10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

Summary: Think all IT pros go crazy over tech tools and toys? Not Alan Norton. In fact, he may be approaching geek heresy with his take on these popular devices!


Think all IT pros go crazy over tech tools and toys? Not TechRepublic's Alan Norton. In fact, he may be approaching geek heresy with his take on these popular devices.

I didn’t think it could happen, but it has. I’ve become old school. It wasn’t all that long ago when I was but a young pup punching Hollerith cards in the basement of the University of Arizona’s Computer Science building. I do find myself in part now longing for the simple days when IT was called MIS and 640K was considered enough memory for a PC.

There are new technologies others crave that I shun. One of my neighbors, Chuck, is a true lover of new technology. He has a robot named RoboSapien, and he just ordered a roving robot named Rovio that has WIFI and a Web cam. He tells me he wants to keep track of his Shih Tzu puppy, Bodhi, but I know a tech-obsessed person when I see one.

I like bleeding edge technology, but there are some high-tech devices I can live without.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: The most annoying techno-gadget ever, AKA the cell phone

I had to use a cell phone as a requirement of my last job but I didn’t have to like it. It was so small, I felt foolish talking into thin air, as if I were talking to some great invisible cosmic force and not a person. Are people really willing to accept limited coverage, lousy connections, roaming charges, and expensive monthly bills for phone-freedom? Obviously they are. According to Wikipedia, there were 4.6 billion cell phone subscriptions at the end of 2009.

Even those who can’t live without one have to admit that they are often annoying beyond human endurance. And the photos they take can lead to all kinds of problems.

There are other issues, as well. When driving, you have to watch out for the cell phone packing motorist. When carrying one, you have to worry about being tracked. When using one, you have to worry about the controversial possibility that the thing is slowly cooking your brain. This is progress?

2: Electronic leashes, AKA the pager

These nasty little devices ensure that your workday never ends at 5:00. Just as soon as you forget that you are tethered to the job, the bleeping thing goes off and blasts you back to reality.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, which salivated at the sound of a bell, I became conditioned to respond to the call for action. Upon hearing that awful beeping sound, the neurological connections in my brain were further solidified, linking the horrid device to the interruption of my peaceful evening. Is it any wonder I despise these insidious little technological monstrosities?

3: Slower-than-your-desktop-computer computers, AKA the laptop

At my last job, our group supported the national CSC help desk with new systems and software. Routine travel was part of the job. We were a new group and, no doubt due to a limited budget, we were given laptop computers and docking stations instead of desktop PCs. They were heavy. They were slow. They had lousy screens. Yes, they have gotten much better. But dollar for dollar, they still perform much worse than a desktop computer. Ever try developing on a laptop?

4: Virtual spies, AKA the Web cam

Why in the world would I or anyone else want to show the world how they look in the morning? Why should I have to shave before sitting down to my computer? Why should I have to feel that big brother is constantly peering over my shoulder? Okay, so you can turn the darned things off, but are you sure that electronic eyeball staring you in the face is really off?

5: Undercover agents, AKA RFID chips

I have no problem with companies or retail stores that want to track their inventory with RFID chips. I do have a problem when the shoes I purchased last year can be tracked wherever my not-so-little feet take them.

This is no longer science fiction. Companies as large as Wal-mart are preparing to use them for inventory control, theft prevention, and other well-intentioned activities. Unfortunately, unless some way is found to destroy them, remove them, or deactivate them before the customer leaves the store, the technology can be abused by those with less-than-noble intentions.

6: Wandering vacuums, AKA the Roomba

My best friend offered me a free Roomba and I turned him down. Why? Aside from the fact that I already had three vacuum cleaners, there was the question of the effectiveness of such a novel gadget. A battery-powered robot that automatically vacuums floors and is that small can’t do a good job, can it? It might have been a fun exercise to gut the innards, but eviscerating and sifting through the disjecta membra seemed somehow disrespectful.

