Community - March 2, 2011

Barbara Wood's column: Tech gadgets: servants or masters?

Am I the only one who has noticed the high-tech gadgets that were supposed to make my life easier have instead taken over that life?

There's my tiny little netbook computer that I can use in my comfy reading chair or out in the garden, or bring to boring meetings so I can buy shoes online instead of listening.

For my birthday I got a Bluetooth gadget so I can talk hands-free on my phone while driving. (Yes, I know it is stupid to talk on the phone, even hands free, while driving; but every once in a while I convince myself it is very important for me to do so. Plus, I was tired of trying to yell into the speaker phone on my lap when such an occasion arose.)

For Christmas I got a GPS, which tells me where I am and how to get where I'm going. I justified it because as a Red Cross volunteer I do often have to go places I've never been to before, and I got tired of calling up my husband and asking him to please look up directions back to the freeway for me.

I use my iPod to listen to books and podcasts, so I can keep up on the news as well as go through several books every week while driving, working in the garden, or walking the dog.

What this all means is that if I want to do something fairly simple, like spending a few hours volunteering at the Red Cross in San Jose, I have to leave at least 15 minutes just to pack my electronics. My cell and iPod are always in my pockets. My netbook goes in its carrying case along with its cordless mouse and power cord. I make sure I have my GPS and that the Bluetooth is in the car.

All of these devices must have their batteries charged, and I spend a considerable amount of time untangling power cords and trying to figure out which one goes to which item. In case I forget to charge something, I can use the second car chargers that plug into the receptacle that used to be a cigarette lighter in the good old days.

Packed, my backpack is almost too heavy for me to lift, which is why I have one with wheels, despite the fact that my children have pointed out to me that it is totally uncool.

My husband has even more electronics than I do, understandable for a computer programmer. He has a portable wireless hotspot, which uses the cell phone network to allow access to the Internet almost anywhere, including in the car driving down the freeway or in a hotel room. (On a long car trip, I tried to use it to clean out my e-mail inbox, but I started to get carsick before I got it below 1,000 messages.)

He also has an e-reader, which I gave him for Christmas, and what would be a smart phone if we weren't too cheap to pay the monthly fees.

I'm anxiously awaiting the announcement of the next must-have gadget, although I'm not sure there's room for anything else in my backpack.

Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener from Woodside.


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