My Foray Into Digital Simplicity

I live in a time where everything I do can be done on a piece of electronic equipment that weighs so little as to be barely noticeable in my backpack.

I can write and publish, design and “paint,” chat and talk, compose and produce music, and share and read information all from one convenient location: anywhere.

But until recently I haven’t even had the desire to take advantage of this possibility. Instead, I’ve bogged myself down with powerful, heavy technology that does the same thing in slightly less amounts of time or with moderately less pizazz.

The million peripherals.

A desktop computer is a massive thing. You wouldn’t want to take it anywhere – even moving it between rooms and plugging it back in to itself is a David Hassle and a Half.

Take a look at this before shot of my work area. From left to right, what you can see is

  • 22″ Monitor
  • speaker (1 of 5)
  • keyboard
  • headphones
  • surround sound sub/amp
  • 17″ monitor
  • headphones
  • desktop
  • microphone stand
  • Rode Podcaster mic
  • plastic boxes full of collected wires, boxes, miscellaneous unneeded nic-nacs

Total power outlets required? Too many. Total power consumption? 300-400 watts. Space required? A whole room.

That’s from a few days ago, just before I decided to leave my prized contraption – complete with a newly added $200 graphics card – in the living room, and move my work onto a new laptop. A decision a long time in the brewing, encouraged by a great bunch of blogs I catch up on regularly.

This mightn’t seem like a “minimalist” move in itself as I’ve just added something else to my life. But my plan is that I can get used to doing everything from the laptop and its TINY 13″ screen, I can get rid of the crap that’s filling our studio/house/garage/hovel/dwelling.

Here’s the after shot, which includes everything I plan on needing to run my life and blog design business:

You can see (or you could if it was daytime) my new MacBook Pro, and on the desk behind it my graphics tablet for freehand design and painting.

Power outlets required? One. Total power consumption? Max 6-20 watts.

I think the benefits of this change can be assumed… more mobility, a much lighter environmental footprint (I’m starting to cringe to think about all the power I’ve been using in contrast), and a cleaner, simpler working area.

Here are the challenges I think I’m going to face:

Working on a 13″ screen

Looking down at the screen (rather than eye-level).

That’s about it really, everything has been pretty much plain sailing so far. All my software works as required on the basic 2.4ghz/4g-ram MacBook Pro – I can still fire up my favourite game (albeit at less quality than on the recently beefed up desktop – but when you’re playing, who cares, and anything to get me spending time more fruitfully!).

All in all I am very pleased with the decision I’ve made and the money I’ve spent. I can throw my entire life into a bag and walk out the door at any time, with no loss to my ability to perform my work (although I am getting used to the screen, as I mentioned).

The MacBook Pro is a surprisingly awesome machine by the way, and I’ll be reviewing it shortly from the perspective of a mobile digital professional. I’m still learning how to use a new operating system (a blast in itself for a nerd like me).

The meaning of it all

I’ve been ‘topping up’ my desktop for years, thinking “if I only had this… I could do that.”

On some level, each time I told myself I needed to expand my tool kit to do something new, I knew I was kidding myself. I just like technology, and an onlooker would assume that I really don’t like having money.

What I was trying to do was fill a cup with no bottom. Instead of just getting what I need to done, I looked for external excuses for my procrastinating and self-doubting. Anything but sit down and work.

I happily feel as if I’ve turned a new leaf. I feel liberated and inspired, not only because I’ve physically unburdened myself, but because I’ve accepted full responsibility for making shit happen. I’ve removed the food of the monster that says it needs more to ship (are you tired of people using Mr. Godin’s words yet?).

What does the future hold? Who knows. There are a million other ways I’m still a burdened and crippled human being. There are new aspects of life to clean out and refresh.

Thanks Danpryor for the sexy leaf.


