Ben Brooks is questioning whether dual monitors help or hinder productivity, and he’s going to give one screen a go—or maybe he just feels bad that some of us don't get to sit in front of snazzy cinema displays. In my experience, the value add of an extra screen depends entirely on the kind of work you do.
My 13” MacBook Air is the best writing machine I’ve ever owned for lots of reasons, one of which is screen size. A 13” screen is small enough to make full-screen apps look good, and it’s big enough so that I can easily put two documents side by side.
I’m convinced my writing would get zero lift from a larger (or second) screen.
But if I’m wearing my actuary hat, and I’m cranking through spreadsheets, remote displays, PDF, mind maps, and other documents, multiple screens are my best friend. There’s no doubt that multiple displays make me more efficient by reducing the cost of constant window switching. The combination of a “reference screen” and a “working screen” is very powerful for me.
By the by, Mr. Terpstra tried ditching extra screens once, too. Didn’t work for him.
I think the reason larger screen areas are so welcome is that they get us back to a more natural workspace area. The pre-computer-era knowledge worker had an entire desk on which to spread out documents and other items. In some ways, the dependence we developed on computers in the 1990s was a step back. Our "desktops" went from 15+ square feet to about 1 square foot.