7: Alice in Wonderland books, AKA the e-book reader

I use the computer more than eight hours a day; I sure don’t want to curl up with a good e-book at the end of a day. To be fair, I haven’t actually used an e-reader. But I have to question the expenditure of precious fun-tickets on another all-too-specific device that has more drawbacks than advantages.

Jason Hiner recently wrote an article questioning the value of the e-reader: Kindle 3: Is there still a place for dedicated e-readers? The consensus from you, patient reader, is yes. But to me, the e-reader is like the question “Why is a raven like a writing desk?

How long will it take the e-reader to disappear into oblivion like the Cheshire Cat?

8: Make-believe baseball, AKA virtual sports

In days gone by, kids actually hit round, leather-covered objects with sticks made out of wood. Now, every kid on the block has to have devices and video games that simulate baseball. Some even have man-machine interfaces that try to mimic reality while providing “exercise.” Users look completely foolish as they try to pitch or hit a virtual baseball that exists only in their mind and the bits inside a chip.

Will the smell of grass, the warmth of the spring sunshine, and the joys experienced by the kids on the neighborhood sandlot under an endless blue sky be forever lost?

9: The embarrasser, AKA the speakerphone

A speakerphone is certainly appropriate in a meeting where everyone is aware that it is in use. Unfortunately, it becomes a habit for those who are too lazy to pick up the handset and inconsiderate to the person on the other end of the line. And then there is that awkward and possibly career-ending moment when you make that clever not-so-amusing-to-your-boss comment about his mandated “stupid meeting,” not realizing that the speakerphone is on.

10: Please excuse my typos keyboard, AKA the virtual or miniature keyboard

I have received several emails lately that included a fascinating blurb at the end:
  • “Sent from my iPad”
  • “Sent from my mobile phone. Please excuse any typos.”

Sorry, but I am not buying in to the notion that I should forgive poor grammar, bad spelling, or indecipherable texting because the sender is using a device with a lousy keyboard.

A new language, texting shorthand, is often the language of choice on devices with downsized keyboards. In its purest form, it has little resemblance to the English language. Will the next generation communicate like this? (TGG - TextGen Girl; TGB - TextGen Boy):

TGG: ru goin 2 prt 2nite?

TGB: idk ru?

TGG:  y hoas 9

TGB: pu

TGG: 99 kpc

TGB: sys

TGG: lycylbb

TGB: rbay

(Shorthand messages from netlingo and Webopedia.)

I may be an OBX (old battle axe) or just plain OTH (over the hill), but I find that really annoying. In fact, any device that uses a too-tiny-for-my-fat-fingers keyboard is beyond annoying — it’s unusable.

The bottom line

New technologies can be wonderful, and so-called geeks embrace them and extol their virtues. But there is often a dark side to new technology. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes it’s not so obvious, possibly the result of the law of unintended consequences.

If you use any of the 10 gizmos listed above, more power to you. But please allow me the courtesy of disliking what I deem to be misguided technology run amok. And I guess that is the problem I have with a lot of the new technology. It is annoying, functions less effectively than tried-and-true devices, or is just plain unnecessary. I don’t need a refrigerator that takes inventory or a microwave oven that is connected to the Internet. These appliances are too clever by half.

I get why people like their smartphones. However, a mobile phone subscription does not give one license to be rude or inconsiderate of others. We as a society should be careful that we do not allow machines to take priority over people or allow the use of “innocuous” dehumanizing gadgets to replace quality face-to-face time.

Technology pushes on and who knows? Some of these new gadgets might actually end up benefiting mankind in some meaningful way. Even with all of their issues, whenever I see an iPad or a new smartphone, a deep voice in my head says “Alan, give yourself to the dark side.”

