Three most inspiring technologies in my life

I wish to highlight the three technologies that most inspired how I carry out most of my digital day-to-day tasks. Let me first elaborate on what this list is not.

This list does NOT contain tools that revolutionized digital-age communication and industry labor, many of which could arguably include mobile phones, portable devices, email, cloud computing, online collaboration portals, online music, video games and more. Each item in this list influenced mass communication, economy, and productivity to a certain degree. Yet I would not categorize any of them as inspiring in the course of my personal life. Rather, I considerer these innovations as means necessary to meet the digital age expectations among those who live on the grid. Incidentally, I much prefer extensive handwriting, print literature (not that this has become unfashionable), CDs and records, handwritten or better yet, memorized directions, and vocal communication in lieu of anything beyond a brief textual interchange.

I now present the three innovations that constitute 95% of tools I use for daily computer-related tasks and experience much pleasure in the process.

Linux

I have used this OS almost exclusively since 2006 and partially since 2002. It comes in many colors and flavors, several of which I have used throughout the years (Debian-based, Redhat-based, and more recently, Arch Linux). Over time, I have learned to customize the OS for lighter resource utilization, in large by actively minimizing desktop features and opting for console-based variants of graphical applications. Among the tasks I require, I could arguably work within the computational and memory constraints imposed in the late 90s. As of this writing I have a well-performing Arch Linux based setup on a Raspberry PI, yielding comparable effective performance to that of a Pentium II processor.

With the exception of a web browser, I utilize command-line terminals for the significant majority of time (entirely within the Tmux terminal multiplexor). The power of Linux console built-in tools to search/sort/manipulate text, quickly leverage the command history, and rapidly configure shortcuts for routine tasks, enable me to become not only more effective with my time, but more dexterous and imaginative.

VIM text editor

I consider this open-source text editor to have reinvigorated my digital routine. I have used it continuously since 2009 for all tasks that require text editing, such as programming, documentation writing, composing presentable content, or compiling plain textual notes - effectively, almost everything. Even working with web browser text of any significant length, including blog writing, I typically compose an initial draft in VIM. Being a minimalist, I become as anxious in reducing the distractions in my digital as in my physical environment. As such, I interact with VIM exclusively in console mode, dedicating the entire console real estate exclusively to text with the exception of the optional one line status bar. Since my multiplexed terminal environment also consumes the entire screen with no menus or wasteful graphical elements, the VIM session potentially occupies the entire monitor.

The respectable, although not unreasonable amount of keyboard shortcuts necessary to manipulate text requires a sizeable learning curve, but the dividends are perpetual. The shortcuts enable rapid text navigation among multiple documents, carrying out complex search/replace operations, macro composition to execute repetitive operations and more, limited only by imagination. In turn, mouse interaction is not only rendered unnecessary, but entirely lacks function in the VIM console environment.

Latex

The latest in my arsenal of invaluable assistants, Latex is a markup language/typesetting system for presentable content that is compiled into a viewable format (ex: pdf, html, dvi). It is the missing component I was seeking to liberate me from using the heavyweight graphical tools such as word processors and less frequently presentation slide packages. Latex was traditionally targeted for mathematically-rich scientific publications within academia, but there is no reason not to incorporate it for use in daily non-academic tasks.

The idea is simple. You compose the presentable content via a specialized markup, and the Latex processor then compiles it into the output format of your choice. Since the markup essentially constitutes plain text, I can now compose presentable content from VIM as a result. Latex spans 30 years, receives massive community support, and employs an endless array of plugins to produce an impressive variety of visualizations or layouts. Any content ranging from letters to articles, publications, books, slides, resumes, diagrams, plots, schematics, can be composed via the Latex markup in a plain text editor.

Conclusion

All three of the above innovations have existed in some form for 25 or more years, and yet, they contribute most value in carrying out the majority of my tasks. As such, regardless of whether I extract joy or value in my output at any given moment, be it inspiring and productive, or sheer labor, I can feel at ease at having minimized distracting elements or friction in my arsenal of tools, while respecting aesthetic preferences.