Simple Living: Telling Technological Shit From Shinola

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.

For example.

  • 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.

Another example

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

  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Fitness
  • Finance Tracking and Budgeting
  • Time Planning & Note Taking
  • Utility

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?

7 thoughts on “Simple Living: Telling Technological Shit From Shinola”

  1. Cubert says:

    Right on, Brotha! F Facebook. Twitter? God help me with that addiction. I work in technology and cannot wait to get away from it. I say that knowing full well I’ll continue to be attached to a PC writing on me blog. But that’ll be my passion, not some stock driven collection of tasks.

    1. earthworldjim says:

      I hear you. It’s a constant ying-yang yoyo for me. I love tech yet it drives me nuts at times. A BS filter is definitely needed with it at times. I say that as I arrived at work early this morning with a heap of code to rework. The joys!

      As you highlight, tech is often what enables us to chase and live dreams – it’s a great tool when used well

    2. Scott says:

      Try a DETOX from social media.
      I just deleted twitter – two accounts and for a couple days it felt “weird”. Now, only about 10 days in Im very sure I may NEVER return to the craziness of the socials!
      ONLY by the delete did I actually experience the return to calm and open space my life was meant to have – naturally! This shit is NOT OK!!!
      The value I get is what – a reward of a like? Really?
      connecting with others is the promise. Like feeling good is the promise of cocaine. pretty soon, your life changes.
      ANYHOW…James, GREAT article and thanks!

      1. earthworldjim says:

        Thanks Scott. I can see your points around social media. It also can bring lots of benefits and help us connect with others who have similar interests. Where is the line though? The range where ‘enough’ becomes ‘too much’. Answer: I don’t know. It sounds like we are both finding out for ourselves though! Thanks for stopping by

        1. Scott says:

          I looked at, pondered, the time vs value and thought (for me) I was better off before the socials were in my life!
          The compulsion to check them alone freaks me out!
          So MY RADICAL choice was – DELETE. I know its not for everyone. Most things I do arent!!!! :0
          Its nice to share ideas, what works for us- and what we break free from.

  2. I LOVE gadgets. What I hate is all the electronic gizmo clutter. Too many cables, too many accessories.

    I just recently decided that since I take 99.9% of pictures with my phone, it was pointless and expensive to hang onto my SLR. I sold it and was amazed at how many eBay auctions I put up for all the lenses, cases, memory cards, and addons. No wonder I never used it, it was like toting around a suitcase full of stuff.

    I have a very small backpack now that I can fit all my electronic stuff in now, laptop, tablet, drawing tablet. If it can’t fit into that backpack, I take a good hard look if I even use it enough to rationalize owning it.

    1. earthworldjim says:

      Good man. That’s the way to be – if it doesn’t fit into the backpack forget about it. At least that way you have a physical, meaningful limit on what technology you want in your life or to be lugging about. Although as tech gets increasingly smaller that may need some adjusting – a lot of smart watches and phones will fit inside a backpack 😉 The point you make about cameras is very true, I’ve taken some great photos on my smartphone and don’t even know the ins and outs of an SLR. Maybe some day.

      Teachnology can create a kind of ‘informational clutter’ too. Did you even find yourself worrying about how to organise all those photos you took (that you may or may never never actually look at again) ? Reducing the clutter is what we’re all about here!

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