases the wheels so much in my life, and I can trust it to be there when I need it. Of course, the aforementioned cloud services help them both out considerably.
It is also worth noting what you don’t have, and why you might want to have it. My netbook purchase was based solely on my lack of a really nimble machine. I wanted to be able to take notes in class or just plop down to write a paper on the campus green. It’s important to recognize what you’re missing in your least-resistance path and find a cheap and easy solution.
After determining what you really rely upon, find out how to Recycle apparently-obsolete technology, because it might surprise you. It was a sad day when I realized that my first little custom PC was relatively unused. I just didn’t rely on my 5-year-old labor of love. I didn’t buy a car in high school; I bought a sweet PC to play Half-life 2 on. But all to quickly, it was sitting at my desk, keyboard getting dusty. What could I do with it?
In one of our spring cleanings, I realized a few old CRT monitors were going to the trash. I rescued them and came up with a quick multi-monitor setup, giving my PC new functionality. It stayed as a catch-all computer for relaxing at home… until I had to write a research paper. It was then that I discovered the utility of this machine; whereas once it had let me smash zombies with a crowbar, now it allowed me to have my multiple windows open and simultaneous trains of thought going all at once. It became the paper-writing powerhouse, sitting comfortably on my desk in the event I need it.
I’ve achieved techno-bliss (at least with an undergrad’s budget), and the work that comes out of it is very efficient and productive. It’s about finding harmony between your gadgets and knowing what is the right tool for the right job.
What are some habits or rules that you use to navigate and streamline your technical life?
Image by Flickr user annnna / Creative Commons licensed