A Tale of Technology, Tools, and Creators

I contend that bigger is not always better. My position is that better is always better. Somehow this will all relate to my recent experience in using an Android.

Back in 2006, Apple released its largest monitor to date. And with that release came the bold claim that larger monitors increase productivity. The commotion that followed the claim lead to further research that, almost exclusively, backed up the claim. Search around, and you shouldn’t have a hard time being convinced that a bigger monitor is a better monitor.

Though, I can’t help but wonder if these claims and studies come with a bias. For instance, look at why exactly those who are touting it say bigger is better. Apple says “better” is higher productivity, while others say focus or insight into data is, but nothing is to be said of the emotional or psychological benefits. Because there aren’t any.

Now, productivity is great. I don’t want to downplay the significance of memorizing every keyboard shortcut, having the latest and greatest program for that thang you do, and loading up on caffeine to stay focused. But, lets remember: it’s not robots we’re talking about here. If it was really a productive worker that these tech companies wanted, they’d stop advertising for jobs with titles like “Ruby Ninja” or “HTML5 Wizard” and instead simply buy Java Robots.

I hope I didn’t mislead you into thinking I have evidence of the psychological or emotional benefits of using a small monitor. I definitely don’t, and can’t seem to find any after entire minutes of googling. I guess that’s kind of the thing about emotions: they’re hard to prove.

That being said, from personal experience I would much rather work on my 13″ MacBook Air than my 24″ iMac. It’s so difficult for me to put into words, that I tried to get Frank Chimero to do it for me. No luck. I guess you don’t get 31,313 twitter followers by writing blog posts for Kyle Wayne Benson.

Frank Chimero hates writing blog posts for me.

“I’m the kind of guy who needs a clear focal point, so the vast expanse of 27” made me feel like I didn’t have full mastery over my tool.” – Frank Chimero

Ignoring his effortless ability to make me feel like a fool and still convince me to buy his book, I will try to summarize my thoughts whilst compressing and interjecting my opinion on the Android vs. iPhone debate.

The web is not built for reading at large widths. As a web designer, the widest I will (maybe ever) take a webpage is 1140px. Why? Because designing beyond that size gets a little ridiculous. I tried to read a book, once, that had a landscape orientation and no columns. It was, quite nearly, impossible. I could not focus, nor absorb content. This left me feeling incapable and insignificant. This is what the web turns you into beyond a certain point. Sure, more information is on the screen at once, but isn’t that what ⌘+F is for?

So, until that glorious day when CSS3 Columns are cross browser supported, my websites will not have media break points for anything bigger.

IE, you done a bad thing.

Second of all, the tools I use are built to manage large amounts of content, not to display it. Sublime Text 2’s (my coding tool of choice) best features allow you to access portions of code at quicker speeds than my dumb wizard (see above) eyes could find them on a gargantuan monitor.

Last, but most important, my desire (and longing) is to be more capable than my tools. This is a tribute to the kid who was pinned down beneath the burden of something heavy (with capability) beyond his strength (capabilities). The kid who was not more capable than his tools, who’s parents bought him that beautiful, expensive, DW drum kit after his first day in Jr. High Percussion. He never did learn how to play those drums because the pressure of expensive tools was unsurmountable. His parents put a mountain of expense on top of the mountain of talent he was just beginning to climb.

I wished I could be him for many years as I went from one poor quality keyboard to another subpar guitar, just scraping together enough cash from my paper route for the cheapest bargain on the market. It wasn’t until I was twenty two that I finally bought a guitar worth keeping. Boy was it worth the wait. All those years of playing a guitar whose high action forced me to sweat each time I played a bar cord, now allowed me to place my fingers into chord position with ease. I was capable and deserving of a well crafted tool. And this feeling of tool mastery (or a feeling quite similar to it) is what has driven me to further my career, work longer hours, and strive to excel above who I was the day before.

Unfortunately, this analogy doesn’t translate as well when we begin talking about computers. So, I’ll have to spell out the important part.

Amount of information available on the screen: quality of the tool

It is absolutely essential to my emotional wellbeing that, when I walk away from work each day, I feel like a creator and a master of my tools. Was I really the master behind that piece of art, or was it some plug-in or filter that I used? Do I decide where I set up my work environment, or does my computer? For that same reason, I don’t even like to store many files locally. I keep a few hard drives locked up with the majority of my digital life on them. Who is the creator, and who is the tool, if my own local directory is too large for me to remember what’s in it?

Point again, if my eyes can’t keep focus on more than a two by two inch portion of the screen, what’s the point in having the rest of it there to distract me? That kid pinned down beneath his DW drum kit had too many tom and cymbol options to know what to choose from. All he really needed was a simple kit—and after a few years, who knows? Maybe that simple kit will still be all that he needs.

All you Java Robots out there with eyes that can view a thirty inch monitor all at once, and can master the dynamics of a 30 piece drum set can stop reading now.

Finally

About a month ago (after dumping my iPhone 4 in the ocean) I decided to give Androids a try again. I knew, when I was getting into it, that I would have two complaints: bad camera, short battery life. But, I can deal with that, right? And, at first, I could.

Having poor battery life turned me into a tool of my tool. My Android trained me on how
to sustain it. It taught me to buy more cables, to plant charging stations in both my cars, and to never go overnight somewhere without a totally full battery. I had to babysit that thing. Now, not all Androids are alike, but I feel comfortable saying that this complaint applies to the majority of Androids on the market.

The camera in itself taught me a thing or two. Its limits, essentially, told me when I could take pictures, what the person in the picture could be doing, and how quickly we could all be doing it. There wasn’t a single quality picture taken with that phone. Whereas, my iPhone camera did its job and let me be the master of the photography.

But that’s not all. Let me tell you one of my primary complaints? The screen was too big. The screen, was too big! All the time (not even half the time), that big screen was giving me too much access to information at once. It was overwhelming. I couldn’t reach the power button or the volume buttons without using two hands. It wasn’t convenient to take running, and (of all the funny things) it didn’t fit in my pocket very well. Bigger screens, also, require more battery life—which takes us back to complaint number one.

Anyway

Androids are great, I guess. I’m not going to tell anyone what’s best for their emotional health. But I feel more capable, and more in charge having my iPhone back. But, not all iPhones are included in the halo I’ve placed upon them. I don’t think bigger is better, so I don’t subscribe to the benefits of a taller (iPhone 5) screen. Again, maybe your brain really needs those extra pixels, but mine is seeing right through their marketing strategies. We had the technology to make iPhone screens that size the day the very first iPhone came out. So why didn’t we make them that big in the first place?

All I’m saying is, sitting ten feet in front of a movie screen does not making the viewing experience better. It never has. So how did they fool us into thinking that rule doesn’t apply to phones and monitors? At the end of the day I’ll sacrifice those 10 minutes I wasted for a feeling of competence and capability, no question.

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