Writing Workflow on a Touchscreen Tablet


by Roz Foster

“How do you like that workflow?” the guy next to me shot out smiling like an orangutan.  He had a laptop and I noticed he was very, very close to me.  We were sitting on a long cushioned bench at the back of the café, separated only by the idea that the small space between our matching little blonde wooden tables was a ‘partition.’  There were seven of us along the shady back wall, each with our own computing devices and a warm beverage.

I had only just sat down with a hot, white porcelain mug, milk foam steaming from its rim.  I’d perched my touchscreen tablet up like a portrait before me and had set my bluetooth keyboard on my lap.  Wary of the guy, (speaking to others in a wifi café often denotes functional insanity), I only stared at him quizzically.

He was maybe 15 years my junior, mid-twenties.  He wore a new white T-shirt, a pair of crisp bluejeans and some tennis shoes with so much silver and transparent plastic on them that I wondered if they were foot-jets.  I’d been examining him a while like that when his right index finger bounded twice against the surface of his small wooden table.  “The workflow,” he repeated, and then he hit the table twice again with the same finger, this time a little harder.  “How do you like it?”

Was he double-clicking me?  I wasn’t sure, but I did finally understand that he was asking about my touchscreen tablet and the keyboard.  He was baiting me to have one of those weird conversations about consumer products that are actually commercials performed within the fabric of everyday life as if they hadn’t been pre-written by product reviews, marketing copy, and bullet-pointed blog posts geeking about the product’s highs and lows.

I tried to be real.  “Well, it’s a little awkward right now,” I said, making the silver keyboard bobble on my lap.  “Usually, I like to sit over there,” I pointed toward the opposite corner of the café.  “The tables are higher and it’s easier to put the keyboard on them and work without having to stoop.”

The guy’s smile fell a little.  I wasn’t the consumer-techno-head he’d hoped I’d be.

“Because I’m a writer,” he pressed on, “and I have an iPad too,” he said, or he might have said ‘2,’ “and I find that it’s just an expensive electronic reader.  I couldn’t possibly get rid of my MacBook Pro.”  He used the entire name of the computer, which was open before him on his little table, and he pointed to where the name was written at the very bottom of his 17” screen.  (I knew the size of his screen because, if I’m to be honest with you, I have exactly the same laptop.  Fine.  And the same brand mobile phone.)  The guy said more things with product names in them and his words shot out everywhere, loud, sharp and fast, like caffeinated, digital trilling.

I didn’t say anything to him about my own writing, but to you I will say that, even though I have the iCollection, my interest is in the work, not necessarily the workflow.  Yeah, it’s easy to use.  But what’s important to me is capturing human experiences, even little struggles like this, and expressing them authentically with words.

“Workflow?” I said, playing dumb.

“Yeah,” he grimaced, annoyed with me.  “Being a writer, workflow is ril important.  Like you can’t drag paragraphs around on the iPad, you gotta cut and paste.  You can’t have two windows open at the same time, you gotta open-close-open, open-close-open.  You can’t hit shortcuts for italics.  You gotta pull down this hulking formatting palette that takes off half your writing screen.  And syncing documents between the iPad and the MacBook is a super pain in the ass.  I always forget how you do it cuz it’s so freakin involved.”

I sipped my latté only to find that the barista had given me a single instead of a double and that the one shot that had managed to make it into the drink had been bitterly burnt.  I huffed. “That’s an interesting analysis,” I humored the guy.

“Thanks.  I been writing a rilly long time.  I’m kind of an expert.  My Web site is iamaninternetcybergodwriter.com.  You could go there right now if you wanna, go ahead, I designed it myself.  Go ahead if you wanna, it’s iamaninternetcybergodwriter, one word, dot com.  You can see what I did with the header.  Just changed it again this morning.  It’s rilly cool.  Go!”

“I’m actually working right now.”  I tried to turn my attention away from him, lifting my coffee to my lips and drinking my bitter hot milk.

“Chh.  Your loss,” the guy said, bristling. “But I just wondered how YOU found the workflow.  Does it work for you, that flow?  Like, does the digital keyboard open all the time when you’re trying to use the external keyboard so that you constantly have to close it?”

“The workflow,” I said, “is fine.  What I really need to do now, though, is work.”

Ignoring my obvious request for him to get lost, he pushed his big face through the invisible ‘partition’ between us, peering at the glowing touchscreen tablet on my table.  “Yeah, but, don’t you find you have to close that digital keyboard all the time?”

And that was all I could take.  I set my mug down hard on the wooden table and I said to the guy, “I wish I could close you.  I wish I could click a button on you somewhere and that you would shrink and be relegated to your place in my neat and silent grid of glowing app icons.”  I felt the veins in my neck straining as I watched him back away from me and my touchscreen.  “If you were an app,” I told him, and I pointed at him sharply with my index finger, “I would click and hold you until you started shaking.  You know how the icons do that when you click and hold them down?  They shake, like they’re terrified, because they know what’s going to happen next.  If you were an app, I would hold you down until you were trembling, practically crying underneath my index finger.  And then I would do it.  I would tap the little black circle with the white X in it attached to one side of your head and—ZAP—you would be deleted.  If you were an app, I would delete you, give you a suckass review and I would never download you again.”

The guy packed up his laptop and sped out of the café on the soles of his foot-jets.

I enjoy my touchscreen tablet for writing.  I use an external keyboard.  When I’m using it, the digital one pops up only when using a dictionary app that was designed for my mobile phone.  It doesn’t stop me from using the dictionary. Both of my index fingers hurt a little from using the Apple bluetooth keyboard.  I don’t know why.  It’s not smaller.  I don’t seem to mind much.  I use a laptop to edit a finished piece of writing because Pages, the iOS word processing software, has formatting limitations.  For example, like the iGuy said, you can’t move paragraphs or words around; you have to cut and paste.  What I do most on the tablet is email, journal and read newspapers.

You can find me here and at rozfoster.com, that’s rozfoster, one word dot com.  You can go there now if like.  Go ahead.  It’s rilly cool.  I designed it myself.

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