Laptops May Be Skinnier, But Your Backpack Weighs the Same

Through technological revolutions, some things don't seem to change. Consider the packs soldiers carry. In the ancient Roman legions, they weighed 60 lbs. (27.3 kg) -- the same as in US Army patrols in Afghanistan today.

In Internet time, the Compaq II, underseat paragon of road warriors 25 years ago, is ancient history. It weighed 26 lbs (11.8 kg.). That seems to be a practical limit for today's tech vanguard as well, according to this Wall Street Journal article:

Phil Libin owns Apple Inc.'s latest phone, which enables him to surf the Web, fire off emails, tweet, use GPS to avoid getting lost in Japan, and play a videogame he likes called "Age of Zombies."

It's not enough, he says.

Which is why Mr. Libin, chief executive of Evernote Corp., a start-up that makes list-keeping software, carries around a backpack that weighs 26.2 pounds. Speaking of lists, the backpack contains: a 17-inch notebook computer, an iPad tablet, a Samsung tablet, two phones, an SLR camera, two lenses for the SLR, a headset for making Skype calls, an in-ear phone headset, a wi-fi router, a docking station for the router, a second wi-fi router, a wireless card, an SD card reader, two memory sticks, an external battery, a few other things, and the cords.

Something to think about from the British Journal of Sports Medicine paper that estimated the physiology of the Roman legionaries:

{I]t is . . . apparent from the equivalence of the metabolic rates of the unladen full step and the laden military step that the ergonomic advisers to the Roman military seem to have had a good understanding of the energy demands of sustained activity.How they established this challenges the imagination.

I wonder whether anybody has established the cognitive load of charging, debugging, backing up, and synchronizing today's multiple devices and platforms.

Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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