This is not another article about how technology is turning us into zombies or interrupting our dinners. I will, however, point out a potential trap that those of us with strong interests in technology can fall into: The everlasting “search for the best.”
Let’s do a quick inventory. How many tabs do you typically open when reading product reviews for a new purchase? How many apps do you have for your phone, tablet, or computer that perform the same basic function? How many times have switched which product you use for a given task in the last year? How much time do you spend researching products that you don’t need to buy or replace? How do you feel when you find out about a new product that could potentially replace one that you currently use? Just think about those things for a moment or two.
The more straightforward version of those questions is this: How much time, money, and stress do you spend on keeping your finger on the pulse of technology and making sure that you have the best? Is it worth it? Unless you are, say a product reviewer whose job it is to make recommendations to readers or an an organization, you probably do not need to put much energy into that sort of knowledge, but if you could be considered a gadget geek, a technology enthusiast, or another generally nerdy type, you probably put in more energy than you need to.
The technology you use in your everyday life should be working for you, not you for the technology. So I’m going to share a few things that I try to think about when I find myself stuck in a search for the best.
What problem am I trying to solve?
I’ll use smartphones as an example here because that tends to be my weakness. I constantly have an eye turned toward the latest smartphone news. I’ve tried switching hardware, switching platforms and switching carriers multiple times, always convinced that I might find something I like better, something faster, something less expensive. Because I focus on finding something better, it’s easy to convince myself that I’m solving an actual problem that I have (which is that my smartphone experience could be better). But if I stop to think about it, I can rarely pin down a serious problem with my current setup that needs solving. There are lots of features and apps and speed improvements out there, but if they don’t solve a serious, tangible problem, why should I concern myself?
What are my requirements?
Write down the features you need and mark the ones that aren’t acceptable or available in your current setup. Are you really missing out? Are the features you’re missing worth the trade-offs of upgrading or buying new technology? That fancy new quad-core processor sure makes for a fast smartphone, but how much will you benefit from it if you really just use your phone to check email and surf the web?
Is the problem I’m trying to solve worth this much effort?
The time you spend researching and reading and weighing options needs to be taken into account. Is it worth spending a week to learn a new productivity system or to research the best french press? Will that new planner save you that much more time than just writing your to-do list on a note card? And, by the way, is all this research on the Getting Things Done system just a way to put off that paperwork you’re supposed to be doing? Will an $80 french press make your coffee taste that much better than the $20 model at the grocery store? Do you care that much?
What is driving me to have or know about the best and the latest?
This question gets at a sneaky way of justifying the “search for the best” to yourself. When my job has involved managing technology – and especially now that I write about it, I found it easy to justify a general interest is knowing all there is to know about (and trying out) the latest and the greatest. The thing is, it was never important to my job that I have the latest smartphone or a 10-bay RAID device. The time I spent researching technologies that I had no need of could have been spent learning a useful skill or otherwise improving things at my job. Even if you’re, say, an aspiring tech blogger, you’d probably be better served by practicing your writing than by knowing everything about all the new gadgets and, if I’m honest, reading tech reviews is easy and entertaining even though it can sometimes feel like work.
The point of all of this is that, while sometimes useful and fun, constantly researching and evaluating tech can become a time sink and a source of stress. It can also become a habit that you cease to think about. As with anything that takes a good amount of your time and energy, it is a good idea to take a step back occasionally and let yourself become aware of your thoughts and motivations and of the results you’re getting. Sometimes the quest for improvement itself can be detrimental to the thing you’re trying to improve. So take a step back, take a break, and observe. Perhaps the best technology is the technology you already have and have decided to settle on.