Q: How many computers does it take to enjoy a relaxing evening at home?
A:  7.  Five to use simultaneously, a sixth to blog about how you’re doing that, and a seventh to keep your spouse entertained while you do.

Yeah, I know, it reads like a formulaic joke. But that is indeed how I spent last evening, tucked happily in bed for a major geek-out.

If that sounds more horrifying than appealing to you, it’s because nobody has clued you into what I will narcissistically dub Samuel’s Law: the joy of a geek-out grows exponentially based on the number of devices under deployment. Each additional device doubles the total emotional pay-off.

That’s because the emotional pay-off is proportional not to the number of human minutes that go into a given night of geekery, but to the total number of computer minutes. The more devices you are able to use simultaneously, the more total processor time goes into your geek-out, and the greater emotional benefit.

Let me explain how that works in practice by reviewing the number of devices deployed last night. My primary mission for the evening was to update our home media server with the beta release of the new Plex. But if you think that only implicated the computer that we use as a media server, well, you’re missing the big picture of how to maximize computer use. Here’s what it actually took to get the server updated — and the emotional pay-off from dragging all these other devices into the picture:

  1. Mac Mini #1. This was the media server I needed to update. Happiness units from successful update: 10.
  2. MacBook Pro #1: This was the computer I used to remotely control the media server. Happiness units from being able to snuggle in bed while doing my server update: 10.
  3. MacMini #2. Used to watch TV while doing all this updating & blogging. Happiness units from watching The Good Wife: 20.
  4. iPad: Running HootSuite so that I can tweet my exasperation at various points in the process. Happiness units from emotional discharge and peer support: 40.
  5. iPhone: Used to download the Steve Jobs biography as an audiobook so I’d have something to listen to as a way of winding down after the tech marathon. Happiness units from getting a good night’s sleep despite massive screen exposure: 80.
  6. MacBook Air: Used to look up how-to tips on the Plex upgrade, and to blog about the process. Happiness units from accessing and contributing to the Global Internet Brain: 160.
  7. MacBook Pro #2: Used by husband to happily blog during my geek-out. Happiness units from being side-by-side in bed with my sweetie in bed, each of us totally having fun: 320.

Compare the total pay-off of 640 happiness units with the original 10 happiness units created by a simple software update to our media server, and you can see the massive value created by integrating additional devices

Here are some tips on how to maximize the number of devices you are using:

  1. Reflect on your activities. Use additional computers to tweet, blog, Facebook and/or photograph whatever you are working on. By documenting your activities, you ensure that you will remember what and why you did what you did and you’ll create value for other people — which, with any luck and/or empathy, will maximize your own satisfaction. Use a different device for each network you’re conversing with and you’ll spare yourself the annoyance of having to switch windows — maximizing both happiness and number of devices used.
  2. Spread out. If you’re sitting in an armchair, it’s tough to use more than a couple of devices without the risk of dropping one. So spread out on a sofa and coffee table, large dining table or work desk, or even in bed.
  3. Find company. Getting advice from other people — via forums, blog posts or tweets — will make your primary task easier and more fun. Plus, you can easily use up another device or two by keeping your helpline open on yet another screen.
  4. Get comfortable. When you use screen sharing from one computer to manipulate something on a remote computer, you’ve just doubled your pleasure by finding a way to use 2x as many devices as technically necessary to accomplish that task. If you feel too silly to do that while sitting in the same room as the computer you are controlling remotely, try moving to another room, or simply take off your glasses so that the remote computer is too hard to read.
  5. Downloads and/or update. These are easy wins that will help you get to that logarithmic sweet spot. Grab any unused devices you spot lying around the house, and use your geek-out window to run any available software updates or undertake any procrastinated video downloads. These downloads will take minimal attention but maximize your pay-off by bringing devices and/or software up-to-date at a moment when you won’t miss using those devices.

I know, I know: this all sounds like the exact opposite of the kind of online presence I advocated in my TEDx talk on the weekend, and in my blog post here. But the funny thing about multitasking is that while using two devices is distracting, using five is strangely immersive:  using so many devices at once requires you to commit to multitasking as its own full-throttle experience.

No, it won’t leave you feeling refreshed the way you might from an equivalent commitment to meditation or mono tasking. But you sure will have gotten a lot done.