Ministry of Prose: making words work for your business

One in a semi-regular series of ponderings, musings and contemplations on the interaction of words and psychology in business.

How often do you upgrade your toaster?

September 2014

Part of my work at the moment involves writing about technology, which is something I've done for over 20 years. In that time I've owned and used countless items of technology that were either ahead of their time or perfect for their time. Most became obsolete within just a few years, though some lasted longer.

Curiously, I've found that the best technology - which to me means the technology that remains useful for the longest time - is single-purpose. In other words it does one thing well. It might do a few other minor things too, but they are secondary to the main purpose.

Sometimes this isn't immediately obvious, and only becomes apparent years later. To explain that, I offer the example of the Psion range of palmtop computers from the 1990s. I've recently written an article for a client about using these machines in 2014, which is 15-20 years after they were designed.

What quickly became apparent was that there's nothing like them today for their primary purpose: writing while on the move.

That was not apparent at the time. I know this because I reluctantly stopped using my old Psion computers in about 2004 once the need for connectivity became too great. Email and web access became too important to me, and I compromised by buying machines that had good internet connectivity but poor keyboard input. Over time I forgot how good the Psions were at their primary task.

Returning to those machines in 2014 reminded me - they're so good that I've reincorporated them into my writing work-flow. I now carry one with me almost everywhere, jotting down notes and ideas wherever I go. These old palmtops still have no internet access, but that doesn't matter. I have other single-purpose devices for that.

In recent weeks I've been buying other old, single-purpose writing technology, for the simple reason that it helps me write. Most of my writing machines can't receive email or browse the web, but then my toaster can't display HDTV. Sometimes single-purpose is best.

In the coming weeks I'm going to start an online 'museum' of these old writing devices, explaining their background and how I use them in 2014 to write about everything from small business issues to the latest cloud technology. So watch this space...

Alex Cruickshank has been a professional writer since 1994 and has a single-minded approach to writing.

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