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Life Without a Laptop, Two Months Down

It has now been two months since I sold my laptop and started working with just a Mac Mini in my office and an iPhone, and I've more or less survived. I never expected it to be permanent, but unless my life changes drastically and I have to start traveling full-time, I could probably go on like this indefinitely. My real work hasn't suffered, because I was doing all of that on the desktop anyway, and with Google Reader's killer mobile version, I've been able to satisfy any web surfing urges away from the computer.

That's not to say that I haven't chafed a little with this setup. We (self included) make the mistake of assuming that using a laptop during "downtime" or around a spouse/significant other is a bad thing. This isn't always true. At the risk of outing myself as an even more colossal tool, when I did have a laptop, my wife and I would often spend the evening after the boy was in bed, sitting side by side on the couch, watching TV and pecking away at our computers.

On the surface, that might sound like the makings of a horrible marriage, but it was really quite nice. We talked to each other. We showed each other stuff we had found online, asked each other to proofread emails, etc. It was probably more interactive than anything else we could have been doing (okay, maybe not one thing), and it was relaxing. Neither one of us was doing "work," but rather catch up, idle surfing, or shopping.

That's one time when I miss having a laptop. I often saved that evening downtime for personal blogging, checking in at forums, or posting pictures and links: all the random unnecessary web stuff that's fun but not important enough to do during the day when I'm working at the big boy computer. Not a huge loss though; like I've said, we can all pare back our online existence a little, plus it gives me more time to read books. I still often use the iPhone during this time, but it's not the same. I'm getting better at some of those things with it, but until it gets cut and paste or a Bluetooth keyboard, I'll probably just have to go without.

What that's doing in a GTD sense, though, is creating some hard boundaries between my various contexts. I've always struggled with defining contexts, and when you have a laptop you can carry anywhere, the lines between @computer, @office, and @home start to blur because you can theoretically do just about anything, anywhere, save housework and errands. Now those divisions are very clear. I can only do so many things when I just have the phone, and the rest will have to wait until I'm back at my desk. It also makes me pay attention to the non-computer tasks. Instead of defaulting to the fun computer stuff because there's always a computer around, I'm often forced to make those phone calls or proofread those drafts because I can't do anything else.

I haven't tried any significant travel with just the iPhone though. I'll get the first real test of living without a laptop when I go to the South by Southwest Interactive conference next month. Since I'm just going there for kicks, it'll be okay if I can't do all the normal things I could do with a real computer. Yet I'm curious to see how it feels not having the crutch of knowing that my computer is in the next room. Maybe this year I'll meet a few more people because I won't be hiding behind a screen the whole time.

About wood.tang

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Matt Wood is a writer, former IT drone, sometime realtor, and full-time stay-at-home dad. He and his family live in Chicago.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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