The case for single purpose tools in these digital times

In this age of digital tools I’m wondering if we really need the computer or phone to be the one tool that does it all. You see, specialized tools have been of all times, but we try to develop a smartphone that can do more and more, but if it tries to do everything it most likely will fail to do anything good.

I haven’t seen a carpenter bring only one tool to the job, you;ll need a drill, hammer and other specialized tools to do the work you want to do. In some ways we can apply this to our digital work as well. Yes we can write on our computer, but if you’re not distracted, the amount of styling options only keeps you from writing what you really want to. Have you tried reading a long blogpost on your computer? Interrupted with ads, notifications about a new email, thoroughly tracked on your reading habits, I’m not so sure if the computer is really helping out here.

An e-reader is a device that does apply to the single purpose philosophy, but it’s riddled with extra things you might not need, for example an entire bookstore to browse (when you want to read!). The simplicity of pen and paper when writing (or my custom keyboard) are all fit for a single purpose.

Please note: single purpose might still offer flexibility on how you apply it. For example an empty terminal window contains loads of possibilities!

Combining the idea of single purpose with the flexibility of the maker movement I think we’re at the edge of something that should allow us to make tools that fit us. This goes beyond knowing how to use a computer, thinking about how you want to create. Want a voice interface? A full on virtual keyboard with haptic feedback? A perfectly molded mouse that allows for 3D navigation through space? All exist or can be made but we still choose to use the same screen and keyboard every day, just because it seems like a hassle… but is it?

I don’t have an idea how many words we type out over our lifetime, but just like compounding interest the amount of time you invest in making your tools in the beginning might accrue over time. Like Franklin Covey famously put it as the last habit: “Sharpen the saw”. Except for sharpening it now becomes making or creating. We should continiously seek improvement over the tools we use in these digital times.