How do you make a MacBook Pro crash? Install Windows Vista.
Sadly, I’m not joking.
I’m a Mac convert, and like many converts, I started out full of evangelical zeal for my new faith. Having experienced both PCs and Macs, I couldn’t understand why anyone would willingly inflict Windows on themselves.
I used to lose several hours’ productivity every week due to my PC crashing or malfunctioning. Finally, after experiencing my own version of Dell Hell, I took the plunge and bought a Mac. Since then, I can’t recall losing a single hour of productivity to computer issues. ‘It just works’ shouldn’t be a USP for a computer in the 21st century, but it is.
Plus everyone knows all the cool creative kids use a Mac.
Yet two short years after I decided Microsoft was an unnecessary evil, I found myself partitioning my hard drive and installing Windows Vista onto my beloved MacBook Pro. It felt like giving Darth Vader the keys to the Millennium Falcon.
In case you’re wondering, everything you’ve heard about Windows Vista is true. It’s an appalling excuse for an operating system. Garish, buggy, crashy and constantly interrupting me with pop-ups about mysterious ‘problems with your computer’. As far as I’m concerned, Windows Vista is the problem with my computer.
So what possessed me to install this bloated monstrosity on my Mac?
A couple of years ago, I was struck down with RSI. Which meant I couldn’t type or use a mouse without excruciating pain in my hands and arms. Which was kind of inconvenient for a creative entrepreneur who relies on the internet for new business.
I tried all sorts of solutions – ergonomic keyboards, Wacom tablets, ice packs, acupuncture, physiotherapy. My wife even volunteered to take dictation for my articles. (Top tip: not recommended for marital harmony.)
Then I discovered the one area where Windows wipes the floor with Mac OS: speech recognition.
MacSpeech Dictate, the flagship speech recognition software for the Mac, is irredeemably flawed by it’s ‘golden rule': you must not touch the keyboard while dictating. i.e. you have to be literally word perfect at controlling it via voice commands for the software to be any use. I’m not, so it isn’t. (There’s a new version of MacSpeech, called Dragon Dictate, but apparently they still haven’t fixed the problem.)
But Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the Windows equivalent, is one of the most amazing pieces of software I’ve ever used. These days, my RSI is 90% cured, and I could type this article if I really wanted to. But I’m sticking with Dragon – even if it means sticking with Vista – because it makes me more creative in three ways:
1. A More Natural Way to Interact with the Computer
I’m a pretty fast typist, but I could never type as quickly as I can speak – and Dragon keeps up with my natural speaking voice.
I’m dictating this article to you while walking up and down in my office, via a Bluetooth headset. I’ve set the font to extra large, so that I can see it from across the room. I even have the stereo going full blast, as dance music puts me in the mood to write. Impressively, Dragon’s accuracy is completely unfazed by Underworld.
I’ve written before about how I believe speech recognition can improve your writing. Any poet will tell you that oral composition is a lot older than typing or even writing. If it was good enough for Homer, it’s good enough for me.
I’m a writer, so speech recognition is an obvious tool for me. But I believe it’s the tip of a very large ergonomic iceberg, and in the coming years we’ll see a whole host of new ways to interact with computers through physical movement, voice and even emotions. Sixth sense technology is on the horizon. Just ask the Wii users and Guitar Heroes in the audience.
Takeaway: Experiment with alternative input / interaction devices for your computer. They may look like quirky gadgets, but they could also unlock more creative ways of using your machine.
2. Removing Distractions
I’m probably the only person on the planet who uses Windows Vista to minimise computer-based interruptions.
Yes, the crashes, pop-ups, and constant requests to upgrade are annoying. But it’s actually because Vista is so crap that I can use it to minimise distractions while I’m writing.
The only reason I use Vista is to use Dragon for writing. Once my draft is done, I reboot my Mac into OS X. I deliberately haven’t imported all my Firefox bookmarks and passwords from OS X, so I can’t login to most of the sites that typically distract me when I’m using the Mac. This turns Vista into a hermetically sealed space for writing. When I’m in Vista, I have to write because I can’t really do much else.
Quite a few writers do something similar. I believe Leo Babauta has a laptop with no internet connection, which he uses for writing. Maya Angelou used to book herself into a hotel room with nothing but a notepad and a bottle of sherry. There’s even a story that Dylan Thomas was locked in a room by his BBC radio producer, and promised a tot of whiskey every time he completed a certain number of pages of his radio drama commission.
Takeaway: You don’t need to go to such extremes – I mean Vista, not the whisky – but find a way to seal yourself off when it’s time for focused work. This is where artists and performers with dedicated studios or rehearsal spaces have an advantage over the rest of us. But if you work on a laptop, you could go to a cafe or the library, use a different computer, or even a typewriter.
3. Getting in a State
I’ve written before about how creative rituals can help you get into the creative zone. The smell of coffee, the sound of your favourite music, or feel of your favourite paintbrush can act as a trigger for the emotional state in which you do your best work.
So for me, standing up and walking away from the computer, switching the stereo on and walking up and down as I start to write, puts me in a very different state to sitting hunched over the laptop.
Takeaway: Find some way of marking your creative work out as different to your other activities, such as a ritual or routine; a dedicated location; or unique triggers such as a favourite pen or guitar, ‘work clothes’, a particular kind of music, or even a lucky charm.
And if you get really desperate, you could always try Windows Vista.
Image by Toby Dylan
Over to You
Have you tried writing with speech recognition, composing music on the Wii, or any other kind of ergonomic aid to computer creativity?
What would be your ideal way of interacting with a computer for creative work?
Do you seal yourself off from distractions when it’s time to work? If so, how?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.Tweet