Not long before I left the rocket business, management hosted a meeting for young engineers who had expressed an interest in joining the company. The potential candidates were surveyed regarding the kinds of priorities they had, both in their personal lives and careers. Overwhelmingly, they said that staying connected was highest on their list, and that meant through sophisticated electronics, namely PDAs, or personal digital assistants.

When I first heard that — and after someone told me what a PDA was — I was stunned. But now, not so much.

Think about it, or think about what a PDA — today’s smart cell phone — entails. It is, in a larger sense, a mobile communications center, a home office for your pocket, complete with a nearly full service computer. I still find that a bit too much and probably always will; full-size keyboards and a nearby kitchen are a lot closer to my style. But more and more, I find myself in a shrinking minority in that preference. For today’s sub-40 population, mobility and speed are everything.

With one of these guys in hand, you could create a complete, complex project, sans desk, telephone (land line), file drawers and paper.

Here’s what you can do with an iPad…

Say you wanted to do a 5,000-word report on red-tailed hawks (just for instance). First, you go out into the field where you encounter the birds and nesting areas. You verbally record notes into your iPad, which can be instantly converted into text for the report. You take pictures that will be included in the report and store them away. You go on line for more information on the various species of hawks, as well as the names of experts who you can call for still more info and add that to the file ( record the call and convert into text). You use the PowerPoint software to create graphics and charts.

Then you create the report, with a printable version, as well as a “live” version that can include videos and slide shows, which you can now email your boss and all 500 of your friends to brag about. And it’s all been done on a hand-held tool that only requires periodic charging.

I mean, are you kidding me?!

Never mind a Nikon and a laptop, I go all  the way back to card catalogues, typewriters, film and tripods, to say nothing of the weeks involved in pulling one of those things together. Yeah, and hand-written drafts, waiting for proofs, along with cornering the time to do all of it. Little wonder that the small-time reporter (not journalist) is rapidly becoming king on web-based news.

What this means — what it has  meant in recent years — is smaller and smaller tools that in turn facilitate multi-tasking, the ability and the wherewithal to do several things at the same time…the problem being that sharp focus is reduced. I continue to be one of the concentrating type, with my eyes set on single items or considerations, otherwise confusion seems to set in. No so, of course, with the PDA-attached generation, with the consensus fully attuned to doing more in less time, which is not exactly the same thing as productivity.

Again, I’m impressed with the slick facility of the pocket office. As we’re forever saying, such devices were considered a very long ways from reality a generation ago. And now much of the novelty has worn off, with practicality appreciated. The worry, however, is that undue fascination with endless technology undercuts the value and need for creative depth and dedication. There is not now, and never will be, a substitute for a blank piece of paper and pen in the hands of one person of talent and energy.

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