Maybe Better Tools Make Us Better Creators

A couple weeks ago, I asked on Mastodon about getting a new, lightweight travel laptop. I got a bunch of kind replies, but it was Trevor Longino who first suggested Microsoft’s Surface series. I’d never played with one, but a few glowing reviews later, I took the leap.

Me and my new, Surface 5 laptop, enjoying a cozy Sunday night by the menorah

The laptop is very, very nice to use. It’s sleek, pretty, comfortable, lightweight, fast, and intuitive. Microsoft’s clearly put a lot of effort into making the UX tip-top on hardware, software, even the packaging and setup process. The two biggest features for me are

  1. The comfort of the keyboard and touchpad (my hands get less tired using the device, and I’m not constantly having to avoid accidentally getting too close to the touchpad with my thumbs)
  2. The 3:2 aspect ratio (I hadn’t realized how frustrating and constraining the 16:9 widescreen was on a small screen until I got this thing)

Here’s the weird part: this laptop doesn’t fundamentally do anything differently than my old one. I still use the same, primarily-browser-driven experience to run 90%+ of my work (with rare exceptions for PowerPoint and Excel). But… I find myself wanting to work more. I’m excited to get to my laptop.

On the plane ride back from Santa Clarita (where Casey, Amanda, and I had a rare, in-person meeting), I pulled it out to write Thursday night’s blog post. At nights and on the weekend, I find myself writing more, replying more, and choosing the device over my phone.

Part of that is because it’s cold, wet, dark, and blustery in Seattle, and walking to the office shed out back of our house is a generally miserable experience. But, part of it is the laptop itself. It’s a pleasure to use.

I’m the same way with writing implements, ingredients, kitchen gear.

This knife, a gift from the lovely Andrew Bohrer, was crying out to slice some panettone last night.

There’s an old adage about how great artists and creators can make great works no matter what tools they have. The message: that tools shouldn’t limit the quality of our work or our productivity, seems correct, noble, fair.

But, reality isn’t.

Three realizations:

  1. Upgrading your tools may increase not only your productivity, but the quality of output
  2. Marketing products as a lift in pleasure-driven productivity might be a compelling option
  3. You can optimize for the type of work you do and don’t want to do by modifying investment in your tools (e.g. hate to travel by car? Buy a vehicle that can’t hold much and isn’t fun to drive. Love to cook? Rent the apartment with smaller closets, and a better kitchen)

FWIW, Microsoft’s Surface 5 page doesn’t do much of #2, but The Verge’s review really does.

Funny enough, this also applies to my other creations–the camera setup in my shed makes high quality videos easy, so I do a lot of them. My phone camera makes high-quality photographs easy, so I take a lot of those (in fact, with every camera upgrade, I find myself taking and sharing more photos). My kitchen devices and tools, same story.

Tools don’t make us into creators. But better tools might actually make us better creators.

p.s. I’m planning to do more short-form blog posts like these in the year ahead, as I wind down 15 years of Twitter-centric activity. On that note, I hope you’ll follow me and @SparkToro on Mastodon; here’s a friction-free invite: (just don’t share it on Twitter if you want to keep your account)