It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
This is how Charles Dickens' 1859 classic Tale of Two Cities began and it's true of the current state of today's technological scene. With each year of improvement and innovation, technology has become increasingly affordable and accessible yet more and more of us suffer from buying what we don't need or not knowing how to best use what we have. As I write this, I'm using my Evo mobile phone to begin to outline this article while preparing to upload it for revisions on my iPad or Macbook Air with some additional work and graphics consideration via my iMac.
We can use multiple devices and platforms to accomplish work and socializing across several computing classes, but as technophiles that have all this technology at our disposal, the challenge is effectively managing our tech so that the tools don't become toys that gather dust and serve to do nothing but separate us from our hard-earned money.
Read on to learn how to manage your tech addiction and maintain a high level of productivity.
Managing Your Personal Arsenal of Computing Devices: Bikes, Cars, and Trucks
Four common classes of computing devices are available to us today when you consider mobile phones, tablet computers, laptop or notebooks, and desktop computers. Each device has its strengths and weaknesses when balancing portability, convenience, productivity and power much like the choice of using a bike, scooter, car or truck to navigate to a destination–each may get you to where you need to go but your choice will determine the ease, speed, and efficiency of the journey.
Mobile phones are with us almost if not more often than our keys or wallets. Today's mobile phones are fully capable of accessing the internet and allowing us to use word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software to view and create documents. Mobile phones are a lot like using a bicycle to navigate through a crowded urban space since they are easy to carry anywhere but not as capable as other options because their screens and processing power aren't optimal for longer tasks or extended work. You use your mobile phone to get things done quickly or access information while on the go. My HTC Evo provides the quick and easy portable power that I need while on the go or in a pinch.
Tablets are similar but offer some much needed screen real estate beyond mobile phones, better browsers, additional processing power, memory management and, depending on your model and operating system, can begin to blur the lines between laptop computers. The current round of tablets are built for media consumption and information access via the internet–tablets are the scooters that we use to navigate to our destinations–not quite as portable since they are intentional take-a-long devices (you don't just drop a tablet in your pocket), but extremely convenient nonetheless. Data input will become more of a tablet strength via synchronization with remote servers and databases wirelessly. You can be immensely more productive with a tablet than a mobile phone given their form factor. Media consumption will always be an overriding strength of tablets beyond other devices. I love my iPad as both a media window and light productivity machine.
Laptops and notebooks are the coupes and sedans of the computing classes. Ultra slim portables like the Macbook Air will provide the productivity advantage you require to complete much more work than possible with your mobile phone or tablet device simply given their keyboards, processors, and memory management. Where mobile phones and tablets will use operating systems optimized for mobile use, laptops and notebooks will provide you with full and complete access to the software applications that you rely on to be productive and work or at home. Where ultra-slim portables are sexy coupes, other more powerful notebook computers are sports sedans that rival the power available on some entry level desktop machines. My Macbook Air is the perfect travel companion to keep me fully engaged when on the move.
If you really need some computing power equivalent to a dual-wheeled pickup truck or construction hauler, there is a desktop machine somewhere that will fit your needs. My personal favorite is my 27" iMac. There isn't anything I can throw at it that it can't handle. It has tremendous processing power, enormous memory, a huge screen that is comparable to having two computers running at one time with other applications and widgets viewable all at the same time–in short, it's a productivity beast but not something that is easily moved from place to place (although I do have a custom-fitted traveling bag that I've used to transport it to seminars and events). My phone, iPad, and Macbook Air all synchronize with the mothership iMac either through physical USB connections or via the cloud which is a necessity for managing any arsenal of devices.
Cloud-based Creation, Collaboration, and Confidence
One of the challenges of working across multiple devices and machines is ensuring that you can maintain a,high level of productivity as you move throughout your workflow. Internet based storage and productivity programs lessen the need to be concerned with external media or shared access to important documents and files. Google Docs, Evernote, Dropbox and other applications are ideal for this purpose. By using the cloud for storage, creation and collaboration, I can work confidently from whatever platform I choose wherever I happen to be knowing that my latest ideas, current work, and special projects are always with me.
Beware Information Overload and Travel Woes
Aside from the danger of having too many devices in the first place or not making full use of what you already have, two other problems that can result from too much technology are information overload and improper preparation for traveling.
When you have multiple devices to choose from or carry, it's easy to feel the need to be connected all the time. Just because you can check your email or tweet or make a Facebook update doesn't mean that you need to at every waking moment. Technology should be used to enhance relationships and not replace them. When you're out running errands and have some dead time, it's ok to use some of that space to be productive using your tools. When you're out being social, put your tech away and spend some time relating with people and don't use your tech to set up unnecessary barriers. Take a little time off from tech to make sure that you're connecting with the physical world and enjoying life among people and not self-absorbed in a backlit screen no matter how small or large.
When deciding what device to take with you on a quick run or a long trip, be mindful of power management and try to keep your devices charged and ready to go. When packing, remember your cords and try to minimize the number of cords you need to carry by sharing chargers or connector cables where possible. You might keep an extra set of cords packed as part of your travel luggage so that you don't find yourself having to buy additional cords or running out of power when you least expect it. You should have at least one cord for your phone or tablet device and laptop available your carry-on luggage–I've spent more than a few trips with long layovers where I was glad I had my cords with me and not checked in a bag that I couldn't access for several hours. A set of earbuds that travel with you in also a must.
Maximize your tech and optimize what you've spent by using your gear to its fullest potential. If you find that you're not fully using something, consider selling it on eBay or through some other means and use the proceeds to finance a subsequent upgrade of your current kit. It's a great time to be alive and we're just beginning to experience what it means to live a digital lifestyle.
Let me know how you're managing your devices or how you perceive the challenges of a cross-platform and multi-device lifestyle in the comments section below.