Gadgets are empowering, but also serve to enslave

My in-laws have the same model digital camera we have. When we visit, they often plug it into their large TV set to show us pictures of the grandchildren, the garden or a recent trip.

The first time they did this, I said “”Oh, I didn’t know the camera could do that.”” That was months ago, and

our digital camera has still never been hooked up to our TV, which might be partly because our TV has a 12-inch screen and is half hidden behind a plant in the corner of our living room.

A growing number of my friends have their cellphones with them most of the time. You hear the ring of a cellphone and people start scrambling — “”Is that my phone? Is that your phone?”” I usually know it’s not my phone, because mine is sitting at home on my desk.

The sum total of my experience with computer games in the last 10 years is the Solitaire that comes with Windows, and only very occasionally. I could go on and on with these little confessions, all illustrating that for a guy who has made a living by writing about technology for 23 years now, I’m not really much of a technophile.

So I was interested to read an article from the New York Times, published about a year ago now, that told me I’m not alone. It looked at the lives of people who work in the technology field but have made careful choices about the role technology plays in their lives.

A senior marketing executive who has worked at Apple, Sony and Palm never carries a laptop on a plane. The chief information officer of a mid-sized university has an office that contains 2,500 books, African prints, a sculpture from Zimbabwe — and one notebook computer. The operator of a children’s Web site doesn’t own a laptop and jots down ideas on scraps of paper.

I still remember the late Harvey Gellman, co-founder of the Toronto-based Gellman Hayward technology consulting firm that merged into CGI Group a decade or more ago, displaying the paper diary he used to record appointments and phone numbers. This was long after electronic organizers had come on the scene, but he didn’t feel he needed one.

Gadgets are handy. The cellphone lets you cut the tether of the phone cord. A laptop lets you finish work during what would otherwise be wasted time in an airport departure lounge. But gadgets can also enslave you. Carrying them around with you becomes work. Learning to use them, getting them fixed when they break and picking out replacements when they wear out takes time you might spend reading a book or playing with the kids. They also cost money.

For many in the business, having the latest technology seems like a statement. For others, the technology they get at work is enough and they’d rather avoid it where possible. Doesn’t real knowledge of technology mean deciding that you need this and you don’t need that?

Grant Buckler is a Kingston, Ont.-based freelance writer. You can contact Grant at

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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