Are PDAs a help or a hindrance?

This man appears frustrated with his personal digital assistant. Do PDAs make our lives easier, or are they just a hassle?
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Everyone said technology would make our lives easier. Computers filled with vast amounts of memory would store large files and tons of information. Telephones connected us in ways we never could've imagined. Cell phones came along and connected us even further, adding mobility and multitasking to the equation. The Internet gave us news sites, blogs and online libraries to make up-to-date stories and reliable reference materials available at the click of a mouse button.

While all of the above is generally true, sometimes we find ourselves contemplating the downside to each of these aspects. After a hefty memory upgrade, our computers can still run as slowly as ever. Multitasking with a cell phone, along with being difficult to do, can be potentially dangerous if it's done in the car. A search on the Internet for some decent information can lead to a bunch of junk Web sites that are a decade too old.


One piece of technology that suffers from this pull between pros and cons is the personal digital assistant, or PDA. When PDAs were first introduced to the market in the mid-'90s, their operating systems were simple, using programs that kept calendar appointments, phone numbers and addresses, but little more. Now, the increasing popularity of smartphones, which are essentially sophisticated phones with PDA capabilities, we now have personal, convenient handheld devices that can perform the majority of our daily tasks and provide us with entertainment along the way.

But are PDAs all they're cracked up to be? Do they improve our lives, saving us time and effort? Or do they simply make things more complicated and cause unwarranted frustration? To learn about the ups and downs of PDAs, read the next page.


PDAs: A Benefit or an "Outsourcing"?

For those of us who are fatally unorganized, a PDA is a great tool. But is it possible to be too organized?
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Some of us only need a pen and a piece of paper to remember upcoming appointments, important dates and passwords. A calendar hung up on the wall with notes, a few circles and some X marks is the single material object necessary to maintain an organized life.

For others, it isn't so easy, and that's where personal digital assistants come in and offer their best and most obvious benefit. At their most basic, PDAs are virtual calendars, much like the ones found in Microsoft Outlook. Any day, week or month of the calendar year can be accessed, and a PDA owner can enter in text for reminders. When the important event comes along, an alarm or vibration will notify the user of its arrival, so things like dentist appointments or incoming shipments won't be forgotten.


PDAs also can be used to store the phone numbers and addresses of family, friends and work contacts. Newer models also have wireless Internet and e-mail access, so if you're on the run and happen to be in a Wi-Fi hot spot, you're just a few clicks from the information you need. If you own a smartphone, your PDA doubles as a cell phone, and you can perform almost any task with ease. In general, PDAs are also simple to navigate. All PDAs use touch screen LCDs (liquid crystal displays) that either respond to a stylus or your finger.

PDAs are generally geared toward businesses, where meetings, appointments and deadlines are a part of the work life. The ability to set up reminders before meetings and keep a digital rolodex of important contacts can increase people's productivity while keeping paper waste to a minimum. Many companies will buy PDAs in bulk and provide employees with them, to help employees communicate if they come with cell phone capabilities -- quick text messages can save people several precious minutes. PDAs have even proved helpful to health care providers -- doctors, nurses and pharmacists use them extensively to gather medical information and communicate easier in order to save valuable time.

But what about complaints about PDA use? Some argue that all this time-saving only creates more things for us to do -- instead of using that free time for leisure activities and spending time with families and friends, we find ways to cram even more tasks, either large or small, into our schedules. Some PDA users are left juggling far too many parts of their life on a tiny electronic device, and instead of saving time they're just left stressing out.

The ease of storing information has also done a number on our memories. For example, David Brooks for The New York Times believes we've "outsourced" our memories to electronics like GPS devices, cell phones and, yes, PDAs [source: The New York Times]. According to Brooks, we rely too often on storing personal data like phone numbers, addresses and passwords into electronics. Before PDAs and cell phones, people memorized many phone numbers because they were forced to type them in manually -- now, technology does the work for us, and our memories suffer.

To learn lots more about PDAs, electronics and communication, see the next page.


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More Great Links

  • Brooks, David. "The outsourced brain." The New York Times. Oct. 26, 2007.
  • "What is a PDA?" Mobile Tech Review.