Laptop free (ish)

1 oct 2019

So, today I gave my personal laptop away. Maybe not an especially interesting event, but by my reckoning, it's the first time in 20 years that I haven't had my own laptop computer.

I still have both a Macbook Pro and a Pixelbook at my disposal, courtesy of work. I can use those in a pinch for personal stuff, if I want to, but I realized that I was tired of my dependence on a ~$2000 piece of hardware that was overkill for nearly everything I do, including programming.

I can't totally explain my desire to be rid of it, actually. I suppose there's some element of experimentation that's appealing. It's something I've lived with for so long--what's it like to be without it? Obviously there are plenty of people who don't own laptops and do just fine, but there's always a question of how these things work out in your own life.

In any case, now all my personal computing needs are covered by my Android smartphone and my Raspberry Pi 4, a pocket sized computer that I use as a desktop machine.

The Pi, while still pretty underpowered by modern standards, is enough to cover everything I need. It can pull off some surprising tricks, too--I've got a digital DJing setup that works just fine, with Serato control vinyl and everything, using the Mixxx open source digital DJ softare. (My recent mix was made with this setup.)

Most people I know who have put laptops aside have moved to tablets. This is a totally reasonable choice, but I've found that I don't even need that. My phone works fine for mobile computing, especially with an external keyboard. My trusty AlphaSmart is great for writing. And if I'm at home, I can use my Raspberry Pi, plugged into a monitor, mouse, keyboard, and sometimes a turntable and portable DJ mixer.

Sometimes that means I have to to wait until I'm home to do something. Sometimes that means I'm logging into remote servers and editing files with my smartphone. Those things are both fine, and there's only a minimal impact to convenience.

I didn't make these changes specifically to save money, although the new setup is definitely cheaper. The Pi and accessories comes in under $300, with the monitor being the biggest expense. My Pixel smartphone is about the same price.

Right now, I'm typing this on my AlphaSmart, listening to a beat tape (yes, a real cassette!) I bought off Bandcamp, mailed to me from the Russian Federation, playing off an old Aiwa walkman I got on Etsy. It's not nostalgia I'm chasing, although I wouldn't be surprised to be accused of that. It's something about scaling back, thinking about what's necessary vs. what's available, and using pieces of the past in the context of the present, and of the future.

What do we actually need? What can we reuse? How much convenience do we have to trade to get to a different quality of experience? When is it better to have less? What technological changes are available to us that aren't just about more capability, more expense, more consumerism?

█   Jesse Kriss, 1 Oct 2019