It's Monday and I'm back at my desk, in my home office, after a bunch of travel. I was on the road for three of the last four weeks, in Texas, then Utah, and finally Kure Beach, NC. That means my computing experience was entirely mediated by one of several small, glowing rectangles: my iPhone XR, an iPad, or my M1 MacBook Air. While there's a glorious freedom to the mobile computing experience, travel always makes me yearn for a rich physical computing environment.
What do I mean by a physical computing environment?
For starters, knowledge workers need more than a single glowing rectangle to do their work. Think about all the tools you use as you work: drawings on a whiteboards, scrawlings in a notebook, sticky notes arranged on a wall, index cards scattered about a table. We embody our thoughts in the physical world and use space to arrange them. Our current computer screens are far too limited a palette, in terms of size alone, not to mention the atrocity of software and input devices!
Have you ever come across a whiteboard with some elaborate diagram inscribed upon it and "DO NOT ERASE" scrawled in the corner? Our ideas need permanent space, to persist from hour-to-hour and day-to-day. We need to be able to walk away from our work, have a long lunch or take a nap, return to the work, see it afresh, renew our vigor. The cutting edge these days is saving your browser tabs or saving a configuration of windows. We can do better.
The best tools invite their own usage. If you play piano, you know the itch in your fingers when you see a piano sitting in someone's home, or even in the airport. Just seeing it makes you want to play it. Our tools need to be readily visible in the environment, inviting us to pick them up, to put them to good use.
I have much more to say on this subject, but I'd like to hear from you as well: what's the most unconventional thing about your workspace setup?
I'm curious about anything from your desk, to the lighting in your office, to how you group your tabs. Show me something crazy.
I'll share one from my workspace: my desk is directly next to a large 5 foot by 4 foot (that's 1.5 meters by 1.2 meters) whiteboard that has a 4K USB webcam pointed at it.
This enables several workflows:
Send me your outlandish workspace customizations!