Keeping up with the world of technology can be very difficult to do unless you spend every waking hour scouring the Web for the latest news, rumors, and super secret leaked photos to hit the presses. It appears that every day, a new phone is introduced to the world, computers fall into obsolescence and are replaced by another complex line of products from a company that has no concept of product branding, and at least a dozen rumors get reported as facts by blogs from one end of the Web to the other.
Technology is a mess, and has been for quite some time. It’s only natural that tech enthusiasts fall into the trap of amassing a cache of these gadgets and gizmos that we either rarely use or wish we could live without. At one point, my desk was home to two tablets, a MacBook Pro, iMac, and a PC in addition to multiple headsets and speakers, each contributing to a spaghetti pile behind the monitors.
Add to this confusion the increasingly complex software we use on a daily basis, turning otherwise simple tasks into a difficult string of commands and processes that few users are able to remember and even fewer can master.
Here are some areas in which we, as consumers, can simplify our technology lifestyle.
I have completely changed my opinion on a home office’s hardware requirements over the past year. Where I would once pride myself on how many different systems I could stack on a single desktop, I’m now feeling a greater pride in knowing that I’ve successfully done away with the majority of these systems in favor of a single more powerful machine with a great many processes pushed to the cloud.
When choosing hardware, even your smartphone, you might want to take into account just how much you can do on that single device. Are you making your purchase based on a single use scenario, discounting any potential needs that may impact your ability to get things done in the future?
These days, it appears that everyone has a smartphone. This isn’t actually the case, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably in the same pickle I found myself in after purchasing a phone based on pure interest in the idea of owning one rather than the actual utility it provided.
Before purchasing a phone, consider these questions.
- Can this phone do everything I might need it to do in the next year?
- What are the drawbacks of the device? Can I live with these drawbacks without having to subsidize them with additional hardware?
- Is it easy to use?
For many users, a smartphone has become a replacement for a day planner, camera, email device, and more. In some cases, a smarthpone can even wipe out the need for its user to carry around a laptop as it enables them to browse the Web and check email from anywhere. This is a great way to simplify your life and carry everything you need in your pocket rather than in a bulky laptop bag.
If the phone you’re considering passes the three questions above, then it may very well be a good buy for you. Whether you’re looking at an iPhone, Android device, Windows phone, or even just a standard phone with basic communication apps pre-loaded, if the device does what you need it to do instead of being the trendy choice, it’s probably a good choice.
Tablets are a recent addition to the technology world. Sitting somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop, the tablet has redefined the wants and needs of many users. Do you need a tablet computer? Really?
Before putting down a boatload of cash on yet another device you will be carrying around with you from day to day, take a moment to consider whether or not you actually need one. Yes, they’re incredibly cool and you can’t avoid hearing about them every time you visit a site like this one or listen to a tech pundit explain the virtues of one device over another.
Fact is, you could probably go without one and be just fine. In fact, if you’re looking to simplify your technology lifestyle, this could be the one device you absolutely do not need at the present moment.
That said, Android tablets and the iPad are incredibly simple devices when compared to laptop computers. The big difference (at the present moment) is that a laptop can replace your desktop computer in many cases. A tablet cannot.
If you simply must buy a tablet for whatever reason, you may want to take a look at the options different choices give you and ask yourself:
- What can I do on it that I can’t do on any other device I presently own?
- Am I buying this because I need to, or because I want to?
- Does this tablet offer more longevity than the alternative?
- Will it still be a good choice in a year?
Desktop Computer / Laptop
Perhaps the central component of anyone’s technical lifestyle is their primary computer. While having two or three of them at your desk sounds like a great idea on paper, it can lead to a file management nightmare that makes life more confusing and inefficient. Yes, having dedicated machines ticking away at important processes that require dedicated hardware is one thing, but if you can avoid it, please do.
