Since they saw me constructing my marvel of technical beauty that is my computer "Ezmerelda" (don't ask), two coworkers have asked me about what new computer they should get. This spawned some interesting conversations on desktops versus laptops, and got me thinking whether there isn't a bigger divide in the choice beyond portability versus cost.
I think that people view laptops like consumer electronic devices. Like an iPod or cellphone, this is a piece of equipment that you take with you to fulfill specific functions, which I suppose is reinforced by the relatively limited number of things that "laptop people" put their computers to use. As one of my coworkers said, "What can you do on a desktop that you can't do on a laptop?"
Play Oblivion, for one. On a computer that's less than $1000 for another. Desktops to me seem to be "hubs:" devices that other devices hook-up to, which makes it a center for multimedia interaction rather than a single device among many. I think this is a fundamentally different type of experience than with laptops, and I suspect (though obviously can't prove) that any individual spends a lot more time on a desktop versus a laptop. We think "write papers," "games," or "work" on a desktop, things which require dedication, long periods of effort, and multifunctionality. We think "watch a movie on a plane when I have nothing else to do" on a laptop, or else do a quick check of e-mail, or bring the laptop to transport a presentation, things we associate with ephermerality, boredom, or obviously portability.
Of course, the advent of high powered, expensive laptops does blur the line a bit, but by and large, I think there is a fairly wide consumer divide between the two media. What do you all think? And by the way, I'm definitely a desktop person. If/when I go back to grad school, I'll get a laptop, but only to take notes during class. The desktop is where I'll be doing my work and interacting with others.