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Pragmatic Technology

I have this old fashioned belief that technology is a means, not an end, and that it should improve your life, not imprison it. With that in mind, here are my suggestions for an office with enough technology to save you time and effort, but not so much as to drive you to distraction.

  • A desk top computer with as much memory and storage as your budget allows. A first class monitor to reduce eye strain and maximize what you’re viewing. A best-in-class laser printer for correspondence, and an excellent color printer if you do your own graphics. I’ve found things like scanners, voice recognition, and other peripherals to be little-used and a lot of trouble. However, a cable link to the Internet is worth almost any amount of money, since the Internet is always available, downloading occurs instantly, and you can save hours and hours a week. If you don’t have such access available, put in the highest speed line or modem that you can afford.
  • A lap top computer that is compatible with the desk top, and also has maximum memory, storage, and speed. Enough battery power to last on a coast-to-coast airplane trip (about six hours), and the ability to change to CD, floppy, or Zip drives “hot” (without turning off the machine).
  • A postage meter and scale that can accommodate a minimum of ten pounds and electronically set the meter, based on the letter or package weight. The ability to fund the meter over the phone, minimizing post office trips. I’ve found that postage available on the Internet thus far demands special software for your computer and lacks flexibility on a case-by-case basis. Obtain a scale that has the software to provide certified, insurance, international, and even UPS rates, so that you never have to stand in line again.
  • A fax machine with a large memory that uses regular paper. Don’t worry about whether it can serve as a copier, and whether it has a zillion speed dial memory feature, because these options are seldom used and are unimportant (and fax machines make lousy copiers). I don’t like to use my computer and printer as my basic fax station, since trouble with one then means trouble with both, and excellent fax machines are cheap these days.
  • A copier which can enlarge and reduce with flexibility, has maximum speed, and uses simple paper loading and no-mess cassettes. Automatic feeders and collation ability are expensive and unnecessary options. For major printing jobs you’re better served using the local print shop anyway.
  • A multi-line phone with back-up message center (in case your normal voice mail fails or you forget to forward your phone), speed dial, maximum number memory, high quality speaker phone, and a high quality head set (invaluable for long conference calls).
  • A cell phone with maximum battery length, at least a full day in standby and several hours of “talk.” Memory numbers here aren’t that important since you can only remember so many speed dial codes, but small size is important so that it can easily fit into a pocket or purse without a bulge. Try to get unlimited roaming for one monthly fee if you travel a lot.
  • If you take credit cards, obtain an electronic terminal which instantly processes numbers you key in and can “close” immediately, meaning that the credits can hit your bank account the next morning at the latest.
  • As for personal digital assistants, I find that nothing beats a Filofax or similar paper system for flexibility and speed. Try to look at a full year’s schedule or a complex spread sheet on the screen of a palm-sized electronic aid. It just doesn’t work.

I use about 20%-30% of the capability of my technology, meaning that it’s more than I need, can accommodate growth, and is very efficient at what is required. On the other hand, I don’t spend expensive time trying to master ancillary and arcane functions which I’d use once in a blue moon.

What we all need is correspondence, spread sheets, simple graphics, a data base, some fun games, and the ability to communicate quickly and effectively, incoming and outgoing. After that, head for the beach.