“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” — Roy Disney
Once 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:
- What do we want to achieve?
- Which technologies meet our security needs and cost constraints?
- 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?
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