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  • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

    I think you went beyond "old school" and straight to "old geezer" :D Joking aside, some of the technology you point out; like the pager are so out of date, do they even make them anymore... didn't SMS close the door on that technology?
  • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

    Finally an articulation of some of my own thoughts and I'm not that old
    • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

      @jfp Maybe you are not old in age.. but..
      e-readers are Great, to carry many books or notes in one little device confortable to read and that wont damage your eyes in the porcess.
      Cell phones, I can't imagine how my work will go without it.
      • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

        @sirexilon@... Why do I want an e-reader? More batteries. More electricity. More, more, more. I like a good paper book, myself. I can grab a pen or highlighter and mark passages or make notes on something educational. As religious person, you can tell which part of the written word I got most involved in as I read by simply looking at all the red underlining and all my notes in the margins. As for the e-readers, the idea of taking notes with them, I would have to refer to point #10 about keyboards. I owned an electronic planner once. It had a nice touch screen that I could easily doodle this way or that to enter stuff. Even a virtual keyboard. But I wanted a real keyboard, or something darn close to it. Unfortunately, by the time I purchased a folding keyboard that I could dock it to I then went and broke the screen. Now the whole touch thing was thrown off and it killed all data entry essentially... in the end, I went back to my paper planner. My pen works fine. No batteries required. The "screen" cracking won't cause the device to fail. And since it doesn't have nearly the price tag, I am not so frantic when the kids decide it makes a great toy. An electronic planner, I wouldn't let my kids touch the thing, and certainly not get anywhere near it with a permanent marker. My paper planner seems a much better fit for me. And so I think paper books work better for me too. If I really want an electronic book, I think I will want it for my desktop computer (where I have full keyboard and decent sized screen... and some other tools too). As it is, books on CD are popular with my wife as she can do chores, watch the kids, and still listen to some fiction.
  • Cell phones aren't the problem. People's attitude

    toward phones is the problem. The solution is simple. You see, I get a phone for MY convenience, not yours. I'll answer it when I want to, not when you want me to. Talk to my voice mail and I'll get back to you. When it's convenient for me, not for you.
    • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

      I knew there had to be at least one other sane cell phone owner on the planet, a master OF the gadget NOT a slave TO it.
    • Amen (nt)

    • WHAT?!?!?!?

      @frgough Who do you think you are not answering your cell phone when *I* call?!?!?! What, you think YOU pay your bill? LOL
    • You forgot to add one thing, though perhaps implied


      I'll access it when it won't be an inconvenience and NUISANCE to others!
    • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

      @frgough Cell phones ARE the problem. Perhaps you've been using yours so long that it's cooked your brains. When the technology went from analog to digital, the sound quality dropped from reasonable to unacceptable. I can always tell when someone calls a radio station on a cell phone. All too often, the show hosts tell cell phone callers to hang up and call back on a land line, because it sounds like they're talking with a mouth full of marbles. I frequently have to ask callers to "say again" when they're on a cell phone, because of compression artifacts and poor intelligibility. Land lines offer all the features of cell phones, and more, except portability and lousy sound quality.
  • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

    I treat all gadgets as tools, if I need a tool to do a job I buy one that does the job I want it to do and nothing more. If I don't need it I don't buy it.
  • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

    Nice article. I happen to agree with most of your thoughts on this. And I'm in my twenties.
    • Don't be a slave to fat and lard, digital or otherwise

      [i]Nice article. I happen to agree with most of your thoughts on this. And I'm in my twenties.[/i]

      All I can say is you have a promising future then. ;)

      Nice article indeed. Props to Alan Norton, and Larry for mirroring it here.
  • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

    frgough - I Couldn't have put it better.
  • Mostly agree...

    ...but not about e-books. I broke down yesterday and got a Nook. I'm *very* pleased with the reading experience, the size and weight are very comparable to a paperback, the screen and its fonts are unbelievably clear and the 10 day battery life is simply amazing.

    Note this is a *book reader*. Period. While there's a browser on it (it has 3G) who wants to surf the web on a device with only 8 gray scale levels? :)

    But as a book reader, I'm sold. 1500 books in one paper back sized device? The ability to download anything from Barnes and Noble's inventories? Even new hardback-only at 1/2 the price? Yes please!

