You Are What You Use...

by Matthew Russell

It’s a simple question, but it’s worth pondering as the new year approaches and you do all of your goal setting, personality inventories, and renewal exercises: What do the tools you use reflect about your personality and work style?

Are you a MS Office-loving bloatware enthusiast who uses Outlook for your filing system, or are you an open source rogue who installs everything from CVS, tweaks the source code yourself, and only turns to GUI applications for special occasions? Those are two very bipolar extremes. Chances are, you’re neither. But where do you fall in between and why? Take a moment to do an assessment sometime – maybe even right now.

Take me for example. My desk is a wreck. I have papers scattered everywhere, stacks of printed and clipped material with sticky notes are piled up, my desk calendar is still set to September, and there are heaps of books everywhere. And there’s that coffee mug that hasn’t been washed or used in quite some time. My computer desktop isn’t much different. I have gobs of documents on my desktop, and inside the few folders that I’ve bothered to create, there are even more gobs of documents.

Do I care if things are a mess? Not really. I still take care of business and the world continues turning.

Getting to a few of the most common applications I use, TextEdit, Stickies, Terminal, and Calc (the spreadsheet with NeoOffice) come to mind, although in no particular order. When I think about how I prefer to do things, I think these apps are more a reflection of who I am than just mere tools that I’ve happened to stumble across and mindlessly adopt.

One thing these apps all have in common, for example, is that they’re all stock apps or come as free downloads. I wouldn’t say that I’m a tightwad, but am I willing to deal with a 70s looking spreadsheet (and support free software) in exchange for keeping the wallet a little bit fatter? Absolutely.

TextEdit is simple and to the point. It doesn’t do a lot, but I don’t need it to do a lot. I usually either need to write up text, RTF, or HTML. It does them all. I can even print to PDF if I need to. If anyone really wanted me to give them a Word doc, I could also export to that format, although I’d try to convince them otherwise. TextEdit is pragmatic, and so am I.

Stickies, as I see it, is sort of scatterbrained and haphazard. It lets me jot down notes on the fly without any organization, yet I never have to worry about losing the information once it’s typed in. I like to think of them as a better way of tying a string around my finger. I always have more to do than I can remember, so they’re perfect for assembling my various lists o’ stuff and they’re always only one keystroke away when I need them. No bureaucracy involved – I like that.

Terminal is as concise and powerful as you want it to be. You can move around entire directory structures and navigate your disk as fast as you can type, but you can still always open up a Finder window with a quick "open .". It’s your command and control center for just about everything, and it reduces the amount of time it takes to complete many repetitive tasks. Who doesn’t value their time?

Calc isn’t the most stylish app you’ve ever seen nor does it have features that automatically send people singing telegrams if it’s their birthday and a full moon outside or some such thing as that, but I don’t need those features, and I never will, because my job will never require such things. And if it ever did, I’d either switch jobs or use a tool other than a spreadsheet. Can you tell that I value my independence and am a non-conformist?

I think the tools I use say a lot about me, but now the question comes to you.

What do the tools you use reflect about your personality and work style?


2005-12-08 15:36:24
open .
Hey, 'open .' .... that's cool!
2005-12-08 16:34:13
Self confessed technophile
Sorry, have to admit I love all the great apps and have to have the latest and greatest. I've just upgraded my Powerbook to Tiger to keep it in line with our iMac G5 and I LOVE dashboard, having already installed about a half dozen widgets for different things.
I've also just upgraded to Studio 8 and am REALLY getting to like the new features. We also have Office Mac, but thats generally because most of what our clients send us is in some MS format or another. So I guess I'm the opposite of you. Different strokes.
2005-12-08 18:23:51
More than 150 apps & almost 80 widgets, most of which duplicate some (or all) functionality of some other app or widget. I have four different calculators and six different web browsers. I have BBedit and TextWrangler even though there is no sane justification for this. The overwhelming majority of these apps I rarely use. Some I have never used. There are also a couple that I only vaguely remember installing and am unsure as to what they do.
Despite this, I am very reluctant to uninstall anything. I fear that the moment that I do, I'll desperately need whatever app I just deleted.
2005-12-08 23:15:23
Simplicity in design
I tend to love simplicity in design and use. I think that's one reason why I love Apple and Macs. I think that's also a reason why I love Volvo cars, although that may also have something to do with me being Swedish ;-) Their design philosophy is (
I think that can be applied to Apple as well :-)

Anyway, that was somewhat off topic I guess... I tend to try any software I can lay my hands on and much of it stays on the harddrive "in case I need it". But I find myself using just a few pieces of software for probably 95% of my computing needs so once in a while I "springclean" my Mac, throwing out stuff I rarely/never use. It's good to now and again question what software you have installed and think about what you actually use.

2005-12-09 06:26:20
I keep all the zips of software installers, so I'll happily delete any apps I'm not using.