The “Range Anxiety” Society

As we electrify all parts of life, battery reliability will become a bigger and bigger issue

Clive Thompson

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A picture of an electric car being charged. There is a grey charging nozzle sticking out of the charge port on the
Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash

Recently, my six-year-old MacBook Pro was staggering on its last legs.

One of the chief symptoms of its impending demise? The battery would croak with barely two hours of use. I’d replaced that battery two years before, and already it was collapsing again.

I tried to make lemons out of lemonade. As I wrote in a previous blog post, I used my rapidly-depleting battery as a type of Pomodoro: If I only had two hours to work, I couldn’t procrastinate — I needed get the words out as fast as possible.

But that little mind-hack only went so far. The truth is, having a laptop that only lasts for two hours placed bleak limits on what I could accomplish while working out of the house. Normally I love writing at a café, because the presence of other humans simultaneously calms and stimulates me.

But with the Macbook’s battery-life so dismal, it rarely seemed worth going out. When I’m writing, I’ll spend one hour just amping myself up to do serious work — so I’d finally be hitting my stride only to discover I had a mere hour left. I ended up sticking at home, worried that if I went out to work in public, I’d be too worried to work. Meta-worry!

Anyway, a few weeks ago the motherboard finally bit the dust and the whole machine bricked. I finally ponied up for a brand-new MacBook Pro. It arrived last week. These new Apple machines are, I gotta say, really solid; fantastic keyboards, gorgeous screen, and a trackpad the size of Michigan.

But the one thing that’s really changed my work behavior? The battery life is absolutely astounding.

I’ve gone to a cafe and worked unplugged for eight solid hours — eating breakfast and lunch there (I try to make sure restaurants where I’m writing get their money’s worth out of me, lol); the battery was still at 45%. I have no idea how Apple is achieving such eldritch performance. But it has transformed the way I work: I can now wander the neighborhood, working in the library for a few hours; go write on a park bench in the cool fall air; or even plant myself at a nearby bar for an afternoon cocktail while I write. It’s a lovely…

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Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net