PDAs, Part I

Many people wonder why anyone would want a PDA in the first place. Even on Slashdot, every time there’s a PDA story, multiple people will post about how useless they are.

Well, I’ve tried organizing my life using paper, and it doesn’t work. I’ve tried desktop and laptop organizational tools, they don’t really work either, though they’re close.

My problem with paper is partly psychological, and partly practical. The psychological issue is that I have a pathological distaste for any kind of waste. So much so that I keep printer cover sheets and no-longer-needed printouts, and recycle them as scrap paper for brainstorming, ideas capture, sketching out designs, jotting down shopping lists, and so on. It always drove me nuts that if I had a day with no set appointments (not unheard of, even when I’m working), I would end up throwing away two perfectly good sheets of pre-printed filofax paper. The horror!

I also hate rework, like any good sysadmin or developer. Eventually my to-do list would get messy enough that I’d have to sit and write out the active stuff again. That was fine back when I had weekly time-wasting meetings in a conference room, but now I’m busier and working from home I have better ways to waste my time.

Then there is the first practical problem with paper: it’s passive. You have to remember to look at it. If it gets buried under a larger piece of paper and forgotten, suddenly you owe $20 to the credit card company (for example). No, I much prefer a computer that can start flashing lights and sounding sirens when a really important task is getting to be overdue.

The second practical problem with paper is that it’s unsearchable. You can make it somewhat searchable if you have a filing cabinet and plenty of personal resolve, but I’m sadly lacking in both categories. Plus, filing cabinets are a pain to carry around.

So my abandonment of paper for the joys of electronic organizers was a reluctant one. I tried paper, it just didn’t work for me.

The problem with desktops and laptops is that I don’t think when I’m in front of them. Or at least, I don’t think about anything other than what’s already on the screen.

I primarily think of things I need to do when I’m sitting in restaurants or cafés, or traveling as a passenger in some kind of vehicle and staring aimlessly out of the window. My guess is that the Slashdot people who say that PDAs are useless are the ones who are so irretrievably geeky that they carry a laptop everywhere. Either that, or they have the ability to schedule when they’ll have ideas in advance.

So: PDAs—something I started using reluctantly, of necessity.

Now we’ve got that cleared up, next: choosing my new PDA.