These days, an unlimited supply of new gadgets are only ever a couple of clicks away, thanks to the wondrous New World of Internet shopping and next day home deliveries.
Added to this is the fact that the tech industry has been booming for some time now, with technology advancing at an exponential pace, and new tools arising every few days that promise to revolutionise how we do things in some or another aspect of our lives.
Trying to get fit? Well, clearly what you need is a wearable fitness tracker, complete with heart rate monitor, and a silent vibrating alarm to get you out of bed in the morning without disturbing your partner. In fact, did you say you were struggling to get out of bed in the morning? Well then, obviously you need a simulated sunrise alarm clock, with built-in birdsong.
Many of the gadgets out there really can be used productively to improve aspects of our lives. But there is a tradeoff to everything, and there are frequently asked questions (and infrequently asked ones) that are worth considering before you jump to buy the latest gadget you see on sale.
Here are some things to consider before bringing new gadgets into your life.
Does the benefit actually outweigh the “cost?”
According to the academic Cal Newport, taking his inspiration from the famous simple-living advocate Henry David Thoreau, the “cost” of an item should be measured not just in terms of monetary value, but in terms of the overall potential downsides and sacrifices involved in obtaining and using that thing.
So, for example, if (as an example from Thoreau’s time) a farmer bought himself a new wagon to increase efficiency, but then had to work significantly harder to pay off the wagon, it would be largely a “false benefit.”
Before bringing a new gadget into your life, ask whether the benefit really outweighs the cost after all. Does that “labour saving device” of yours save you plenty of time in one area of life, only to cost you an equal amount of time in terms of necessary upkeep?
Furthermore, does a particular gadget – a games console, for example – grant you fun and enjoyment in one area of life, at the expense of more meaningful face-to-face interactions in another area?
Thoreau famously believed in doing an inventory of every living expense he had, not just in terms of money, but primarily in terms of time and freedom. Any gadget that significantly depletes your available time and “freedom” needs to be looked at carefully.
Is there any potential security risk to using this gadget?
A few years ago, there was a scandalous news story being reported by various leading publications in the UK, that bins in London which were fitted with electronic displays for the purpose of showing adverts, had been caught ripping data from people’s smartphones.
In recent times, we’ve all heard more than enough about data theft, and compromised privacy, courtesy of unscrupulous practices coming out of Silicon Valley, and other quarters.
Before buying a new tool in today’s digital world, you should seriously consider whether or not there is a substantially elevated security risk that comes with using that particular gadget.
This is the kind of question you should ask yourself even with regards to fairly simple things. For example, is that cloud-based note taking and task management service you’re interested in using covered by an appropriate data security guarantee? Have they had a record of data theft in the past?
It may be that simply recording your thoughts and to-dos in an old-fashioned paper notebook would be the most secure option, depending on your circumstances.
Are you being motivated to buy it by your own internal judgement, or by a savvy advertising campaign?
This is a difficult question to actually answer honestly, in large part because no one has perfect insight into their own motivations.
It is, however, worth keeping in mind that the advertising industry today is incredibly powerful and sophisticated, not to mention ubiquitous. No matter where you go, or where you look, you are bound to be confronted with some pretty slick adverts for all sorts of different products, carefully tailored to push your emotional buttons just so.
Before you commit to buying a new gadget, try and work out whether you are actually primarily motivated by your own internal judgement, and the belief that the gadget will improve your life in some key area, or whether you’re just being taken for a ride by smart advertisers.