Apple Customers Can Sometimes Just Say No

| Hidden Dimensions

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” — Roy Disney

ebrainOnce upon a time, we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, the iCloud, iPhoto, Wi-Fi syncing, Time Machine, iTunes Match, and 170,000 iPad apps to chose from. Technological momentum, enabled by new platforms, like the iPhone and iPad, and the fabulous growth of Apple have brought upon us a myriad of technologies, solutions, and choices. It can all present a problem of choice for us.

To make matters worse, engaging in every technology that comes along can not only complicate our life but also create conflicts that waste time and create frustration. I saw a tweet recently that said something like: Google+ is like a health club: everyone’s a member, but no one goes. We sign up for things that look popular, seem like they’ll better connect us, maybe even flatter us or promote our point of view but end up, all too often, betraying our confidence and squandering our time.

How can we deal with this explosion of technology that can fritter away our time, even our health?

The Master Plan

Our computing life has taken on the complications of corporate IT managers. We must attend to system updates, ensure security, and back up gigabytes of data. And while Apple makes headway by simplifying our immediate task, the law of conservation of complexity gets in the way. Simpler apps means more apps and more infrastructure to support the simplicity. That means that offloading our syncing to the Apple iCloud eliminates some tedium, but, in turn, requires us to be masters of our Wi-Fi, cable modem, and Internet technologies to ensure connectivity.

If we are going to be subjected, at home, to the typical tasks of corporate IT managers, then we also have to think like they do. We have to have a plan. For example:

  1. What do we want to achieve?
  2. Which technologies meet our security needs and cost constraints?
  3. What is worth doing, and what is just a time waster?

For example, I am on Twitter. It’s part of my branding as an author to tell you who I am and what I write about. It’s easy, free, and fairly secure. I also find Twitter endlessly entertaining and educational, and I think that’s because of the caliber of people I follow.

There are some technologies that I bypass because they don’t offer me something that’s on the list of things I need to achieve. Although, as someone who covers Apple, I need to pay attention to pretty much everything Apple rolls out, I may not embrace every thing Apple does. That’s because I have a fairly good idea about what needs to be done and what’s optional as I manage several Macs, iPads and iPhones in the household.

Questions, I have Questions

I’m curious for my own sake about everything Apple does, but I still ask myself questions that I would ask if I weren’t writing about Apple.

  • Is this a solution to a problem or a curiosity?
  • Will it be around for awhile and serve me in the long run?
  • Does it have the potential to violate my OS security or my personal privacy?
  • What are the hidden agendas behind this free app or service?
  • Does it look like it will play well with my other technologies?

What Steve Jobs Taught Us

We all know about the lore of Steve Jobs when it comes to product design. That is, when considering features for a product, it’s important to be able to say “No.” That makes for simpler, more satisfying products. There is a sense of satisfaction instead of buyer’s remorse. We can get our head around an iPod or and iPad precisely because it lacks features. As a result, we can focus on getting a task done instead of tinkering with the complexities of too many features and failure points.

What’s true for product design is also true for the structure of our household computing life. There are things that must be done, like backups, and there are things that we are drawn to, like a moth to a flame, by advertising or by peer pressure. Excellent communications inundates us with “Have you seen this?” so many times a day that it’s more difficult to focus on a single task that can be productive. That’s why productivity experts tell us to partition our day into segments. For example, reserve the morning for programming and don’t even fire up email (and now Twitter) until late afternoon.

The other thing to consider is that not every Apple product or feature fulfills a need for everyone, and this becomes even more true as the company’s product lines expand. For example, we may elect to geotag our photos so that iPhoto can put virtual pushpins on a map. Of course, we know where we were when we took the picture, so who’s going to care about (or even find) our pushpin map when we’re long gone? What is the fundamental need? How often will we look at and utilize a maze of pushpins? Is the pushpin map something of enduring, creative value? Or is it a drain on our time, keeping us from experiencing life itself? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is a bad feature of iPhoto. I’m suggesting that we ask better questions. Have the courage, like Mr. Jobs, to say “No” to some features.