  1. Raam Dev says:

    As a fellow geek who, at one time, owned six desktops, three laptops, and took several tables worth of space, and who couldn’t fathom living with a single 13″ MacBook Pro (as I do now), I can totally relate. :)

    What you said about constantly upgrading or looking for new ways to tweak the desktop to enhance procrastination is so true. The laptop almost forces you to work. Oh, and you’ll get used to the 13″ screen really quick… especially if you don’t use anything else (if you’re going back and forth between a larger screen, it might be hard to adjust).

    Now I’m trying to figure out if I can reduce even further and do all my writing, blogging, photography, email, and social networking using an iPhone + external bluetooth keyboard. I’m only considering this because I’m thinking of spending 4 – 5 months hiking the Appalachian Trail next year and lugging around a laptop of any size for 2,147 miles would be prohibitive.

  2. Ali says:

    All those computers… wow, you’d need like ten Raams on treadmills to power them :) What the hell did you have them for? Your tech support business?

    The macbook’s screen is astoundingly vivid – it’s actually better than the desktop monitor (asus) in the first photo above. That alone makes up for the size. I’ll have to stop talking about it soon and just do that review… maybe another video.

    I’m only using it, not the desktop, just so I can get used to it. It’s happening. I’m actually feeling more focussed because of it, I think.

    Sounds like it could be amazing hiking with just the phone and keyboard for communicado. Folding keyboards are come a long way I’ve heard. If I think about it, you could actually get quite a lot done from the iphone… you could even publish simple ebooks from google docs.

    • Raam Dev says:

      What can I say, I lived and breathed computers. :)

      And yes, I started my decade-long IT career in tech support, and I did plenty of tech support out of my own room, so I extra parts (both working and broken) of practically everything.

      I’ll have to dig up some old pictures a some point and post’em on Flickr. Those will be a real blast from the past. :D

  3. Bill Gerlach says:

    Nice work, Ali. Love it. Our iMac of six years just had its logic board go ka-putz, so we’re looking into something new the 13-inc Macbook Pro is on the short list. Portability — even with the kids using it — is a key consideration. Looking forward to the review!

    @Raam — Dang, that was a lot of stuff… I know I get that feeling when I think back to when I was younger. For me it was music equipment — guitars, amps, drum set, 4-track, etc. Now, just 2 simple acoustics. I miss shredding it up sometimes, but appreciate the mellow much more nowadays. :)

    • Ali says:

      Hey Bill…. for portability, I’d definately recommend this, especially with kids using it. It’s not the specs which make it good, it’s the quality and strength. I’m constantly getting blown away – the camera, microphone… backlit keyboard for perfectly comfy nighttime typing.. Plus you’re already used to mac. What else were you looking at? I’ve been researching lately. Email me.

  4. Sandra Lee says:

    Ali, Congratulations on the big shift. How wonderful. I was amazed to read about the different in watts.

    I have a MacBook 12″ (I think). I use a glass/metal two tier table so the screen is closer to eye level and a small wireless keyboard and mouse. I know that means more stuff, but it does save your neck muscles.

    Good luck with the transition. It is so freeing to let go of stuff!

    • Ali says:

      Thank you dear Sandra! I know there’s a ‘so what’ factor there… but it’s more the changes going on in me… glad you can read between the lines. it’s a real attitude turn around. And the reason I’m literally singing praise for this MacBook Pro is that it’s really making all this possible. Hey – I should get on to them about some commission or something! No honestly I wouldn’t take it because a good thing deserves fere praise.

      I thought about the possibility of using a keyboard and raising the laptop to eye level… but at the moment that would mean buying a keyboard which is not on the books. But I’ll try it out now with the desktop keyboard and a couple of boxes. Yeay! That works. This might end up as my semi-portable solution for semi-pernmanent working areas.

      One question – how do you see a 12″ screen from back in your chair? I assume the raise part of your desk is at the back.. ?

  5. Majeeda says:

    Good stuff Ali! I think it was after reading Leo’s book that I tackled all my IT type stuff. I havn’t thought about this for a while but … I don’t even use a desk anymore.I think you will adjust to the screen soon enough and you won’t miss it. If you want to do something, you adjust.

