We like to joke in economics that we economists seem to always have two hands. We are known for saying “on the one hand” and then explaining some policy implication, only to follow quickly with “on the other hand”, followed by a conflicting policy implication. I found myself thinking of this recently while on vacation as I debated the merits and costs of possibly buying a laptop computer or a tablet.
One of the benefits of an academic career is that we are not tied to our desk, but can carry our work with us wherever we go. This allows us to grade in the evening and to write tests on Saturday, even taking our research with us on vacation. I remember one day as a graduate student when I took my dissertation with me to Walden Pond (yes, THE Walden Pond) and was greeted by a few people who asked me what I was writing. I assume that they thought I must be writing poetry, as they were surprised to see pages of matrices of differential equations composed mostly of Greek letters when I showed them my creations, mumbling “my dissertation” under my breath. I guess that many of the people who bring creative work with them to such a hollowed place are actual poets, but I have to say that I saw some “poetry” in what I was working on, even if it was not immediately obvious to the passing fellow tourist.
On the other hand, one of the difficulties of an academic career is that we are not tied to our desk, but can carry our work with us wherever we go. This means that we are never really apart from our work or the responsibilities of that work, and that our minds are always being drawn back to the questions of our fields or the structure of our classes. It was this magnetism that led me to consider buying a laptop computer this past week.
I spent the last week on vacation, with my family, my parents, and my sister and her family (she is hanging in there, although she is on her second type of chemotherapy, which seems to be making more progress in fighting the cancer.) While there, I had a strange sense of being isolated from the world, as I spent the entire week without logging onto a computer or reading my e-mail. I had a moment of panic one night when I thought I had misspelled a crucial work in my column for that Friday which I had submitted a week earlier. I learned later that I had misspelled it, but in an earlier version, and had completely re-written that section before sending it in. Those few moments of panic made me consider buying a laptop, something that I have resisted for several years.
On the one hand, it would be nice to be able to bring my writing with me wherever I go, and to be able to work on it whenever I have a free moment. On the other hand, I already think of my research and other writing whenever I have a moment to myself, and then enter it into a computer when I get home or to work, making a laptop unnecessary and even annoying, as it would make my work intrude into whatever few quiet moments I seem to find in the midst of working and parenting. And so, I want to ask my knowledgeable readers; what do you think? Is it worth having a laptop or tablet to take your work with you, or does having one prevent you from ever having any time away from your work?