Lately my digital life is undergoing a paradigm shift. More and more I prefer using my Android phone and tablet over my laptop, which is connected to two 24″ monitors. My productive activities include two main areas: writing and photography. There are other things I do of course, but I would like to focus on these two areas for the course of this article. Even with just these two fields of interest, I use a variety of programs and applications. I will go through each one and try to explain why I use that particular program. What is more interesting, though, is actually not what I use and why, but rather how and how often.
Basically I can now dissect my digital life into two categories. On one hand there is my trusty Vaio laptop, which is not close to four and a half years old; on the other hand, there is my not-so-old Xperia S. I also have a first generation Samsung Galaxy Tab, which still works perfectly fine. Both Android devices run on version 2.3.7, but I’m expecting an upgrade to 4.04 for the Xperia S in the next couple of weeks. Really, it does not bother me, because 2.3.7 is very stable and does everything I need or want it to do. On my computer, I run Windows 8 Release Preview.
Tools I Use for Writing
For the longest time I was used to working in MS Office. This has changed in the last few weeks, even more so since Google Drive was launched. It is a joy to write on my tablet, but it works just as well on my phone. With a little practice I managed to come close to touch typing on my mobile devices. What is the big selling point is the convenience and constant synchronization, granted there’s a constant 3G connection. I have tried many services including SkyDrive and Wuala. Dropbox never really caught my attention. Yet if you are an Android user, only Google Drive offers full integration. This is, of course, very helpful, since I also write on my mobile devices. It is simply convenient, but if you are a Windows Phone or iOS user, there are certainly similar services.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of features missing in the mobile version of Google Drive. It is not possible to move files around into other folders, like it is possible when using the Web interface. Another little feature I miss when I write articles on Android is that there is no word count. This may not seem like a big drawback, but for me it is a little annoying detail. I always like to see how much I have written, which is always a good way to procrastinate. We writers love to procrastinate (or not really).
Inspiration is still the greatest source for ideas. For this I read news every morning and evening on my phone, using Flipboard and Pulse. Both are very slick apps that present news from various selectable sources in a very cool, visual way. Before, I would spend a lot of time reading news and articles online. For some weird reason, I complete this task much more efficiently on a mobile device, and in much less time than before. I guess the reason is that everything is more condensed. There are no distracting ads or photos everywhere, as is the case on the desktop versions of the websites. Now I barely read anything on the computer.
There two other apps that I could not live without. Google Translate has become increasingly more accurate, at least with the languages for which I use it. Having it on the phone is convenient because I can also say the word and just a second later I have the desired translation. Right now I am learning Swedish, and my fiancee has confirmed that the translations are — most of the time — correct. If you have reached a certain level, the translations are, in the worst cases, still useful for understanding the context. In most cases, this is the minimum one wants from a translation. You will not be able to perfectly translate a play by Shakespeare.
Last but not least are, of course, online dictionaries. Even though my English may be quite good, I still need the dictionary. On occasion I know what I want to write in German, but temporarily forget the English word. It is quite frustrating when I know what I want to say, but the words are stuck in my throat. So it is really easy to take out my phone and get a translation within seconds. There is no need anymore for carrying around huge, printed dictionaries. This is the one type of book that I don’t miss.
Tools I Use for Photography
Apart from my camera, a Nikon D3s, the computer is, of course, an invaluable part of my workflow. Nowadays I do this only for my own personal satisfaction, and so the demand for speed has shifted to a more focused and creative workflow. At the heart stand both Lightroom and Photoshop. On the mobile side, there are three useful apps installed on my phone: Instagram, Aviary, and Sundroid.
Lately I find myself using my phone more often for taking photos. This says nothing about the software or hardware, but rather it speaks to a change in my perspective on the creative process. I still use my big DSLR of course, but only if I know that a particular photo will look much better with its help. Usually I do not carry around my whole camera equipment setup, since the phone delivers outstanding quality for everyday situations. It has changed and, perhaps, is beginning to improve my photography.
Though the app took a long time to be released on Android, Instagram is a very fun and sometimes surprising way of discovering great imagery, but also create your own work. So whatever positive opinions I have about this particular app, this is not really a review of the app itself, but an observation of how it affects me. This is something I cannot emulate on the computer, since the experience would be very different. I cannot carry around my laptop to take photos, so of course it is an ability confined to smartphones. I am not really interested in the communal and competitive part of it. It is not followers I seek, but creative freedom. Instagram is a tool that inspires unlimited creativity, since it is so accessible and versatile.
The Magic of Mobility
Not so long ago there were great writers and photographers, without all this digital nonsense. It is sad in a way how all of us have become dependent on these tools. Today, it would be difficult for a photographer to be commercially successful without harnessing the power of computers and digital cameras. When I finally bought this new phone, I did not expect it to improve my digital lifestyle so drastically. This will be different from person to person, of course. I have friends who barely use their smartphones for anything more than texting and Facebook. Even today, many people are still not comfortable about using mobile devices, but this is something that will likely change in the not-too-distant future.
As for me, I can say with certainty that smartphones and tablets will soon take over 80 – 90 percent of my computing needs. Anything except photo editing and the occasional video editing is served perfectly well by a mobile device. Apps become more and more complex, and allow — in many cases — close to the same features as their desktop counterparts. For now, though, I am genuinely surprised at how quickly this technology has advanced in just the last five years. Yet always, as I watch these long leaps forward, I wonder if it is always for the better. Are we truly improving life, or making it just a bit easier? As I get older, I tend to ask many questions. Yes, these tools make my life as a writer and photographer much easier. However, in both fields, I still have to rely on the most natural and fascinating source of inspiration of all: human nature.
CC licensed Flickr photo shared by x-ray delta one