Essays on Technology and Culture

The Right Device for the Right Task

An early version of this post appeared in Issue 7 of the Sanspoint supporter Newsletter. To subscribe, visit the support page, and subscribe for $3 a month, or make a donation of any amount.

I’ve had a couple debates, mostly in a private Slack, but I’m coming around to CGP Grey’s idea of assigning his various devices to be (mostly) single-tasking machines. He explains how he uses his various iPads in Episode #26 of Cortex, with additional info on his iPad Pro writing setup in a blog post.

Note that I’m coming around to the idea of different devices for different tasks, not Grey’s specific implementation. He’ll be the first to admit that the way he works isn’t for everyone, and not everyone can afford three iPads. (To Grey’s credit, his iPad mini is an older model, not one he bought specifically as a makeshift Kindle.) Assigning specific functions for our devices has merit in my mind because it is so easy to get overwhelmed by the possibility of our devices. If you’re an inveterate procrastinator who is likely to dive into an Internet K-Hole, there’s appeal in having a device that doesn’t let you do that.

I’m not about to go all out and start completely disabling features on my iPhone, though the idea appeals to me. [1] Instead, CGP’s discussion has me thinking about ways I can start being more focused in the use of my devices. I’m asking myself what role each device serves in my life, and how I can maximize what each is good at versus what I need from my devices.

This came into focus when I got a second Mac for my new day job. Now, I have a device that is specifically for a certain context in my life: this is my Work Computer for my Day Job. When I am on this computer, I am (ostensibly) at work. Why can’t I do the same with my other devices?

About a week ago, I snagged a Logitech Type+ Keyboard Case for my iPad Air 2 for really cheap—like $30 cheap. This makes it a lot easier for me to use the iPad as a dedicated writing device. I’m writing this particular newsletter on my Mac, but I’ve done a fair amount of writing with the iPad and Type+ lately, even if it hasn’t been publish yet. I’m very happy with the choice. iOS may have multitasking now, but it’s still harder for me to switch modes on the iPad and dive into a distraction rathole.

I still need to figure out what roles are best for my iPhone and my home Mac. Plus, I’m thinking about my Apple Watch and how to streamline that for what it’s best at, too. It’s easy to look at CGP’s setup and go, “Hey, jerkface, not all of us can drop a bunch of money on iPads and mechanical keyboards,” but that misses the point. It’s not about buying more gear, it’s about optimizing what you have so it works best for you.

What “works best” means is a personal thing. If that means turning off Safari and all the other apps that might keep you from doing what your job is, then fine. If it’s streamlining down to a pair of devices that can do everything, then good for you. Instead of getting lost in the details of one person’s specific implementation, consider the ways you can apply the idea to your own digital life.

  1. There’s a good follow-up on that link I didn’t know about until writing this piece.  ↩