December 11, 2007

My Laptop And Me: A Committed Relationship

A typical Silicon Valley day (mine)

For many, including myself, my laptop goes with me to the office and comes back home. While the equipment stays the same, only my usage patterns change. In fact, I likely spend a similar percentage of time online while at home as I do at the office. Using a quick "back of the hand" measurement, I figure in a 24-hour period, assuming 6 hours of sleep, and 1 hour commute time, of the 17 remaining hours in a day (approx. 10 at the office), it's likely I'm on the laptop a good 14 to 15 hours. That's huge.

As we get more wired, and Web-enabled computers are pervasive, the amount of time we spend away from computers is decreasing, as is the total amount each of us spends outside, period, as the Web eliminates the need for many to go out and socialize, preferring social networks, to go shopping, to see movies, or do many of those things that used to require gassing up and heading out.

How many of my total hours awake are spent online? More than 80%?

When I do close the laptop lid to head out, I'll be supplementing my fix by making sure I have my Web-enabled BlackBerry on my hip, just in case I need to check a sports score while at the gas station or barber shop, or I'll click through to Google Reader Mobile to see if TechMeme is blowing up over the latest topic du jour.

Often, at home, my wife and I will be in separate rooms, on our separate laptops. Other times, we'll be watching TV together in the same room, and both our laptops will be open. I'll be reading RSS feeds, and checking Ballhype or Friendfeed. She'll be catching up on blogs, the news and discussion boards. Does this show a lack of communication or marital strife? I doubt it. It's just the way it's become. We both know catching up on work e-mail from home means a fast start to the next day. We both see the Web as a source of news and a place to unwind and communicate. And just because we're taking in one form of media doesn't mean we can't take in another part-time.

A conservative estimate on my part of hours spent during a day (exceeds 24)

As our Web intake has increased, consumption of written media has been decimated. I don't read as many books as I used to. I still buy them, but they pile up. I haven't gotten a newspaper in years, and I think I'm going to let my subscriptions to Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine lapse when they come due. Sitting to read them often feels like a chore, and it's not uncommon to be seen reading a magazine at the foot of my laptop on Saturday, with the TV muted in the background.

But while we're working to extend our social networks through LinkedIn and Facebook, or making comments throughout the blogosphere, the total hours spent with real-life humans is probably going down too. What does it say that I spend more time with my laptop than my wife? I guess it makes it just that much more important that I get the right computer, huh? Why is it that I can read 200+ feeds a day, but not call my mom? Why is it that I make sure all my e-mail items are read almost immediately, but I'd rather wait until my bills come in for a second notice before I shake the dust off my checkbook? Why is it that I probably would spend more time making sure the RAM and hard drive size on my laptop is just perfect, but I can't take the time to fix the broken bedroom dresser hinges?

It could be that I recognize my laptop is a perpetual giver. Empowered by the Web, it gives and gives and gives without question and is one of the last things I see before I go to bed and the first when I wake up. Maybe that's why, as I've embraced this digital lifestyle, that I recognize I quietly, secretly, signed on with my laptop to become my life partner. Just don't tell my wife.

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