Exponentials Can Crush You

Technology knows no bounds. New social media apps, technologies and products will continue to be hurled into our lives at an exponential rate. But we are finite beings, and we don’t have to be controlled by a slavish addiction to every new thing. There are things to do, places to visit, people to meet, novels to write, physical fitness to be preserved, kids to play with, people in need and a life to live.

When all is said and done, perhaps the best question to ask ourselves about any given new technology, thrown out for the benefit of someone else’s business plan, is whether it contributes to our own life. I remember being physically present at several of Steve Jobs’s keynotes in which he showed the benefits of iPhoto and iMovie: preserving the memories of our children and rekindling our love for them. I think it was after showing a video of one of his VP’s children on the beach, Mr. Jobs turned to the audience and said, with a touch of emotion in his voice, “This is why we do what we do.”

In the end, that might be the best assessment ever of any given technology we may think about embracing. Why are we doing what we’re doing?


Ebrain image credit: Shutterstock

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Appreciate the article once again. I try to stay focused on just the things I need or really enjoy. While the rest may sound interesting; you are right. We can’t do it all. I would expect that as we get older our use of technology will begin to lessen. If granted the time I don’t plan to spend my days in retirement managing personal technology. Maybe that should be telling me something now. wink


Agreed. In my line of work I see and play with a lot of technology. I keep an eagle eye out to see what’s useful and enjoyable what isn’t.

At one point I went through and tagged places and faces in iPhoto but like you, I found I’ve never used the tagging data.

Hardware? I use my MacBook a LOT. It’s a powerful workhorse that I use every day for work and fun. I also use my iPodTouch a lot. Literally it’s with me for e-mail, messaging, games, surfing, etc., from before I rise to after I retire. I have network sniffer tools and Theodolite on it. When I need a calculator or want to know what the weather is going to be like I pull out the iPodTouch. It’s invaluable.

On the other side though, I also have an iPad2. It’s great. I love to play games on it, but much to my surprise I don’t use it for much else. My wife still plays games on her MacBook and if I want to type something or edit a film, or create some art I use the ‘Book. I love the iPad but just find I don’t use it more than a couple times per week. Mostly it’s a portable game device.


I don’t have any problem saying “No, thanks” to Facebook, Twitter, 90% of Google stuff and a myriad of other solutions looking for a place in my life.

I wish I had said “No” to the last 2 Windows PCs I bought and a Toshiba “Gigabeat” MP3 player - and its crummy software that ran on my PC.

Figuring out what I want to do, or achieve, is relatively easy. It’s figuring out ‘How’  that’s the challenge.  Not all toasters are the same.

Most of the time I’m happy to let Apple figure out the ‘How’.


... and because I’m retired I forgot to say to skipaq -

I try not to spend too much time typing on a keyboard or swiping on my iPhone; but IT has been a part of my life since 1964 and I still have a keen interest.  Work has become a hobby. I’ve swapped word processing and presentations for music and movies. I draw the the line at technical challenges and problems. If it causes grief it’s out. That’s why PCs were fine for work but not for a hobby.


... and because I?m retired I forgot to say to skipaq -

Yep. i will be retiring (sort of) in a year or two. My work involves a lot of research, writing, public speaking and teaching. I don’t see that ever ending completely; but the more technical side of keeping my technology running and current is kept to a minimum. The easier it is for me the better I like it. I too expect to use technology in later years for things of personal interest. Hopefully it will be even less work.

Lee Dronick

Well you can’t take it with you and when your at your final mooring you will have other things on your mind than upgrading to OSXV.


The questions I’ve been mulling lately are more fundamental; why is this technology such an important part of my, or our lives?  Why do I peruse “the new” so relentlessly?

I thought I couldn’t imagine life as an architect without my whiz-bang CAD system, but I could imagine it; all I had to do was remember it.  Back “then,” I worked on a drawing board with pencil, ink and paper.  I was happy working like that; watching my imagination evolve slowly (and surely more thoroughly) before my eyes.

I used to write letters to friends and loved-ones.  By hand; ink on paper, with a stamp you had to lick.  I liked it.  I liked the anticipation of the return letter, days later.

