How many screens does one person really need?

Do a quick inventory and you might be surprised at the amazing number of different displays you stare at every day.

Not long ago, my favorite monitor gave up the ghost, and I'm still in mourning. It was a splendid 21.3-inch Samsung SyncMaster 214T with a wonderful 1600-x-1200 resolution that made it especially useful for viewing long documents and tall images. But one day it just wouldn't turn on anymore, and a quick consultation revealed that it was fried beyond reasonable repair. Unfortunately, no one makes non-widescreen monitors of similar size anymore.

As I pored over possible replacements, though, something else occurred to me. Do I really need another screen at all? After all, it's not like the SyncMaster was the only display in my life.

Who really needs 10 screens?

So I inventoried all the screens in my regular rotation. Counting all my various devices, I have an absurd 10 different screens vying for my attention - not including the many, many devices owned by other members of my household (for a variety of reasons, that number is truly shocking!). It also doesn't count all the other screens I encounter when I'm not at home or at my desk at work.

Here's my current list, in order of ascending size:

1. 4-inch iPhone 5

2. 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet

3. 9.7-inch iPad Air

4. 13.3-inch Macbook Air laptop at my day job

5. 15.6-inch Dell laptop supplied by a client, which I'm supposed to send back any time now.

6. 24-inch Asus monitor for my home office

7. 24-inch Dell second monitor for my home office

8. 27-inch Apple external monitor for the MacBook Air

9. 27-inch Toshiba CRT TV for the bedroom

10. 50-inch Panasonic plasma TV in the living room

That list is just the regular rotation; it doesn't include the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet and Google Pixel Chromebook I'm borrowing, nor the aging MSI netbook that I use as a Linux test machine. I've stashed a Palm Pilot and a Treo 650 in a drawer, along with a BlackBerry Playbook tablet I've used exactly three times. I've even still got a Nokia NGage (look it up if you don't remember it).

How many screens do you have?

I used to think it was unusual to have so many screens, but now I'm not so sure. In fact, I'll bet plenty of Network World readers have even more screens than I do. 

My question, then, is whether we really need all those different screens (and by extension the devices attached to them). Many of them do slightly different versions of pretty much the same thing, and many of them share the same spaces.

But while it may seem wasteful and redundant to have 10 different screens, I actually use most of them every day. Some are more important to me than others, of course, but I need them all. Or at least I want them all. Especially my smartphone, the work laptop, and the big plasma TV (hey, the NBA playoffs are in full swing!).

Which screens would you dump first?

As I've noted before, for me and most people, the first to go would be the tablets, especially if I can upgrade my smartphone to a phablet with a screen big enough to be a viable substitute for a tablet. I'd also be willing to forego some of the external laptop monitors, at least most of the time. The bedroom TV? Probably bad for my sleep patterns anyway.

But that still leaves me with a big pile of semi-redundant screens. I'd love to hear how many screens you're using, whether you think it's time to cull the herd, and any suggestions on the best ways to cut back. And there ought to be some sort of a prize for the person with the most screens, don't you think?

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