An argument for buying more devices


Device companies are incentivised to emphasize the changes in each new model of a line. This is why ads laboriously exaggerate small upgrades - to persuade owners of existing products to buy a new one.

Yet, I claim people own too few devices. Why? It is because of the wonderful multitude of forms.

Start with phones. Think of their shape: palm-sized, black, smooth. They are portable and ubiquitous. They are so general that almost all modern computing activities are possible. But not all devices have to be general. It also makes sense to have devices that one can demand fewer things of - that do less, that are less. Some constraints are not oppressive, but freeing.

One such form is the tablet. It is a wonderfully stupid form factor. It’s too big to carry easily or use one handed. It’s difficult to use in bed and uncomfortable to take out in public. And most can’t multitask well, if at all.


But these constraints free you. One of the loves of my life has been a tablet-sized ebook reader. I have spent hundreds of hours reading on it, despite being almost totally unable to concentrate on an article on my computer for more than 30 seconds.

Computers are bad reading devices precisely because you can do so much with them. Generality of purpose imposes a kind of tax on attention. When you first start using some device, some part of your mind starts recording all the things that it can do. Then, whenever you’re distracted or bored, muscle memory takes over: almost totally unconsciously your fingers move to change what you’re doing.

So the trick is to get a device you haven’t used before, and never allow it to distract you. Even better: get a device that is unable to.


Laser printers are entirely underrated for this. Printing on actual paper is a feature, not a bug. Paper stacks up, demanding your attention. You can grab entire stacks of paper and take them with you - ensuring you will give them your full attention when you arrive at your reading place. Unlike bookmarks, there is not infinite space.

Laser printers are also surprisingly low maintenance. They are reliable, can remain idle for some time, and are reasonably priced. Some great engineers even report printing code to read it.

Sometimes, you need ease of use, powerfulness, versatility. But other times, the question is instead about the most fundamental unit of currency of our lives: attention. Buying new kinds of devices is a trade that’s simple, uncomplicated, and can be highly rewarding in reclaiming time to focus. They are a steal, and devices like these - that take your attention seriously - are often worth their weight in gold.