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Kendall Clark: AlphaSmart Neo's interesting for what it's _not_

On the Joys of Primitive Computing: The AlphaSmart Neo

I keep hearing rumblings about the AlphaSmart Neo, but haven’t put my hands to one yet. Anybody out there got one? Tried one? Seems a bit steep at $250, but I’d love to play with one (<accent belle=“southern”>Why, I declare: I do believe I’ve dropped my kerchief: AlphaSmart, would you be so kind…?</accent>).

Kendall Clark seems to think Neo’s part of a larger trend:

I am so over hardware, and I have been for more than a decade. I take pride in making my living from technology and doing so with very old, even decrepit hardware….

Oddly enough, the Neo is basically a computer for school children. It’s stunningly stupid and, well, primitive. I’m enjoying it so much, and being so productive with it, that it’s got me thinking about what I’ll call Primitive Computing and Power User Devolution.

The Neo is interesting not because of what it does or what features it has, but what it can’t do and the features it’s missing. It’s all about one thing and one thing only: writing. I’m most comfortable turning any task into a writing task (when all you have is a hammer…), which means I’m super comfortable with a primitive device that’s really only good for writing.

And no internet. Some days, I believe I’d find that pretty appealing.

newton user's picture

Many people have responded to...

Many people have responded to my negative tone, and in re-reading what I wrote I see that's warranted. I need to point out that I use a machine equivalent to the Neo as a simple, basic writing tool. I have 2 Newtons (in case one breaks) and 2 eMates. For first draft writing, they are good. Text entry, as Michael Magin said. Sure, why not? But for most of my writing, I don't do first drafts. I work through, I collaborate, I share and then revise, and an eMate or Neo won't help me there. I like Kris Browne's suggestion for how to create a focused environment on a Mac, by the way.

I disagree with saying that "This is a bit like saying that hammers will never catch on because they suck if you try to use them to saw lumber." That's a strawman - I would never use a typing program to do graphics (though I did my fair share of dumb ASCII pictures in the 80s). A better analogy would be to say that a hammer without the nail pulling side isn't as useful. You get the nail puller AND the nail hitter on most hammers, so why restrict yourself? Pulling nails lets you "edit" your construction. And you can still hammer all you want.

As I said, on a computer, it's easy to turn off the distractions. You just have to choose to do it.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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