Why You Should Simplify Your Tech Lifestyle

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.

Hardware

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?

Smartphone
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.

Tablet Computer
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.

Software

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.

Final Thoughts

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?

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • RaterKey

    Not simplified specifically. Instead what I have done is stopped needlessly upgrading. You ask ” Can this phone do everything I might need it to do in the next year?”, but why not next two years? I’ve gone to a SIM only contract and dropped the whole idea of a “subsidized phone”. Long term it will work out cheaper, even paying full price for a handset!

    I’m currently on a Galaxy S and it still works just fine. It still gets all my email from my multiple email accounts, does my calendar, allows me to use Twitter, takes photos and videos, browses the Web, and plays games… It does it all just fine! I could go and spend £500 on a new phone, but why? This isn’t that old! It still feels kinda new!

    Same applies to my cameras, I still use my very old Nikon D40. It takes fantastic photos, it really does. And yes, I’ve used more modern cameras which are better in many many ways. I also happen to occasionally use a very old Soviet film camera, that takes phenomenal photos as well, despite it being near pre-historic technology. You don’t need the very latest camera to take a good photo. 

    My laptop is only about year old, but I am still incredibly pleased with it. It is a Dell XPS 15 with a relatively beefy spec. I’ll be getting a new laptop this year, but not to replace the XPS. One that will stay at work, and the XPS will stay at home.

  • bryanminer

    I have moved almost everything onto the cloud.

  • http://FireYourBossProject.ORG/blog Sandor Benko

    Great points. I simplify as much as possible, too many systems lead to confusion. My next step is to change desktop+laptop to laptop+thunderbolt display. 1 PC less, and my data always with me. That’s leverage.

  • Bob Warren

    Have a Fantastic Wednesday Night!

  • John

    since I live in two places I  use two PC’s. a desktop at one place and a laptop at the other. Both aare from Nov 2006 and run XP. I just upgraded t the laptop with 4GB of ram last year and had to replace the CMOS battery in both the laptop and desktop. I only use my cell phone to make phone calls, and prefer the audio quolety of the LG 5300. I’ve looked at the newer LG and Samsung phones from Verizon that are flip, and see no difference. I dont do text messageing, and if I did I wouldn’t want anyone to hear/see them. I’m blind so can’t see at all, and my hearing is pretty bad. I couldn’t use one ear to hear people while the other ear heard a phone that could read messages. I am curious what all this smartphone stuff is about, but I’ve heard its not all its cracked up to be. Its either a data problem (going over limits), phones freezin, apps not working as intended. for what neI do, the stuff I have works well for me.

  • Vicki

    Great post! As an aging Baby Boomer, I want to simplify my life. I want things that help me in my day to day chores and not one more thing to remember, learn to work and one more thing to go wrong! Love technology when it is realy useful and I dont need university course in how to work it!

  • http://twitter.com/Stjohnm St John Manson

    When I invest in technology whether its a new PC Smartphone or tablet I’m looking to get 2-3 years minimum out of it, my last phone lasted over 5 years, I only got the iPhone 4s when it gave up the ghost because I needed a PC in my pocket as well as a replacement for the phone itself & a new camera.  My current PC while ancient and in an ideal world needs an upgrade is still good for a few years considering what I use it for, not bad for an ex display model I picked up on the cheap.  The 3rd iPad hasn’t been released here yet (Thailand is a phase 3 country in the Apple universe) but I’m seriously doubting whether the upgrade would be worth it from the iPad1 I inherited from my father. Although much slower running iOS5 it can still do 85% of what I use it for without crashing.  I’ve compared the iPad1’s display with the retina display on the 4s with my Photo Stream Photos, & its not worth another $500 or more until iOS & essential App updates are no longer compatible with the iPad1. I presume that with be autumn time when the next iPhone is released when they’ll introduce the next incarnation of iOS as well.

  • Gayleard

    I’m surprised no-one has mentioned home networking. I run 2 small home networks, in Ireland and Italy, both under CentOS-6.2. Alll family laptops (6), smart phones (2), web cameras (3), smart TV (1), printers (2), etc, hang from the 2 servers. The servers are kept in sync with openVPN and rsync, and everything is backed up daily with BackupPC. I’m not a great fan of the cloud, though I do keep contacts on google as well as on an openLDAP server. I’m very old (79), and prefer typing on a laptop as I find text input on a smart phone (I have a Samsung Galaxy S2) too time-consuming. I run Fedora-16 most of the time, though I have dual boot with Windows XP on most machines.