Recently, at a family gathering I made an off-hand comment to my parents that on some flights during the week it seems like 50%+ people are on Wifi doing work. I expressed how important it was to me in particular, given that I work at a cloud-based analytics company for me, to have access to the internet when preparing to meet with customers.

And my Mom told me a great story about one of her first jobs. As a programmer in the aircraft industry building flight simulators (my Mom is very cool), she shared an office with 3 other people. Crowded, certainly. If that wasn’t enough, however, they also shared a single computer! Over the course of the day, they tried to be fair about giving each other ~2 hours each. They tried to be flexible when someone was close to a deadline. Remember, these are programmers.

She described how, because of the limitation, everyone spent their time thinking about the ideal way to solve problems, working on the logic and math of the solution, and designing the system on paper. The time on the computer was essentially spent debugging. She claims, fairly strongly, that they were actually more productive this way: they really had to think about the problems and build systems properly. There simply wasn’t time for anything else.

It all reminds me of a great quote by George Bernard Shaw:

Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.

I’m not sure I’m convinced 1 computer per 4 programmers would actually be ideal. But, I am sure most people don’t spend enough time just thinking through problems alone, perhaps with pen and paper.

I’m even trying to turn the Wifi off on some flights. It’s surprising how much you can accomplish by just, you know, thinking.