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.