I kept accounts with an adding machine.  I took photos on film, and printed them on paper, and kept them in a book called an album.  Urgent contact was made by a telephone on the end of a wire.

And none of those things combined, took up as much of my daily life as does my Mac.  I’m not even counting the iStuff, because I don’t own any.  I?m certainly no Luddite as I look upon technology as a “good thing” ? more, faster disease cures, more and better information available for our children to learn from, a more complete understanding of our universe, nano to macro ? but I?m not terribly keen on our ability to kill people more efficiently from some remote bunker in Colorado by a kid that grew up on Nintendo games.

That last paragraph was a bit wayward, so let me return to where I started; how has all this new stuff sucked us in so completely?  Are we leaving something precious behind as a result?  Have our lives actually been improved because of digital technology?

Is there a danger that we are living with our eyes are wide shut?


how has all this new stuff sucked us in so completely?  Are we leaving something precious behind as a result?  Have our lives actually been improved because of digital technology?

Well put.
It is very easy to get sucked into the how and not the why. To get so impressed with the tool we forget the job the tool was created for. SmartPhones are great for keeping in touch but how often have we seen people messing about with their phone and not talking to the person in front of them. Much of this technology was created to make the workplace more efficient but now there is a problem with people spending all their time on the technology, e-mail, texts, etc., not to mention things like facebook and twitter that aren’t work related,  and not on the work. Have you ever not been able to buy something at a store because the register was down? Have you ever faced a clerk that couldn’t make change unless the computer told them how much it was? I read an article a couple of days ago that psychologists are treating people for the fear of losing their cell phone.

There is a koan saying that the objects you own really own you. I see that in technology a lot.


Thanks John for this article!
I have a love-waste relationship with technology too. Since 1982 I have been an Apple junkie but never overdosed because of a lack of funds. Hardware was and is not my only addiction, i inject podcasts daily and Skype keeps me fixed.  It was very easy to give up everything Microsoft (until they bought Skype,) everything Google (except search with Ghostery,) Facebook and even texting. Today I own most things Apple but not an iPhone. I do love IOS on my iPad, but never want to pay the fees that the big carriers demand.
I have been doing much better these days health wise because of my biking, it is great! Oh, did I mention that my bike has an iPod accessory?



Very thoughtful article. The sections on ‘the law of the conservation of complexity’, having a plan, the value (and timing) of ‘No’, and the importance of identifying whether something truly is relevant or of benefit to us, I found the most salient.

The central concept here, in my view, is one that transcends one’s relationship to Apple and its products, but to the world around us more broadly.

If I may, studies have shown that the most productive, and importantly, among the happiest, people are those who make a plan for their lives. Interestingly, it does not appear that adherence to the plan per se is the determinant of either success or happiness, but that such persons have focus, direction and purpose.

The point being, such people are more likely than others to identify what is important and what is not, and minimise the effect of noisome distractions that do not contribute to their progress, indeed may hinder it.

Whether people with focus and direction are more likely than others to make a plan in the first place, or whether making a plan helps one to gain such focus and direction (frankly I think that both apply), is less relevant than the fact of taking stock of oneself, and where one is trying to go, is a powerful antidote to distraction, profligacy, oppressiveness, and their resulting sense of futility and unhappiness. The line between productive vs idle pursuits is as unique as the individuals who pursue them. This is not a formulaic prescription, but a process of self knowledge.

As for Apple, they are going to make new and (hopefully) better products and services, outputs that do not yet exist. Few of these are intended for ‘everyone’, hence the concept of ‘market’. The truly knowledgable consumers, i.e. those who both know the products and themselves, will continue to be the happiest and most satisfied.

Many thanks for the reminder.

John Martellaro

wab95: There is a good article in the Feb, 2012 Chess Life magazine, “Reaching the Next Level.” about how Chess develops “executive control,” a technical term that relates to habits: metacognition (thinking about thinking), impulse control, immediate feedback on formed hypotheses and planning. Good stuff.


There is a good article in the Feb, 2012 Chess Life magazine, ?Reaching the Next Level.? about how Chess develops ?executive control,?

Many thanks for that. I’ll look it up.

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