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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.

myroblyte's picture

I used an AS3K to...

I used an AS3K to write a fair portion of my 300-plus-page dissertation. I'd take it to my graduate school library, where I had a security job. I yanked it out of my backpack, sat at my desk, and just typed for hours. The keyboard is better than most laptops, in my opinion, at least in terms of size and comfort. The small screen helped me draft efficiently by removing the temptation to edit on the fly (or format). And you couldn't kill the thing — drop it, throw your bag around, whatever, it never lost a word of my work. (Like Alphasmart's promotional material says, "When was the last time your pocket calculator crashed?") I loved the fact that could just stop at the end of a sentence, hit the power button, and walk away, without ever having to think about saving anything. At the end of the day, I borrowed someone's internet-connected computer, dumped the day's work into a text-only email, and sent it to myself. The screen's not perfect, but it's OK for well-lit environments. My biggest problem with the device was that the keyboard gets clogged with dust too easily, it's a little noisy to type on, and, as someone pointed out, its angled shape makes it awkward to carry in a full bag. This was years ago; now, I have a nice office, and portability is less of an issue (though I still take it with me when I visit faraway libraries for research — it weighs as much as a spiral notebook). But I've never regretted the investment. And I always got a kick out of telling people I drafted a book MS on a device designed to teach little kids how to type!




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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