Crossing the gadget watershed

Published 11:30 am Friday, March 25, 2011

The market for flat, black gadgets seems endless.

I made a little stack in the kitchen this morning, starting with my laptop at the bottom, then the iPad, the Kindle e-reader, topped with the Garmin GPS, on which I laid my Android phone, followed by my digital point-and-shoot camera, the 16g iPod Nano and, finally, the truly tiny iPod shuffle that someone gave me but I never actually use.

If I’d wanted to, I could have built the stack even higher — on top of a desktop computer and our small, flat screen television. It probably would have been bad for the television, though.

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That is eight gadgets which I actually carry around every day in my backpack briefcase, plus the two big ones which I don’t.

And except for the iPod shuffle, I even use them all.

It’s crazy.

Fifteen years ago, when people first began routinely carrying cell phones, I wrote a column about how I would never be one of them. I remember labeling the cell phone carriers Pod People, or something equally not nice. Somewhere along the line, I drifted off the True Path, however, and joined the Pod People — who are, these days, almost all of us.

The other day I even caught myself berating my parents, who are 80-ish, about their failure to carry a cell phone at all times. Times change.

The gradual accumulation of gadgets has been a natural process, sort of like the formation of glacial ice, and nearly as heavy. First the cell, then the laptop, the iPod, the camera, the Kindle and so on. Each one does something that I at least sort of appreciate, and some of them do many things. So I continue to lug them around, along with all of their chargers, cords and other paraphernalia.

It may be, however, that I have crossed the watershed, far behind early adopters who long ago began shedding their load.

Those folks haven’t cut back on their technology or communication (never!), but they have intelligently made one device do the work of many.

Those of us who are a little further behind still have some work to do. I am told that my phone will also do the work of the iPod, GPS and camera. I’m told, and have even tested the idea, that my iPad will stand in for my laptop and television.

The trouble lies first in letting go of tools that have actually proven themselves and, second, in figuring out how.

My phone’s GPS is, in many ways, better than the actual GPS. It provides more details, updates its maps frequently and fits in my pocket. I’m just not sure how to make it do all the stuff it’s supposed to. And who has time to figure it out?

Getting it all figured out would probably mean spending a whole day on gadget consolidation.

And, of course, the real problem isn’t going to go away: A lighter physical load doesn’t remove the burden of being connected 24/7. Breaking that cycle, after all these years, would take more willpower than running a marathon.

Maybe next year.