I spent quite a lot of time with multiple keyboards and mice on my desktop, fighting for space and constantly having to switch between them. It’s a hassle, and does little to improve actual productivity. You’re probably better off using a KVM switch if you must use multiple computers, perhaps each with its own monitor, than attempting to have everything plugged in and accessible 100% of the time.
Having a Mac gave me the advantage of being able to use both Windows and OS X on a single machine, a huge space saver and arguably one of the biggest advantages to the platform for folks that live in both worlds, such as myself. While I’ve greatly consolidated almost all of my processes to Windows, this could be a big plus to folks that would otherwise have two or three systems at their desk to have all bases covered.
File management was a nightmare, even with shared drives. I found multiple systems fighting over bandwidth during Dropbox syncs to be more of a hinder than an advantage.
When purchasing a desktop or laptop computer, consider the following:
- What OS do I use the most?
- Do I need to live in both worlds? Can I do so from a single machine using Boot Camp, Parallels, or VMWare?
- Can the machine handle everything I need it to do at once?
- Will it still be a good choice in a year?
For me, the choice was an HP Desktop with a beefy processor and a solid mid-range graphics card. I upgraded it further by adding internal drives and a more powerful PSU to handle any additional hardware to be added later.
I do have a laptop, though it has become more of a backup and travel companion than anything I consider part of my regular setup. Thanks to virtual machines, I’m able to delegate a specific amount of resources to various tasks, and to test different software and/or operating systems without risking my regular productivity should something go wrong.
Now, I’m more productive than ever. Instead of the jarring transition from one system to the next, everything I need to get done is on a single machine. Dual monitors have given me the ability to expand my traditional desktop even further, while still keeping everything I need in one place.
We, as consumers, have allowed ourselves to become wrapped up in complex and ridiculously inefficient software solutions. Honestly, why are so many programs we use today so complex and difficult to manage? Do you really need a degree and years of experience to edit a document or spruce up a photo? The answer is no, and while there are professionals that need to work with the complex software out there, simpler solutions are always available.
I remember working in an environment with video editors that lived and breathed Final Cut Pro 7. For its time, it was (and arguably still is) one of the most powerful video editing solutions out there. I got laughed at when I opted to open iMovie to edit a simple video that required very little actual editing. Why would I opt to use a Prius when a Ferrari was parked in the same garage? Simply put, because it got the job done.
We live in an age where software is being made easier and easier to manage, and perhaps it’s time that we severed the dependency we’ve developed for these overly complex processes. If one program can resize an image just fine without degrading the quality to any noticeable degree, then I’d rather use it than Photoshop or Gimp to perform the same task.
Consider what your needs are, and look for the alternative that meets those needs with as little excess complexity as possible. Not everyone needs a professional photo editor, nor does everyone need an advanced native office application suite. Google Docs does a great job on its own, as do many other less complex (and less expensive) solutions out there.
When buying software, consider the following:
- Will I get my money’s worth out of this software?
- Is this really the simplest and most cost-effective solution to the problem?
- Have I researched potential alternatives and/or searched for a free trial?
- Will it still be a good choice in a year?
Free doesn’t always equal better. The hours of your life that you can save by going with a solution that takes less steps than the more popular alternative can be worth more to you than the purchase price.
I’m not a huge fan of complex solutions, though I found myself surrounded by them for several years. I went out of my way to get the biggest and best hardware and software out there, only to discover that it made life more difficult than it actually had to be.
Today, I do all of my video editing, writing, gaming, and social media interaction on a single desktop machine that cost less and does more than any setup I’ve had before it. I’ve never been more productive, and less frustrated by not having everything I need on the system I happen to be working on at the time.
My phone, an iPhone 4, has all-but replaced my need for a digital camera, schedule planner, or desire for a dedicated portable gaming device. I still have a tablet computer, though it serves a purpose for work, and presently isn’t a necessary part of my daily routine.
What about you? Have you taken steps to simplify your tech lifestyle? Have you done away with excessive gadgets and gizmos in favor of more comprehensive all-in-one solutions? What worked for you?