    Regarding looking down on the screen…so you are not considering using a extra keyboard & mouse at all? If you have a problem later with your neck maybe you could consider it. When I sat at my desk (and I’ve used a laptop for years now) I would raise it but use a keyboard and mouse. Now I don’t bother but I do have a stand that can raise it up a on different angles which is handy sometimes for that and also if we are watching a movie together on it.

    I always suffer a bit of envy when I walk past the macs in the computer shop, lol… they do sound great.

    • Ali says:

      Regarding computer envy – that’s the challenge! Questions such as “can I do what I need on my current computer” tend to take a backseat when there’s money in the bank and a gorgeous something in the shop window.

      I did have a laptop before I got this Mac. It was four years old but going strong. There were a few small issues with it, such as a 10 minute battery that limited where I could work… the fact it ran quite hot (it was an early core duo, less efficient than core 2 duos or i5/7s…), it was a 15″ which made it just a little heavy – not quite the perfect compromise between portability and usefulness that I knew a 13″ or 14″ inch would be.

      I worked hard to justify the Macbook Pro. If you’ve been following me closely (who follows someone that closely?) you heard me mention I bought a graphics card. That was to placate me after I decided not to get a laptop right now, but to wait until I had some more money in the bank.

      So I don’t know if my move was truly smart and necessary or not. There’s an element of newness that excites me to get out and work in different places, even if it’s just the garden.

      But what’s going to happen in three years when the latest superduper thing is on display and my Macbook is starting to show its age?

      Running a computer on it’s last legs… upgrading bits here and there, is fun in itself so maybe I’ll just work with what I’ve got and be happy. Batteries can always be replaced!

    • Ali says:

      And about the neck… I’m really sensitive to my body and anomolaies in my back in particular… I probably had a massively sore back in a past life or something. It’s not so bad when moving from place to place – and taking breaks.

      A second keyboard/mouse and a raised laptop is A LOT cheaper and lighter than a second monitor. Just have to wait a bit while Angela gets over my latest spending spree. I’ve been hitting it pretty hard lately.

      The apple mighty mouse looks mighty mighty, but it’s more than a normal mouse…. see! I’m so incorrigible.

  6. Lynn Fang says:

    Sounds great, Ali. Thanks for the link love! I’ve heard looking down at a laptop screen all the time can be bad. You could try plugging in your monitor to the laptop? It would be one more item, but for the sake of ergonomics it could be worth it. And you already have the monitor anyway.

    Though I only use a Macbook 15″ so my neck is probably not the happiest ;P

    • Ali says:

      Pleasure Lynn – you’re a great encouragement through Upcycled Love, in case it doesn’t go without saying. Love the poignant posts!

      I do already have a monitor, but I do want to get as used to working with 13″ of screen-estate as possible. I also like using less electricity (strange, I’ve never worried about it before, holding onto the idea that ‘being vegan is good enough’)… even LCD monitors use heaps and heaps more power than the laptop screens. Not just from the green perspective, but from the minimalist perspective as well, it just feels good to use less, when sensible and achievable.

      (this is a new joy for me!)

      Plus I’m just loving working on a clear desk.

      There is the electro magnetic issue with a laptop up close which is a bit of a down side.

      So I’ll probably raise the laptop, like in the photo in my reply to Sandra (or higher) and connect a mouse and keyboard when I get around to it.

      Seems like regular usb keyboard don’t work too well with Macs though?

  7. Leslie says:

    Wow, that was a large digital clean up looks nice. Woah, thanks for the mention!
    Oooo I’ve been salivating over a mac book pro for a while, looking forward to the review. Just one bad thing I’ve heard about it was the wifi was a little iffy.

    • Ali says:

      Hi Leslie. I wanted to wait a bit and test out the wifi until I replied. As if – I plain overlooked your comment :)

      My room is still a mess. Less stuff to make a mess with but I still manage. Goes to show, it’s all in my head. I am more mobile now though.

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  1. Ali Dark says:

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  3. Reading @alidark3000 's: Foray Into Digital Simplicity and thinking it's time to do the same with my office!

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