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David Ratledge 


Device Overload: Reduce and Simplify

David Ratledge

One day I was struck by a moment of clarity and realized I was suffering from device overload. I began counting and found I had a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, a smartphone, and an e-reader. Sound familiar?

While I was easily able to think of examples of different tasks I had recently used each device for, I knew it was time to ask myself if I really needed them all. This seemingly simple question turned out to require some significant technological soul-searching. There was no question I was overloaded, as these devices represented a significant investment in both money and time. The time investment was of particular concern because there was not only time invested up-front to research, purchase, and setup the devices, but also the on-going time required to constantly charge, update, and repair them when something went wrong. It was a lot to keep up with, I did not want the constant bother, and I wanted to be able to use the time I had been spending on those activities in more productive ways.

I began with consideration of my smartphone and immediately determined there was no decision to make. It was the most mobile of my mobile devices and provided me with a wide variety of functionality in the one device that was always with me. There was no question my smartphone was an essential device.

Next I looked at my tablet. It was an iOS device like my phone but the only advantage it offered was the larger screen size. This advantage was negated, however, by its bigger size and heavier weight which caused me to frequently leave it behind on a desk or in a bag. I also compared my tablet to my laptop and the laptop was the clear winner. The laptop is bigger and heavier than the tablet but I can do more with it, do it better, and do it the way I like. My tablet was a device I could do without.

Although I had just chosen my laptop over my tablet, I still needed to consider if I needed the laptop at all. This was an easy decision, however. I frequently need to be places other than my desk and wherever I am I almost always need access to a computer. As heavily used as my laptop was every day this device definitely needed to stay.

By this point I had made the decision to keep two and eliminate one of my five devices. A good start, but with two devices left to consider I knew I had to think very hard about them if I wanted to significantly reduce my device overload. In thinking about my desktop computer I at first felt like I needed to keep it. Desktop computers are bigger and typically more powerful than laptops, sometimes significantly so, but my laptop was plenty powerful enough. Considering my need for a computer no matter where I found myself working, the portability and power provided by my laptop was clearly the better choice.  

This left my e-reader to consider. It was a popular e-ink device and I read a lot for both work and pleasure so I care a great deal about the functionality and overall experience. I experimented with many different options and have to say I was surprised at how complicated reading is now that technology has created so many options and limitations to explore, test, and make decisions about. In the end I concluded I could eliminate my e-reader and read exclusively on my smartphone. I admit that reading on an e-ink e-reader was nice, but having one less device has been even nicer and well worth the trade-off.

In the end I eliminated three of five devices so that I was left with only a laptop and a smartphone. This has proven to be much more manageable in terms of costs and time, I have not had to give up capabilities or functionality, and I have had fewer problems and annoyances to contend with. Without question, my device overload has been resolved and several valuable lessons have been learned:

  • Device creep happens and it can do so before you realize it.
  • It is important to periodically evaluate what you have and how necessary it really is.
  • Make honest and brutal decisions when seeking to reduce and simplify.
  • If you feel compelled to purchase a new device, be sure there is a clear and strong justification for doing so.
  • Most people can probably do everything they need with only a good laptop and smartphone.

Was this a worthwhile exercise and did I make the right decisions? Absolutely! I feel less burdened and am able to focus much more on my work now than on the tools themselves. New devices are always coming out, so it is easy to give in to temptation, but in reality keeping things simple and making strategic decisions about what is really needed will always prove to be the best approach. 



David Ratledge is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Technology Infrastructure at The University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville. He can be reached at




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