[nSLUG] Rise & Fall of the PDA

Daniel MacKay daniel at bonmot.ca
Sun Aug 23 18:14:57 ADT 2009

Does anyone remember the Palm?  I do -- I've had one attached to the  
end of my arm since 1997, when my boss, John Sherwood, wanted to  
upgrade his original Pilot 5000 to something a little more modern.

A few years before that, John had noticed that I had something of  
a ... let's call politely call it, "distress" over organizing projects  
and my to-do list. He suggested that I get a Daybook -- we were using  
the TSI one, take the course on audio cassette included with your  
binder, and take the time / project management course - three or five  
days or something like that. As far as I can tell, TSI was a ripoff of  
the "Daytimer" time management system.  I chose the "Monarch" size  
system; the pages are 8.5 x 11 so you have two 8.5 x 11" pages per day  
-- the back side of yesterday's page, the front side of today.

That course changed my life.  There were a main principles in that  
course (there are a lot of smaller ones:)
* you use the Book for everything: not just work items, but also  
personal, and hobby stuff
* that means, having it with you everywhere, and
* it has to be 100% reliable; you have to trust it;
* something is either a priority for today (an "A" item)- or it isn't.  
Something bad will happen if you don't get an A item done today.
* don't overfill your days.

These organizational principles are hardly original - the Daytimer  
religion was created in the late '40s, probably based on 1930s  
industrial efficiency research, but I went from constantly being  
worried - physically sick, often, that I was forgetting something I'd  
promised to do, to being completely unable to forget promises, project  
timelines, birthdays, and storing good ideas about upcoming  
vacations.  A kind of serenity took over my life.

The Daytimer has three main physical parts:
* Day Pages which store information for about a month into the future
* A Dates section which stores repeating events (e.g. birthdays,  
"Start income tax", "Buy seeds for spring"
* An A-Z "File Cabinet" where you could file anything alphabetically,  
but particularly "project" information

So anyway, years later, I inherited John Sherwood's old Palm, and over  
a few months -- I carried both during that time -- I transferred all  
my Daytimer stuff into the Palm fairly successfully. There were two  
things that the Daytimer did better:
* drawings: the old Palm screen resolution was 160x160; what is the  
resolution of a 0.3 mechanical pencil on an 8.5 x 11" sheet of paper?
* and, the Daytimer can reliably store other stuff -- up to about  
MacLean's magazine size -- in the "File Cabinet" section.

On the other hand,  the Palm could be backed up, replicated, unlike my  
Daytimer which was once left on the roof of a taxi (but, I got it  
back!)  --
part of the Palm's religion was that regular backups were no brainers,  
part of the charging system.

About a year ago, my roommate started bemoaning the fall of the  
Newton, lo, many years ago, and the loss of all of the organizing  
tools that went with that. He looked at a number of other technologies  
- for instance, a Nokia N800, and other web- Windows- and Mac OS-  
based software; naturally I suggested he get a Palm like mine (I'm  
currently using the Palm T|X.) He ended up with a Hipster PDA:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hipster_PDA 
  and has created a local LinkedIn group for it:


Like the Palm and the Daytimer, there are two parts to the Hipster:  
the physical unit, and the discipline (I usually call it a  
"religion.")  The discipline comes from David Allen's _Getting Things  
Done_ (there's a good review of it here: http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/08/getting-started-with-getting-things-done 

Then, at a project planning meeting a few weeks ago, a consultant from  
a competing business -- pulls out his Hipster!  Then, a couple of  
weeks later, someone else!  I started thinking about this, because for  
the last five years, people have been looking at my Palm T|X and  
saying, "Oh wow, are you *still* using one of those?"

The conclusion I've come to is: people abandoned their Palms when they  
got celphones, because of the inconvenience of carrying around one  
more thing;  most people (possibly not most people on this list)  
consider having a gadget bandolier to be excessively geeky.

The great irony of course, is that the paper and pen (oddly, not  
pencil as was part of the Daytimer religion) Hipster is considered,  
well, hip, and the much more capable Palm is considered outdated, even  
when the Hipster is based on millenia-old hardware and both systems on  
an organizational system in common use a half century ago.

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