As a college freshman, in the fall of 1992, I had to beg and plead with the dean of the College of Library and Information Sciences to get a university e-mail address and storage space on the network. Unless a student was enrolled in information science classes, you didn’t get any form of network access. I even remember the dean asking me, “How do you know about e-mail?”
It wasn’t until my junior year that the tides changed and any student could get an e-mail account and storage space on the network by signing up for it in the computer lab. By that time, I had long ago befriended the computer lab assistants and had a tricked-out student account that violated most of the new student-use policies. One of the nice parts of my account was that I had created a virtual desktop system in Mosaic. It wasn’t difficult to do, but it was definitely against the rules. When I started using it, I noticed significant improvement in my productivity and I paid off the lab guys with cookies to let me keep it.
After graduation, I went to work for an organization that refused to use a network and passed floppy discs around to share files. No e-mail. The whole building accessed the Internet by dial-up. I quickly forgot about virtual desktops and was simply glad to have a printer attached to my PC.
A couple weeks ago, I was watching my husband work at his desk with two monitors and all of the memories about my time in the college computer lab came rushing back to me. He was using his two monitors the same way I had used my virtual desktops. I was surprised that in more than 10 years I hadn’t once considered doing something similar.
I jumped on the Dell website and ordered a refurbished UltraSharp 2408WFP 24-inch widescreen flat-panel monitor. It is almost twice the size of my 13-inch MacBook monitor, and has turned out to be a productive and uncluttered addition to my workspace.
For starters, numerous reports abound that having more than one monitor increases productivity. The way it helps me is that I can keep open my calendar and other goal-oriented programs throughout the whole of my workday, and these programs don’t get lost behind my working documents. I also am far-sighted, so having the larger screen is great for when I’m working on images in Photoshop. There are additional productivity improvements, but I think they’re well covered in the article I previously mentioned.
The other benefit to having a second monitor is that it clears up cable clutter on my desk. The monitor has five USB ports, xD/SD/MS/MMC and CF drives built into it, and only one cable connecting to my laptop. Before the second monitor, I had a slew of cables coming out of my computer. I was constantly playing an unplug/replug game throughout the day as I needed to use different devices, and it was difficult to make my laptop portable. Now, I have a power cord, a monitor cable, and a USB cable hooked to my machine and that’s all. Not having to shuffle cables about also means that I can use cable ties on the cords that are permanently plugged into the monitor and get rid of the mess of cables that was on my desk.