Cluttered geekery: how many gizmos are quite enough?

Today’s markets are flooded with gadgets and gizmos of every possible variety. While we want to believe otherwise, a surprising number of these gizmos make their way into most homes. Take, for example, a household with two adults and two children under the age of 10. Assuming an annual household income of $60,000 or more, the number of gadgets and gizmos in the house may run to:

  • One computer per adult and at least one computer shared by the two children
  • One printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine
  • One or more gaming system per child
  • One or more gaming system per adult
  • At least one mobile phone per adult
  • One mp3 player or iPod-type device per child
  • One or more ebook reader or tablet per adult
  • One Voice-over-IP (voip) and one landline phone system
  • At least one high-tech entertainment system consisting of a television, bluray player, speaker system, and other peripherals

That is about 24 devices for just four people. The number is much, much higher for a household where one or more adults work in the high-tech industry, also known as the IT industry.

The question, then, is whether we need so many devices or whether we should try to return to a simpler time. Ask anyone and they may say: “Oh, life was so much simpler back then. But, I can’t imagine life without my (insert gizmo name of choice).” We, as a people, have become quite dependent upon our devices. We go so far as to name them after our favorite characters. Much as our grandparents collected pet cats-dogs-horses, we collect gizmo-pets. Charming as it may seem, this tendency to personify our devices and grow attached to them at the hip is working against us. Our lives are getting more and more cluttered with unnecessary items that edge out the items we really do need.

The answer to the question `how many of these devices do we really need?`is quite simply `not so many`. Let’s look at that list to see if we can’t cut it down to a more manageable number:

If you look at the previous list, the household only needs one computer for everyone.

  • One computer per adult and at least one computer shared by the two children: Just one computer is enough. Why not set up a kiosk in a study or den area where different people can use the computer at different times? The chances that two people need to use the computer are quite slim. There is no point in preparing for a “computing emergency” by stockpiling computers. If the children do need their own personal computer, think about getting them a tablet device instead. Those Samsung Galaxy tabs or iPads are useful for more than just playing games or watching videos.
  • One printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine: The easiest way is to have a device that can do all four things. You have just cut down your device needs to a quarter of your original needs.
  • One or more gaming system per child and adult: Another out-of-the-box idea is to set up a gaming network within your home. Use your entertainment system to set up a family game room where everyone uses the same gaming system. There is no need to have mom’s fitness game, dad’s shoot-em-up game, or the kids’ learning games set up on different systems. Find one system that does it all, and reuse it for everyone. If this process helps you find a happy medium where everyone spends more time together as a family, it’s a win all around.

Just by consolidating a few devices, we went from 24 items to less than 10.

Apart from the obvious benefit of reducing clutter in our homes and living spaces, we can also help the environment by cutting down on our electricity consumption.

And that’s why I think that instead of making unachievable resolutions like “lose 20 pounds by May”, we must make a resolution to cut down on the number of devices that we own and with which we clutter our lives.

The well-connected world

If someone from the 1960s were to visit us today, the first, but not really the only, thing that would blow them away is how well-connected everyone is with everyone and everything else.

We are Facebook friends with people we barely spoke to in high school. We follow celebrities, who don’t know us from Adam, on Twitter. We join online forums and fandoms to discuss intimate details of our interests with like-minded individuals. We give instant feedback about the movies we see or the song that we just heard for the first time. We share photographs from our lives with perfect strangers on photo-sharing websites, hoping to learn some never before understood photography technique. We take seconds to open a browser and search for the information we need. We are able to get “expert” opinions from people on the Internet on whether that soreness in our back is because of sitting too long or is something horrible like a slipped vertebrae.

And yet, we are moving farther away from what defines us as a people.

We are losing touch with doing things just for the fun of doing them. How many of our Facebook friends have said “pictures or it didn’t happen!” for a status update about something amazing that we did? And so we feel obliged to add pictorial evidence of having gone scuba-diving or rock-climbing. Such a fun statement, and yet the sentiment behind that statement reveals an awful undercurrent: if the world doesn’t know what we are doing, we are not doing anything worthwhile.

We are losing our ability to collect, retain, and process information. That Wikipedia page explaining backaches may get us to exclaim “awesome!” but how much of it do we really retain? We read that page, and then go back to sitting on that really horrid couch while slouching in an attempt to get comfortable.

We are growing apart from what connects us with the people around us. No doubt, there is merit in being able to talk to other fans and collectively squee about a book from our favorite author. But the time that we spend on that fandom website is time that we have taken away from the real people around us. Telling 200 Twitter followers that “This new restaurant is a gastronomical delight!” is not quite the same as telling your friends “This new restaurant is amazing, let’s go eat there sometime.” Arguably, you could say that on Twitter, but do you really want a random guy living 5 states away showing up at the restaurant when you are waiting for friends?

We live in a world of information overload. Each one of us feels the need to be connected with the world every hour of every day. None of us can imagine life without updating our Facebook and Twitter feeds with–sometimes irrelevant–information. The question that the guy visiting you from the 1960s is going to ask is: “whatever happened to good old going outside and throwing a ball around with friends?” And that is the question we need to ask ourselves as well.

May be what we need to do, is to take a step back and disconnect from the online world and connect with the real world.