some thoughts on the effects of wifi

this week is the first time that I’ve had access to always-on wifi ‘net access, and while I hang out waiting to go to the airport (just to pick up a rental car, I’m not leaving until tomorrow), I thought I might muse about the experience.

it’s not good for my hands/arms, that’s for sure, at least not in this configuration. something about using the touchpad is torquing my thumb, and it’s very uncomfortable to type with the computer on a table. on the other hand, it’s very comfortable on my lap.

the power on this particular laptop is not that great, but then again, the seats w/out tables were all in the back near the power outlets.

I love being able to take notes with this thing, and then to post them right away. I was also able to share my notes immediately, with the caveat that I am a quirky note-taker. I wonder, come to think of it, if I would have taken better notes, and maybe even done better in college, if I’d had one of these things. although it’s entirely likely that in the same way I used my notebooks in college for journaling, poetry & stories, I’d’ve just used a laptop for those things or for surfing the net.

that’s kind of a crazy thing, too, having that access all the time. I purposely chose not to check work email except once or twice a day, partially to stay away from it psychologically, partially because our web email access sux on firefox. but I always had a gmail tab and a aggregator tab open even while I was typing. a few times, I did get distracted by those things, but if the material & presentation was sufficiently engaging, then it wasn’t a problem.

and I could look up the presenter’s materials, those that were online, or even reference things they talked about, as they were talking. nothing like looking at the project that was being described, in real time, while the presenter’s still talking about it. (easier to come to your own conclusions about things, too.)

today at lunch I even booked my rental car online while I was still at the lunch table. it starts to move, at that point, beyond the gee-whiz factor into something that’s just the way it is.

I can see how it would be distracting, and I do try to look at the person, even while I’m typing/surfing. being able to touch-type really comes in handy in these situations. my mom did me a big favor by insisting that I take a typing class in junior high; it also turned out to be one of my early exposures to computers (basic on trs-80s!). at the time, I was a crummy typist, and I only got a C, but over the years, I’ve gotten better — and error rates have gotten less important — so that I can type 99% of the time w/out looking at the keyboard, and fairly fast. even my error rate is not what it once was. 🙂

right now, this is still a minority experience: popping open a computer wherever you have a chair and being able to get online instantly. but I can see how, if it does continue to spread, that it could be world-changing, in the same way that the near-ubiquity of cell phones has the same strange effects. (Adam Greefield’s piece on use cases, which I just read last night, points to some interesting possibilities.)

and once you’ve had this experience, I think, it’s hard to go back to any other way. heck, I was bummed that I couldn’t get wifi in my room! as people have these experiences in hotels and airports (although I hear that’s expensive) and coffee shops, they’ll take that to other aspects of their lives, in particular to work, where there’s a real convenience factor in being able to get to anything from anywhere: why shouldn’t I be able to decamp to the cafeteria or a break room and work, or get my files while I’m in a meeting in a conference room?

which is all very flighty of me, and I tend to not be much of an early-adopter. I’m a gadget freak by nature, I think, but I don’t get much chance to indulge it.