    But then again I'm the person who chose my house specifically for the ability to convert one room into a dead-tree library. :)

    However, I use a flip phone (deliberately without smarts), and except for the Roomba (which is actually pretty decent for hardwood floors) I either don't own or don't use the other tech mentioned.

    Tech for tech's sake is a fool's game. Some toys are cool, admittedly, but most really aren't. The real test is--does the tech serve one of your true passions? If so, go for it, even the despised cell phone!
    • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

      @wolf_z I wonder what will happen to that nice e-book reader if Earth gets hit with a few X-class solar flares, or the Chicoms decide one day to launch a couple of EMP bombs over North America from subs a few hundred miles offshore. Paper will survive either type of event.
  • Finally...

    ...A healthy dose of pragmatism amid all the starry-eyed worship of everything new and trendy (I'm looking at you, iGeneration).<br><br>As others have said, tech is fine in its place. I only have a problem with it when it impacts our lives negatively.<br><br>For example, the 24/7 workplace enabled by technology only benefits management types looking to squeeze more hours out of fewer people, and possibly the no-life workaholic ladder-climbers aspiring to BECOME management types. There's plenty to be said for high and strong walls dividing work from personal life.<br><br>I love video games, TV, and movies. As a kid, however, I was given a media budget. I could have x hours of "screen time," but my remaining free time had to be devoted to real, first-hand activities (e.g., playing outside with friends), reading, or other non-screen hobbies. As an adult, I've kept up the balance -- not by force, but by choice. (As a result, I despise going anywhere where one or more TVs are kept on as background noise.)<br><br>I'm also critical of technology when it contributes to our reverse evolution. Consider the skyrocketing obesity rates among children and teens (directly attributable to bad diet and 7+ hours of media/games/web/texting a day). Then consider their ever-dwindling attention spans. Read any given texting/IM exchange, compare that dialogue to historical exchanges of letters, then tell me whether we're progressing or regressing intellectually. OMG, LOL indeed.<br><br>Don't get me wrong: I work in tech, I'm [obviously] posting this from a computer, and I love the convenience and possibilities that new devices offer. But, like the author, I'm just leery of patterning my life around those devices rather than the other way around.
    • We are living in an OCD world...


      Choice is key... And to quote Julia Childs, "Everything in moderation, including moderation."

      It's how we choose to use it... We choose to be slave or master to technology in all forms. If you answer every call made to your cell phone, you are a slave. If you ignore those calls until you feel like it, you are a master. I don't play make believe sports, but some people like it and I can see that. I'll never play those games, but I am ok with others playing them. I never liked pagers, but they served a purpose and saved lives by allowing doctors to respond to emergencies faster. Cell phones can call for help in remote areas. The iPad is revolutionizing learning for kids with Autism http://www.sfweekly.com/2010-08-11/news/ihelp-for-autism/
      And there are tons of examples of all of those things making the world a better place. I accept that all of those live without technologies may not be for you, but they are for others. And sometimes, in the right context, they make the world a better, safer, or more enjoyable place for all.

      We live in a world where some have OCD when it comes to technology. Those people do need help. The rest of us turn our cell phones off when we are busy doing the thing we love.
      • RE: 10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

        i8thecat --

        Points well taken. Again, I'm not discarding/dismissing technology out of hand; I'm no Luddite. I'm all for technology that saves lives, helps us connect more effectively, extends our knowledge, and yes -- lets us have new kinds of fun.

        As I said before, I'm simply against technology when it is used as a mental crutch ... as a substitute for real living ... as a babysitter. I don't oppose tech itself; I oppose [i]uses[/i] of it that prevent some from reaching their full potential.
      • I'm all for technology that saves us, not enslaves us

        @i8thecat | @Churlish

        There's wisdom in them words. Moderation is the key to everything in life.