I’m writing this article on my iPad with a wireless keyboard, while listening to a podcast on my iPhone. Later, before I go to sleep, I’ll probably read more of Tracey McQuirter’s life-changing By Any Greens Necessary on my Kindle. I’m kind of a technology geek. Not first adopter, stand in line all night for the latest iThing geeky, but I dig me some gadgetry and I’ll proselytize about how gizmos make life better to the unconverted. But if I’m completely honest, I know tech fans like myself need to take care that technology enhances without taking over our lives.
As someone who writes regularly on current issues, I am immeasurably aided by my tablet and smartphone. They alert me to breaking news and help me stay on top of newspapers, magazines, blogs, and social media, whether at home or on the go. And when it’s time for me to write, I’m not chained to a computer. I can whip out my tablet, grab an hour or two in a coffee shop and knock out a first-draft article or conduct an interview.
The digital revolution has also transformed my life as a lover of books. I can’t explain why I read faster on my e-reader, but I seem to. And other fans of digital books say the same. Switching largely to e-books has allowed me to consume more information, but it hasn’t taxed my already-bursting bookshelves. Those stacks of books in my living room couldn’t possibly grow any higher. Now I am able to buy (or borrow) digital books that only temporarily take up space on my devices and save my shelves for my most treasured findings or great coffee table books with brilliant photos and illustration.
And despite worries about technology damaging personal relationships, I find it easier to keep in touch with far-flung friends and family, whether through social media or amenities like Skype and Facetime that allow me to catch up with my stepdaughter in the Windy City from 200 miles away. In fact, technology has expanded and strengthened my group of friends rather than limited it.
That’s the good stuff. Here’s the bad.
I have the attention span of a gnat. A lot of folks say music videos robbed GenXers of the ability to concentrate, but I survived my MTV phase with the capacity to focus intact. It wasn’t until I got my hands on a smartphone that things went to hell. “Multitasking” may well be a polite way to say I can’t focus on one thing without desiring to do another. I watch TV while perusing my RSS feeds. I check the comments on one Frugivore article, while writing another for Clutch. I peek at my email accounts over dinner. And, on this, I’m not alone. I can’t recall a lunch out with friends in recent years where everyone didn’t obsessively grab their phones during lulls in conversation. In my defense, I used to get in trouble as a kid for reading at the dinner table, so perhaps I’ve always had sketchy social skills. But certainly it is not healthy to live without time to socialize or reflect without interruption by beeps and bells. And it is safe to assume activities suffer when they don’t get our full attention.
I have the patience of a … very impatient person. I can’t completely blame technology for this. As Gaga says, I was born this way. But the more I get used to having answers and services at my fingertips, the less I am able to wait on things without irritation or looking for a distraction to fill the time.
Suze Orman, help! I try to keep my family finances tight. Buying technology is what I like to do with my disposable income. But let’s face it, tablets, smartphones, and e-readers aren’t cheap and Amazon, iTunes, and the Android Marketplace are all designed to suck the contents from your wallet. It is way too easy to blow a monthly entertainment budget on purchases such as technology accessories and paid apps that I need but then realize aren’t all that useful. E-books may cost less than their printed counterparts, but I buy more of them because that darned one-click purchasing I can do from anywhere makes it so easy to indulge my bibliophilia.
It’s a balancing act, this using tech to the fullest while not getting drawn down the gadget rabbit hole. I’ve instituted a few personal rules to make sure my affinity for thingamajigs doesn’t get the best of me. You may find them useful, too.
Wait. With any purchase, it’s smart to make sure you aren’t just giving in to impulse. Despite the hype, it is rare to need the latest version of a gadget right now, this minute. Let the fanboys and girls stand in line for the first (buggy) version of the latest tablet. You do your homework. Find out whether the new features are worth the upgrade. Think about whether you truly need, say, Siri, or whether you can hang on till the next go ’round. (And there will be a next go ‘round. Such is the nature of ever-changing technology.) Before you spend $4 on Gizmodo’s App of the Week, make sure you don’t already have a free app (or three) that does the same thing.
Waiting not only eases stress on your pocketbook, it also helps minimize virtual clutter, such as a home screen littered with rarely used applications that also take up valuable gigabytes.
Watch out for budget busters. Damn “one-click” functionality! It’s a budget breaker. Set a budget for music and media purchases. Then make sure you don’t exceed your limit through “little” purchases — a $4 e-book here, a $2 app there. Disable functionality that makes buying a one-step activity to limit impulsive, mindless purchases. If you have to work a little, you may think twice.
Also don’t forget technology puts a lot of free stuff at your fingertips. And I don’t mean illegal downloads. The aforementioned “one click” makes it so simple to buy books on Amazon or Barnes & Noble that it is easy to forget your local library may offer digital books for free via Overdrive. Again, think before you click.
Turn off. Sometimes your work and Facebook friends don’t need to reach you. Take some time each week to go offline.
Be thoughtful. Owning advanced technology is a privilege, one many people, including many of those who actually make iPads and other googahs, don’t have. Enjoy what you have. Be thankful. And realize that a whole lot of folks live with less, and you could too.
How do you take charge of your tech addiction?