Desks and Stationary Mobility

This is a post about mobile technology in an unconventional sense. I think I'm probably an extreme "mobile" technology user: I ride a lot commuter rail and use my laptop extensively on the train. Then, I work on a laptop all day. In the evening, I often do at least a little additional work, again on the same laptop. There is, after all, always writing (like this post!) to fill any remaining free time.

I'm not a terribly typical mobile user. My main "mobile device" is a little ThinkPad (and sometimes a larger ThinkPad,) running Linux and a lot of Lisp (emacs and otherwise.) It's not ideal for every situation: there are times when I just can't bare to open the laptop again or it's unfeasible (and there's always the Kindle for times like those.) Most of the time it works well.

It's hard to omit discussion of the "tablet" and the iPad. For me, the fact that tablets are not general purpose computers is a huge deterrent. This is probably not the case for everyone, though there are lots of shades to this debate. I think the more interesting question is not "do people need general purpose tablets?" and more "how will more ubiquitous embeded-type systems effect the way people will approach 'general purpose' computing environments" from here on out? Honestly, this in computing practice has already happened, but I think it will continue to pose important questions for users and developers as it continues.

The struggle, for me, revolves less around the question "how do I work remotely?" and more around "how do I also work when I'm at a desk?" The adjustment can be hard: For a while, I was so used to working on the train, and in random chairs, that I had a hard time focusing if the computer wasn't actually on my lap. Bad ergonomics is only the start of this.

The current solution is to set up desks and workstations that use the same laptops and systems so that I'm not perpetually switching between fixed computers and mobile computers. I'm also keen for these desks to have their own appeal: bigger monitors, nice keyboards, and easy to attach power cords. I've also attempted to tie together all of the "I'd like to switch between laptop-mode and desk-mode," functions (e.g. network connection, monitor attachment, window layout) into easy to trigger operations, so I can get started more quickly. Nice. Seamless. Efficient.

The lessons: There are many ways to maintain technical (cyborg) coherence despite/during geographical movement and sometimes that technology isn't particularly cutting edge. Sometimes the best way to break yourself of a habit you don't like is to play a game with yourself where you establish a more attractive option. Finally, a very small change or automation can be enough to take something difficult and make it much easier or something unpleasantly and make it workable.

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