Portable Word Processors: A Throwback In[ter]vention

I'll just come right out and say it: the internet has ruined writers.

Okay, okay, before I get a deluge of comments (haha...like that'll happen) from writers telling me how the internet hasn't ruined them, I'll scale it back. The internet has ruined THIS writer.

Most of my life, I have been relatively easy to distract. Not enough to be pathological or require the use of prescription stimulants, mind you, but enough to keep me just enough off my "A" game to require proactive measures of "ass-in-line-keeping."

When the internet came around, my already flabby attention span and self-discipline went out the window while my levels of procrastination skyrocketed, and over the years as social networking and access to information has reached unfathomable heights (or depths?), things only got worse. These days, trying to write a novel on a computer connected to the internet is like trying to build a house of cards in a room with the windows open.

To remedy this, I decided to look for a machine that would allow me to close those windows and type to my heart's content without the siren calls of Facebook, Gmail, and cute cat videos on YouTube to lure me out of my world. I even looked longingly at the electric typewriters at Staples, seriously weighing the pros (simple, durable, and that sexy "clack clack" sound) and cons (not portable, noisy, paper usage, needing to scan, risk of losing documents to spills/fire/vomit) before deciding to go home and do additional research. Some would suggest a laptop, but again: internet, not to mention I don't even want something as simple as solitaire trying to vie for my attention. Remember, I am a ruined writer. Any potential built-in distraction has to go. Yes, I could disable all of these things, but I am also smart enough to re-enable them should I become tenacious enough to do so. You might as well lock a sugar addict in a room full of donuts behind a glass case. Eventually, that person will grab the nearest object and smash their way through to glazed raised goodness.

What it came down to was something so stripped down that it was basically a keyboard with a little screen to show me what I was typing. I didn't think these things existed anymore, but apparently they do. There is the AlphaSmart 3000, NEO, and Dana models, the QuickPad Pro, and the Calcuscribe. These devices are predominantly used in the classroom setting because they're low cost and strictly utilitarian, but cash-strapped college students, journalists, Luddites, and ruined writers like me find them incredibly appealing.

I chose the AlphaSmart NEO because it was a great value ($169 through their website plus $10.95 shipping) and had exactly what I was looking for. Their Dana model has a bigger screen, a backlight, and uses the Palm OS, but the price was much higher ($350). An extra $100 onto that will get you wireless capabilities, and put you right back on the road to "Oh Shiny!"

The battery life on the NEO, according to the site as well as the user reviews, is about 700 hours on 3 AA's, which is stupendous considering you are lucky to get 2 hours on a basic laptop. The program it uses, AlphaWord, is a really good text editor and its USB capabilities allow for easy transfer into any computer-based word processing program with the formatting intact. Or you can just type and format later on your PC/Notebook/Mac.

I look forward to taking my NEO everywhere with me and downloading my imagination into it. I will undoubtedly garner "Oh lookit that! How retro!" stares from high-power laptop users who will then ask me if I also have a Commodore 64 at home, but I like the old-school simplicity of the device. It brings me back to a time when all I needed was my old Brother word processor to take me everywhere I needed to go, and how when it came to churning out stories, nothing stood in my way.

While the internet will never cease to be an integral part of my life, it is not conducive to being a writer, whose most essential need is to be able to "shut the door" and write. I admire writers who haven't been ruined by the internet, but I'm glad I found a possible solution to my concentration conundrum.

I will be posting actual user reviews for the AlphaSmart NEO when it arrives in a few days!


  1. Interesting solution to the distraction problem. I've been thinking about this quite a bit recently. Mainly because I've spent virtually every spare moment of my time for the past week killing aliens. On the PC. Thought I should clarify that.

  2. I didn't know these existed either. Great blog. Great gizmo.

  3. If you really want to complete the retro look, see if you can get a wood-and-brass cover for it, and wear your brass goggles when you use it. ;)

  4. Sounds cool; good for you finding a solution. I would have trouble with the screen, I think. Not only am I easily distracted by the Internet, but I'm also easily distracted by the interface through which I write. I'm used to a white background, Times New Roman, and the MS Word look. Whenever I've tried changing that, I haven't been able to zone into the writing. Even just changing the font to Ariel seems to have that affect.

    I'm still convinced I can keep myself off the Internet when I need to. Eventually.

  5. Anton -- LMAO! Well at least we know the real aliens among us are still safe. ;)

    Dusanka -- I hope to be able to spread the gospel even more once I get a chance to play with it. Think I might get one for the kids to use as well if it's a big hit.

    Ian -- hahaha! Brass goggles would rule.

    Sherri -- I finally have recognized once I started working again and that I was writing more productively at work without access to the www than I was at home. lol The internet is definitely a problem. Maybe not the only problem, but definitely the biggest one. I think my initial years of copious blogging and text messaging and longhand writing have pretty much confirmed for me that it doesn't really matter to me what format I end up writing in, as long as I'm typing. I am a wee bit concerned about the lighting for this screen as the model I chose doesn't have a backlight. I might have to purchase a small booklight to carry in the case with it in case I go to the library and find that it might not quite be bright enough in there. But I just love the idea of throwing it in my backpack and going without really having to worry about battery power, weight, etc.