New technology can be so confusing that you often lose complete track of entire categories for months at a time. When you return, you may...

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New technology can be so confusing that you often lose complete track of entire categories for months at a time. When you return, you may discover previously unimagined innovation. Or you may find doing without certain things is the only way to determine their worth.

In my case, I became so wrapped up in the wireless phenomenon — how you can pull out your laptop almost anywhere to get your messages — that I forgot about the whole handheld subcategory. Carrying a laptop is a little like dragging around a recliner. You can be comfortable anywhere you go, with all the comforts of home.

The bad news is that dragging around a recliner can be exhausting. And there is a whole generation of people who are carrying around the equivalent of lawn chairs and inflatable cushions.

I haven’t used a portable e-mail device since my BlackBerry’s screen split in 2003. And while I haven’t missed the magic of always-on personal portable messaging, I can see how it can be addicting to some people.

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Recently, Sprint lent me a pair of phones for a taste of what’s new, to demonstrate how far we have come since my last BlackBerry withered away (to be fair, some of the fanciest new devices carry the BlackBerry label).

While I never returned to the previous state of dependence, the appeal is obvious — even if the process is a bit difficult for an old guy.

The BlackBerry keyboard is a pretty severe inconvenience, so I never even thought of trying to run e-mail from a standard cellphone. But it turns out that some people do very well in this endeavor. While getting a demo at the local Sprint store on the Motorola version, I remarked that it must be a real hardship to communicate this way. “Not really,” said the demonstrator, as her long nails flew across the keypad, tapping two or three times to input the proper letter.

The second phone, based on the Treo, is a bit more full-featured. There is a BlackBerry-style keyboard, which is now easier to read and use than before Sprint and Yahoo! partnered up, so you can hook into your Yahoo! Mail, and the phone can buzz every time a new message comes in.

The limitation to just one Web mail service really isn’t a drawback, as setting up forwarding from your primary address is no longer a big deal.

Portable mail has become a lot easier lately, but that’s not really the point. When I needed this service, a weak screen and tortuous keyboard were part of the admission. Now that I don’t, even the slick, comfortable Treo is a bit of a burden — even if it is a lot easier to tap out a message on a Treo (or BlackBerry) than one of those infernal phones, despite what Ms. Fingernails may say.

Both of these phones seem better suited to instant messaging than e-mail, another aspect that leaves me and my ilk behind. As a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project concluded, kids favor IM while so-called adults are hooked on e-mail. Maybe this particular aged/youth dichotomy corresponds with our willingness to drag around our recliners.

This column appeared on The Seattle Times Web site last week.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.