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Social hardware

Social hardware

Originally uploaded by freerangelibrarian

I brought this small travel power strip to IA Summit 2008 (write-up pending, but it was great). I’d like to say it was my idea, but it wasn’t; I snarfed the concept from Cindi Trainor. It’s small, powerful, sturdy, folds up neatly, and is insanely useful.

Some of its uses are obvious if you’ve ever been in a hotel room where you found yourself moving furniture to get to the second plug, but as someone at IA Summit 2008 commented, “It’s very social hardware!”

If you travel with a laptop, you know the scene: you are in a coffeeshop, airport waiting room, or conference room. There are two plugs on the wall to be shared among many people. You can either arrive early, hog one of two outlets, and pretend people aren’t staring at you with sad puppy-eyes, or you can plug in your strip and invite others to share.

Or you don’t arrive early, and someone is avoiding eye contact because he or she is using the outlet and feels bad about it. (At IA Summit, one of the plugs on each side of the room had the wifi router — made for great wifi, but also reduced available outlets by half.) Maybe someone promised their boss they’d cover this session in-depth, and their battery is low, so they really, really need the plug… but they know they’re using it at the expense of others.

So you whip out your new social hardware and say, “May I share your outlet? I have this powerstrip!” Relief pours over your new friend’s face, because these people doesn’t want to be hogs — they’re just looking out for their own interests in a situation that makes it hard to share.

It’s not just that you are able to share a power outlet with a stranger for a few minutes, but you’ve enriched a touchy social situation and made the world a little closer.

It’s the best small hardware purchase I’ve made in years. The only problem comes when you have to leave early and three people are plugged into your strip — just tell them it’s $17 on Amazon and “don’t leave home without one.”

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