In the last two weeks I have travelled without a laptop. In that same two weeks, even while at home, my laptop has been on for a sum total of 5 minutes. It could have been zero minutes, but I had forgotten that a couple of my development projects (including my web site’s code) hadn’t been added to github and so were not available from my tablets. So I turned on my laptop long enough to create a couple new code repositories on github and perform a git push to rectify my oversight.
I hedged my bets on the first week by traveling with two tablets and decided the next step needed to be traveling with only one tablet. It ended up being the iPad Mini, primarily because of a need to work on presentations and the availability of Keynote on iOS.
I found myself wondering on a couple occasions whether or not traveling without a laptop is really such a good idea. Before going into that, though, let me explain why I am even doing this in the first place.
While the rest of the world seems to be gravitating to tablets, I have found it hard to make the case for a tablet for me, personally. Of any of the devices I use regularly – laptop, smartphone and tablet – losing my tablet would cause zero impact to my productivity. Through 33 years spending a substantial amount of time using a computer (rough, conservative estimate: 50,000 – 75,000 hours), getting it to do what I need it to do is nearly as easy for me as breathing. As long as my laptop is within arms reach, I will grab it as soon as working on a tablet requires even the least bit of extra effort. Extreme measures are required If I am ever to answer the question “why use a tablet?”
Two weeks in I’m starting to pick up hints of ingrained usage patterns. I’ve realized that I rely heavily on a file system to help me move between apps, whether it is combining several PDF files into one, creating an image that is needed in a presentation, pulling numbers out of a terminal session script to bring into a spreadsheet and then graph, or even just attaching a file to an email. My security blanket is easy file access, yet tablets work very hard to keep apps and data tightly integrated: especially iOS, though Android works pretty hard at it, too. This is not the usage pattern you are looking for. Move along…
Of course, this particular battle predates tablets. The file system has been decried as a flawed metaphor for decades, practically since the day Apple lifted the concept of a windowing system from Xerox PARC. Regardless, once you’ve used the approach as long as I have, calling it second nature is an understatement. This is why I feel compelled to force the issue.
It helps that I have become quite the gram weanie. Traveling 100% of the time, and getting into backpacking can have that effect. I’ve already planned a blog entry for about two weeks from know, reporting on my total travel weight for a one-week business trip to Brazil, sans laptop.
I know I’m pushing it a little, but the Personal Computer era is all but over. Creativity is still easier on a PC than it is on a tablet… in most cases. The tablet is still primarily a device for consumption, but I think the convenience factor will continue to provide an impetus for this to change. Even more disconcerting, though, is my expectation that the tablet won’t enjoy nearly as long of a run as the PC did. The only constant is change, accelerating incessantly.
And so here I am, heading into week three; still no laptop.