How many screens is too many?

Posted on 17/10/2011

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Gadget overload - things organized neatly

This week I’ve been hyper-screening.

I was asked to present about the iPad and headed off to the meeting armed with a laptop and, of course, an iPad. But I also had a work phone (BB), my personal phone (Droid 2), and my Kindle.

I know, I sound like a prick boasting about my technology prowess. And that’s exactly how I felt – a technology obsessive with too many devices. At the same time, it was hard not to be carrying all of that around. It made more sense to take a Kindle than a book (narrower, lighter), and a laptop is easier to write presentations for. And I couldn’t exactly leave the iPad at work – that was the whole point of my being there. But I felt suffocated being lumbered with all those gadgets.

Technology overkill is hardly a new phenomenon. We’ve had digital cameras, Walkmen and laptops for years so the only thing that’s changing is the power (and the size) of these devices.

More than ever, the different bits of kit are seriously beginning to overlap. I could read a book listen to music and surf the net on almost any of those devices, so why have them all? If you don’t think about it, it just tends to happen.

all-black-gadgets-navatorWe’ve already heard of multi-screening (when someone uses more than one device at once e.g. TV and iPad, or someone surfs the net from their phone while also using a computer). This phenomenon also needs a name, which I why I’ve come up with the term hyper-screening. The fact is, humans can’t multi-task between more than three or four activities. Try to manage any more than that and things start to get out of control. The same is true if you’re trying to juggle too many electronic devices at once. The more screens, the less effectively you’re able to pay attention to them. You’ve become “hyper-screened”.

The difficulty is that each device is more convenient than any other for doing one particular task. iPads make great web browsing tools, laptops are better for more complicated tasks, and mobile phones are ideal for short, immediate communication. So how do you work out what to keep and what to throw?

If you’re going to avoid being hyper-screened, you’ve got to imagine that you’re recruiting for a company. All the devices have to work together to give you the best range of tools. Some are better than others at particular tasks (try surfing the net on a Kindle…), so unless you’re happy carrying tens of devices, batteries and chargers, you need to pick the team that’s right for you. This depends on what kind of support you want – do you want an expensive generalist (the iPad) or defined specialists (laptop, iPod and Kindle)?

However you do it, you probably still need “one device to rule them all“. This is the one that allows you to do the most difficult, fiddly tasks and to whom the little ones report and are backed up on. It’s slowly becoming possible to have a flat hierarchy by storing all your information on the cloud, but it’s also more difficult to work.

For the price of a few minutes you can save yourself the hassle of carrying ever piece of technology under the sun. Work out what you’re going to need in advance, choose how they need to interact and decide whether you really need all 5 devices. Because they’re not going to stop inventing new gadgets anytime soon.

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Posted in: Digital, Technology