In Defense of Laptops
I work in web development so there has been a lot of emphasis in the past few years about “mobile first” front-end web development. This means designing your website for phones and tablets before you make sure it works correctly on a laptop or desktop computer. The reasoning behind this paradigm shift is that internet traffic from mobile devices eclipsed laptops at some point in 2014 (6). Despite these facts, I have not met a lot of developers who do actually build websites this way. One reason is that most people are using apps when on their mobile devices. Only 14% of the nearly three hours spent daily on mobile devices (1, 3) is through a browser, which means that as far as websites are concerned, mobile is still lagging behind, if we are strictly talking about browser-based activity. Most people are using apps that are specially designed to run on the phone or tablet. Those apps make information requests to servers in a similar way to the way your laptop’s browser works, the only difference being that generally the look and feel is provided by the app itself. Another significant difference is that mobile apps have privileged access to the gizmos like accelerometers, GPS, Bluetooth, and whatever else your phone manufacturer has decided to throw in.
Laptops have big screens but few gizmos; mobile devices have smaller screens but lots of gizmos. It also turns out that people stay on the same website or app for roughly the same amount of time, about a minute on average. (2, 4, 5)
The most substantive difference is the keyboard and what it symbolizes, namely input. Devices lacking keyboards are primarily consumption-oriented devices. They have very low input to output ratios. Time-wasting activities hardly ever require a keyboard. Scrolling your way down an infinite scroll app like Instagram or tapping the next video you would like to see on YouTube requires very little input. Keyboard-driven devices tend to have higher input to output ratios. For nearly any type of deep work on a computer, you are going to need a keyboard. Whether that be creating music, writing a chapter of your memoir, or analyzing a dataset, your input is crucial to the process. This is one reason that although our mobile devices “can do anything” a laptop can do, in practice they do not.
The final point in defense of laptops is that in the current web environment, they give you considerably more control. Through browser extensions like Stylebot, you can change the web to look the way you want it to. This may mean turning Facebook lime green, or it may mean removing an annoying section from an otherwise beloved page. Another browser extension, Stylish, crowdsources modifications for popular pages. If you are tired of all the advertising online, a browser extension like AdBlock removes ads from most pages. Also if you are concerned about your privacy, there are extensions like Privacy Badger that can make it harder for companies to track your activity online. Browser extensions can even bolster self-control. One extension called Chrome Nanny, lets you set limits on time spent on certain pages in certain time periods. The more you begin learning to leverage extensions and customize the web to your needs, the faster and more productive, and hopefully more relaxed, you will become.*
Mobile devices have captivated most of our imaginations, but unless your primary goal is entertainment, there are better tools for the job. If you find yourself tumbling down the internet’s rabbit hole too often, take some time to reflect on how your tools are suited to your purpose. Rework your networking tools until you create a calm, productive environment and it will pay dividends for years to come.
*While the extensions listed above all are designed for Chrome, there are thriving extension marketplaces for all the major browsers.
Forbes Welcome. (2014). Forbes.com. Retrieved 16 June 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewanspence/2014/04/02/the-mobile-browser-is-dead-long-live-the-app/#42d7e518614d
How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?. (2011). Nngroup.com. Retrieved 16 June 2017, from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-long-do-users-stay-on-web-pages/
How People Use Their Devices: What Marketers Need to Know. (2016). Storage.googleapis.com. Retrieved 16 June 2017, from https://storage.googleapis.com/think/docs/twg-how-people-use-their-devices-2016.pdf
Macmanus, R., Asay, M., Proffitt, B., Melanson, M., Cameron, C., & Rao, M. (2012). Study: Average App Session Lasts About 1 Minute – ReadWrite. Retrieved 16 June 2017, from http://readwrite.com/2012/01/17/study_average_app_session_lasts_about_1_minute/
Sch, J., Hecht, B., Matthias, B., & Fachhochschule, M. (2011). Falling Asleep with Angry Birds , Facebook and Kindle – A Large Scale Study on Mobile Application Usage. Measurement, 11, 47–56. https://doi.org/10.1145/2037373.2037383
The U.S. Mobile App Report. (2014). comScore, Inc. Retrieved 16 June 2017, from http://www.comscore.com/Insights/Presentations-and-Whitepapers/2014/The-US-Mobile-App-Report?cs_edgescape_cc=US