Last year I did a short write-up of some of the applications on my phone that I use to make life easier. It’s not long. It’s personal and subjective. I dropped a few, and added one or two since.
We all know technology has the potential to consume as much or more of our time than it liberates. That is the tricky part.
It’s tricky because it has become difficult to accurately imagine living in the counter-factual – a world or life with little to no technology; specifically web-based & mobile information-applications. Taking informed decisions is tricky.
Healthy free-market economics generally assumes the consumer is making an informed decision between a number of credible options. I’m sure we all consider ourselves to be pillars of well-informed rational compassion and practicality but the truth is, the odds are stacked against us. The sheer volume of information we need to digest to make informed decisions is staggering.
Every decision in life essentially involves not choosing something else. Each decision has an opportunity cost, which ideally we understand.
To even the odds, focusing on what actually matters and making decisions (technological and otherwise) around those things is important. Otherwise our ability to make deeper, rational, and compassionate choices becomes eroded, our minds constantly engaged in differentiating and arbitrating, affected by waves of unimportant interruptions and trivial information.
I have no doubt that too much technology does contribute to unhappiness, and I’ve been there myself.
A reader, Scott, recently mentioned he ditched his Twitter account (among other social media activities) and that this has resulted in more free time to pursue worthwhile pursuits, such as quality reading in place of passive media-feed grazing.
It’s something really worth exploring. I could happily do away with my Facebook account, but enjoy connecting with people on Twitter. Decisions.
- When making a decision to buy a guitar I have a very good idea of the enjoyment I will likely get out of it versus the money I am spending on it. I can appreciate its value.
- Likewise, I cycle everywhere, so I know the inherent value in any decisions I make related to purchasing, fixing, or upgrading my bike. This often involves money, but doesn’t have to. I have a clear understanding of the effort it takes to repair a bike, either myself or at a bike-shop.
With all the technology and information surrounding us, it’s different. It is the proverbial rabbit-hole.
I recently tried to download the EveryDollar mobile app as a means to begin budgeting properly. I signed up on the online portal, everything went great, after an hour or so I was set up. Did some reading on how to use it – looked great. Went to download the app – only available in the U.S. Oversight on my part. Two hours, multiple attempts later (involving VPNs, mobile cache clearances, FFS! & head scratching) I resigned myself to the fact I wasn’t going to get this mobile app working on my phone. Time wasted = 3 hours. Went with YNAB instead. Both YNAB and EveryDollar seem equally good apps – but I went for EveryDollar first and wasted a lot of time.
Moral of the story – this kind of delay and waste of time is very difficult to get a firm grip on and it’s often exacerbated by technology.
Avoiding this kind of time-sink becomes a bit easier with extensive trial and error – the resultant three steps forward two steps backward jive-o-frustration is only a sensible approach if the end goal is something strategic, not just tactical. Strategic for your world, nobody else’s.
In this particular case I really wanted to get some handle on my personal finances and budgeting – I am more and more careful of what I allow to take my time. This was strategic for me.
Which brings me to a point on the other end of this tango – the amount of time people often spend on social media. Hours and tens of hours per week. Nothing wrong with it per se, but I can’t help feeling it’s going to be a bit like tobacco and sugar drinks are now – great at the time but the unintended consequences felt sharply in the future.
The difference being of course that social media also affects and shapes that future from the present.
Nobody who uses it is immune.
It becomes difficult to separate shit from shinola.
There are only so many hours in the day.
Your Use Case
We all use this shimmering ball of increasingly interconnected goodness in different ways. Some people live almost entirely online, face-palmed to a screen. Another group live by situation or design almost totally removed from technology.
Most of us are in between.
The types of applications I use fall into these categories
- Finance Tracking and Budgeting
- Time Planning & Note Taking
I’m sure you can draw up something similar.
For the most part these are dictated by my personal interests around simple living, autodidactism, finances, programming, and music.
It’s very easy to get sucked into downloading all sorts of note-taking, productivity enhancing, music-recording apps that add f*$k all value to life. No matter what your interests, this stuff advertises itself in ever-more focused, even actively listening ways.
I love lots of technology. There’s so many great apps and ways our life is improved with it. All its bells and whistles. Yet I’m wary of what it does to us as humans.
It’s not the technology that’s scary. It’s what it does to the relations between people, like callers and operators, that’s scary – Robert M.Pirsig
Sometimes it’s easy to seek a solution to a problem in technology. I work in software development – often the customer doesn’t know what they want, the technology solution proposed or prototyped can shape that decision massively. We are all that perpetual customer.
Am I suckered in, I ask myself? It’s hard to know, especially working as a software developer. I try to be aware of where it interfaces with real life though.
I recently wrote about the different aspects of life that I feel simple living has enriched. I didn’t really touch on how this applies to technology, but of course it does. It can help cut out the crap.
The idea of simplicity comes into almost all decisions I make – will this thing add value or will it clutter life more?
Whatever your interests – ask that simple question. Everything, including if it’s worth paying for, falls out of that.
If the application/mood-coloured-room/phone/watch/self-driving-bubble you use does not contribute to your (or your families) long term goals, free time, or happiness – scrap it.
They are just distractions.
All the Google Sky-ing about in the world won’t beat one spectacular and clear night sky, experienced sans-phone/tablet/friend-who-insists-on-phone.
What do you think?