This week was one of those weeks where I was tempted to toss every piece of technology I own out the window. The printer acted up. My computer acted up. Even my beloved ereader crapped the bed. Everything had gremlins! I spent more time troubleshooting and fixing than I did working or living. It made me really long for an old-school life where I could actually spend time doing things instead of dealing with upgrades, breakdowns, and incompatibilities that bring work and fun to a crawl.
Sigh. The world is what it is, and I shouldn’t complain. I’ve said before: Technology brings many good things, but it also brings along some huge pains in my ass.
I used to be more pro-tech than I am now. I used to think it all was great, and that every improvement was bound to make life better. The scales fell from my eyes, though. It’s not all good. Nor helpful. Nor useful. Result: Over the years, I’ve started making an effort to seriously question every bit of technology (including devices, appliances, apps, etc.) and anything billed as “making life easier” before bringing it into my life. I ask:
- Is it necessary?
- Does it really improve on the old way of doing things?
- Will it last, or will I be replacing it every year?
- Will it save money?
- How much maintenance does it require, and will it ultimately be a drain on my time? (Think upgrades, replacement parts like batteries, cartridges, etc.)
- What’s the potential dark side? (Privacy concerns, potential addiction, adds to other risks like identity theft, etc.)
And what have I learned? That most of these “improvements” are simply junk pushed at us in order to get us to spend more money. In many cases, the analog or older way of doing things is just fine, and possibly better than the new, costlier way. Here are some examples from my own life of things I’ve tried to do both ways and decided to stick with the old-school way.
Cast iron/stainless cookware. I used to use non-stick cookware. The Teflon coated stuff. It was supposed to be so easy to use and care for. The problems showed up before too long. Those finishes turned out to be possibly carcinogenic. The finishes chipped and peeled, adding to the problem. And because of the chipping and peeling, the cookware needed to be replaced fairly often.
I wised up and went back to stainless steel and cast iron. That stuff will last forever if you care for it properly. And it’s non-stick if you take precautions like seasoning the cast iron, using oil for cooking, and avoiding extreme heat. Yes, it’s somewhat pricey, but I haven’t bought a new pot or pan in years where before I was buying something at least once a year. And I no longer worry about my health.
Old school cooking in general with no “gizmos.” There are so many gadgets available for the kitchen these days. All sorts of single use appliances, specialized cookers, and “tools.” They all promise to streamline your cooking and make everything easier. I used to believe their claims, but the only things I’ve kept (beyond a microwave and a blender) are a small slow cooker and a toaster oven for toast and other small dishes that don’t need the full capacity of my oven.
Most of these gadgets end up as dust catchers because they really aren’t good substitutes for the older, simpler ways of cooking. Air fryers, Insta-pots, Ninjas, bread makers, etc. are all unnecessary and don’t really do anything to improve the process of cooking and baking. You generally get better results with just an oven or pan on the stove. Bonus, you end up with less clutter in the kitchen and more counter space for making amazing meals. And less crap to break, too. (If you’re a professional baker, there might be a case for a special mixer, but for most people a hand mixer will do.)
Making tea on the stove. I had a special iced tea maker as one of my gizmos. But you know what? Making tea in a pot on the stove is actually easier and less messy. (The tea maker always leaked, even when new, and I went through three of them before I wised up.) When my last tea maker died, I quit replacing it and just went with the stovetop method. One less thing on the countertop, and one less annoyance.
Manual can opener. When I got married, it seemed like everyone gave us an electric can opener. I think we had eight, total. By year five of our marriage, we were down to one, and that one died by year seven. At that point I realized that a manual can opener was a better choice and I’ve had the same one for nearly 20 years, now. Again, no wasted counter space, and no money spent replacing the thing every year.
Paper and pen for calendars, notes, etc. I love a big paper calendar and old fashioned notebooks. I have a calendar that hangs on the wall for general use, and a spiral planner for my work that stays open on my desk. Notebooks and notepads are my choice for notes, research, and lists. They work great and never need backups. I don’t have to worry about a crash that wipes out my data. Paper doesn’t require an upgrade in order to keep using it, or a subscription fee. (Other than buying one calendar per year, but that’s fun because I enjoy choosing a new design.) My notes and calendars are always visible; I don’t have to open an app or switch between programs to see what’s going on or add a quick thought.
No smart stuff. I shy away from anything labeled “smart.” Smart home, smart appliances, etc. Most of it just ends up being a pain. It has to be upgraded. It comes with planned obsolescence and won’t work forever. You have to create more accounts and passwords to manage the stuff. It’s one more thing that can be hacked and your privacy violated. The manufacturers are surely selling your data. Are you okay with that? Things like smart appliances also cost more to buy and service than their “dumb” counterparts.
No superfluous devices. If I don’t see a clear need for it, I don’t buy it. No fitness tracker. I ran four marathons with just a simple digital watch and see no need for more. No smartwatch. Same as above. I don’t need it for exercise, and as far as notifications go, that’s just one more thing to annoy me when I’m out and about. I keep my analog watch. No iPad. With a cellphone and computer, I really don’t need more than that for my computing needs. I do have an ereader because I read constantly and everywhere (and the light and font adjustments are helpful), but beyond connecting it to the internet to update it when I first got it, it’s remained off the internet ever since. (I side load books.)
DVD’s over streaming. Yes, streaming can be wonderful, but it’s more apps to manage, more stuff to upgrade and content comes and goes from service to service. I keep DVD’s of my favorite shows so I can watch on my schedule and even if the internet is down.
OTA TV over satellite/cable. We had satellite for many years, but eventually realized that the bill was outrageous for what we actually used. We dumped it, got an antenna and now watch TV over the air. Now we don’t have to worry about that big bill, rate increases, or whether the provider will have a feud with a channel and block us from viewing it. The TV just “works” and we supplement with DVD’s. As a plus, our electricity bill went down about $15 per month after we got rid of all those boxes.
Landline phone. Yes, I still have one. Largely because we live in the land of severe weather and I want a phone I can count on. It works all the time, even during power outages and never needs charging. It has easy caller ID and call blocking features so it doesn’t annoy me. I can hear it all over the house, unlike my cell which I have to carry with me if I want to hear it. I have a cell to use when out and about, but rarely give out the number. It’s for emergencies only. Anyone who is important to me knows to call the landline, meaning I can just keep my cell off when I’m at home.
There are plenty more examples, but I’ll stop here. My point is that maybe we should all be asking if this “stuff” we bring into our lives and homes is as great as we think it is. Is it really improving your life, or adding complication? Are the tasks truly made easier, or just different than the old way? Are you getting the advertised benefits from the thing, or is it a drain on your time, a suck on your storage space, and a pain in your butt? Is someone else getting rich off of your use of the thing by selling your data? Are you okay with that?
It’s much easier to ask these questions before you get sucked into adding the latest and greatest to your life. You’ll save money and time by only bringing what really works into your life. Trust me on this. I’ve been there and had to unwind from a lot of crap that never should have entered my life to begin with. Ask, think, and then decide.
(Image by Michael Gaida)