Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lightsource for using notebook computers in the dark would be valuable feature

I often use my laptop in bed at night with all the lights off while my wife is sleeping but find it difficult to find all the right keys to enter my password. This is a problem wherever I use my notebook in the dark, such as riding in the back seat of a car or on a bus or train. Why don't we add a small light to the notebook that would illuminate the keys, thus enabling users to find the right keys in the dark?

First of all, if you find yourself frequently using your laptop in bed, after dark, while your wife is asleep, then finding the right keys is the least of your problems. What exactly are you doing on the computer, anyway? Couldn't you just go into another room where it's OK to have the lights on and then go to bed when you're finished?

But it sounds like your bed is not the only place you like to use your notebook, since you also mentioned the back seat of cars and buses as other darkened settings where computer use is imperative. Which begs the question: do you ever not use that thing? Here are a couple of suggestions to help you solve your keyboarding problem.

1. Learn to type. With all ten fingers. I know it sounds difficult, but trust me on this one, it's possible. They teach people how to use keyboards at schools for the blind all the time, and I know from first-hand experience that sighted people are also able to learn to type without looking at the keys. Sure, it's kind of hard at first, but with the amount of time you apparently spend on your notebook computer, I'm sure you'll eventually get the hang of it. Your keyboard is even conveniently equipped with with small tabs on two of the keys to help you get your fingers in the right place. Oh, and you might even start to type a bit faster if you're watching the screen and not your fingers, which means less time on the computer and hopefully no more need to use it after dark.

2. Get some other hobbies. I realize that there are lots of interesting things to do on the computer, such as playing solitaire, building excel spreadsheets, and reading email memos about budget cuts. But there are also ways to entertain one's self that don't involve computers. If you are riding on a bus or in the back seat of a car, chances are pretty good that there are other occupants in the vehicle. I know it seems strange to interact with someone face to face, but it might prove entertaining to talk to some of these people. In fact, if you know the people you are riding around in cars with, they may actually expect you to be talking to them and find it a bit weird that your face is buried in your notebook while you hunt and peck for your password. If you prefer not to talk, you could listen to music. Or you could skip the bus/car altogether and take up bicycling or walking as a means of transportation and exercise all at once.

3. Get some sleep. As strange as the other occupants of the vehicle likely find it that you are using your computer rather than interacting with them, I guarantee that your wife finds it even stranger that you are using the computer while in bed with her. Do you have any children, and if so, how old? That's what I thought. Try going to bed at the same time your wife does, but instead of booting up the PC (as you clearly are not a Mac user), talk with your wife. Ask her how her day went. Show some interest in what she's doing. Maybe even demonstrate a bit of affection. If you take this approach, worst-case-scenario you will get more sleep and be more productive during the day. Best case scenario, you may discover that there are things to do in bed with the lights out that are more entertaining than whatever it is you are doing on the computer.

I don't know if you've ever been given the classic breakup line, "it's not you, it's me." Well in this case, "it's not the computer, it's you." Putting a light on your notebook will no more solve your problems than making your wife's PDA waterproof so she can use it in the shower. Believe it or not, adding more technology is not the answer to most of life's problems. So learn to type, spend less time on the computer, talk to your friends, and pretend to care about your wife until you actually do. Thanks for the suggestion!