Sunday, May 14, 2006

Am I a techno-Luddite?

True confession time: I am not a gadget junkie.

I think new gadgets are cool, sure, and I appreciate the design, features, and functionality of gadgets. But I am not one of those people who will go out and buy the latest and greatest gadget just for the sake of having one. I only buy a gadget if I've decided that I need it, and I tend to use it until it falls apart or becomes obsolete.

(should I just turn in my Geek Badge now??)

Case in point: my PDA. My PDA is ancient. Its operating system cannot be updated. It does not sync with most calendars. I cannot get it to sync with Evolution on Linux--I was able to sync with Linux for a while at first, but then something fundamental in the kernel changed and I never could get it to sync again. The only thing it syncs with is the original calendar software that came with it, which is now at least 6 years old and, at least once a day, freezes so that I have to force it to quit. The PDA itself has started to not recognize my graffiti, and its location recognition is going to hell--I'll tap somewhere on the screen, and the thing to the left of whatever I tapped will be selected instead. All of this has now gotten way past the annoying point, and I decided the other day that it was time to start shopping for a new PDA.

So, I sat down and started figuring out what I would use the PDA for, and what I want in my PDA. And I discovered...that honestly, I don't need a PDA. That I can (and do) duplicate most of the PDA's functions, like the address book and to-do list, elsewhere. That I really mostly use my PDA for playing games while I'm stuck waiting somewhere. That honestly, I could and probably should go back to a (gasp!) paper calendar. There's only one thing that I regularly rely on my PDA for--storing passwords safely--but I could either use gpg and a keychain drive to do the same thing, or find software for my cellphone that does what the PDA software does.

On the one hand, this knowledge is immensely freeing. Using my PDA never felt natural to me--perhaps because of all of the problems I had syncing it with my OS of choice. I've always felt like I was contorting myself to work with my PDA/system, rather than the other way around. (I've tried web-based and other computer-based calendars too, and have felt the same way about those.) Finally coming to terms with this is a relief. Yet, on some level, because I am a technologist, I feel like a failure and an impostor, because I was not able to make this system work for me. I preach on a daily basis the wonders of technology, the ability for it to transform our lives, etc., and yet here I am giving up on technology because, well, it doesn't work for me and my lifestyle. If I can't practice what I preach, how can I expect everyone else to?

So over the next few weeks, I will start moving the data from my PDA elsewhere. Some of it will find a home on my phone, others on one of my computers, still others on a keychain drive. And I will say goodbye once and for all to my trusty PDA, the one that came with such promise but that never quite lived up to the hype for me.


pjm said...

I've mentioned, haven't I, the colloquium speaker who told us, "I don't think you can do really good computer science unless you hate computers."?

I think it's actually a point of strength to be able to recognize when technology is a solution and improves things, and when it's just a drag, a hack, or a toy.

Marie said...

Yeah, I'm kinda sad too now that I've realized that my PDA now only functions as a dust-catcher. And mine still works pretty well!

Katie said...

Bless you, Jane, and all that you stand for. :) I don't have a PDA and have looked at them in confusion when presented with them. What in the world do I need that for? I've always felt that I'd end up forcing myself to use it and so I opted out. And I feel vaguely embarrassed about doing so.

I do, however, believe I would have some sort of crisis without my laptop. And I almost cried one day when I realized I forgot my iPod at home. So it's not like I'm technology-free or anything cool like that. In fact, I'm using one USB port for updating said iPod and the other for my digital camera right now. So I think my nerdy status is relatively safe. Sigh...

McB said...

I'm with PJM. If we as a species are going to preserve our sanity/lives/bank accounts, we need to start recognizing when technology gets to be excessive (be it ever so shiny). I'm thinking of laundry machines with computers that can outprocess my desktop, here.

Of course, this is coming from someone who uses Post-Its on a door as a calendar and refused a gift of iPod on moral grounds, but whatever.

Scooter said...

I love technology when it works. You've done the analysis and in this case, it doesn't work. You should feel no guilt. The purpose of technology is to make life better. When it's a burden, life gets worse. When a PDA that works for you is created, you'll likely adopt it. In the meantime, why feel guilt?

Astroprof said...

My PDA is ancient, too. But, I don't use it as a calendar or any of the normal PDA stuff. For me it is an electronic starchart, moonmap, ephemeris, etc. It serves just as well today in those rolls as it did new.

Wanna Be PhD said...

My desctop machine is 7 this year, and I love her still. She was my first own computer.

So what?

Zuska said...

Never had a PDA. Too much trouble to enter all the info I already had stored in other places (like my paper address book...which works just fine.) I still have the very first cell phone I ever bought, despite Verizon's aggressive text message and snail mail campaign to get me to upgrade to a new phone that takes pictures and will let someone track me with GPS. Don't want to be tracked.

One day in a restaurant a young pierced waitress asked me where I'd gotten my cell phone - it was so cool. Told her it was ancient - from 2003. "Wow - it's retro!" she exclaimed.

Jane, you are glorious in every respect, you don't need a PDA to be authentic, and your Geek badge is certified for all eternity, I am certain.

Clyde said...

Also with pjm. Rather relieved to hear it (colloquium speaker's comment), actually. One of the reasons I'm such a fan of the field of Human-Computer Interaction which empowered me to consider things as design issues instead of stupid human issues. There's a need for a PDA-like application, but I don't think we've got it yet, maybe it's still coming. In contrast, I-Pod got it.