I have a confession to make.
I know what Foursquare is, I can generate a QR code, my streaming Netflix queue is huge, and I could download an app in my sleep. But for all the shiny new technology I can easily use, I am in the minority of Americans who don’t have a smartphone or tablet.
It’s not at all that I don’t like new technology – on the contrary, I love when I can play with something new and get familiar with what’s out there. But I’ll never be the first person in line to buy something. It’s just not a priority. (I blame in no particular order: my modest upbringing, the economic collapse, Henry David Thoreau, and my life decision to marry a graduate student.) I always wait until a technology is established in the market, and even then I have to reach a certain level of resentment with my current technology before I start shopping for something new. I spent years trying to read blurry movie credits on a hand-me-down dorm-sized TV before finally throwing up my hands in frustration and upgrading to a low-end LCD TV in late 2012.
Now it’s January of 2014, and like flat screen TVs, smartphones and tablets are no longer a brand new technology. They’ve become the norm, and they’ve grown so sophisticated that the newest version of Windows was designed to work with tablets. I’ve even been tossing around the idea of getting a smartphone at some point, but my ancient Samsung Solstice just doesn’t frustrate me enough to make smartphone shopping a pressing concern.
I do have frustrations, though. My digital organizational systems at home have become way too complicated. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 is to make sense of the archived emails, Firefox bookmarks, half-deleted OneNote files, private blogs with single posts, and other things just sitting around and languishing in digital limbo. I also use a number of little paper books to keep track of things like grocery lists and my weekly schedule, but carrying around all those little notebooks is getting to be too much.
Enter the one-on-one tech help program I ran yesterday at the library. A couple coworkers and I spent the last week playing with iPads, Kindle Fires, NOOKS, and a Samsung Galaxy, then blocked off some time to help any patron who walked in the door with technology questions. In the process of preparing and implementing the program, I learned that it’s not just grad students in the midst of research who are using Evernote. Apparently, everyone seems to be using Evernote to store to-do lists, passwords, and anything they need. After a little research, I dove in today and started transferring all my clutter to Evernote.
I found myself in the middle of copying some online recipes to a new note when I stopped and thought, “Whoa, wait, what are you doing? Aren’t you just going to have to make a formatted Word document of this to print it for your recipe notebook? How will you give it to your mom if she wants a copy?” And right then, weighing the decision to use Word or Evernote, to forcibly mold digital information into a fixed physical form or to leave it digital and malleable, to stick with the old time-consuming method of hard drive space and file names and file formats or to give up some control and put my faith in the cloud, is when it hit me. Things just got real. This isn’t just a new way of using technology – it’s a completely new approach to the way we think about technology.
Sure, I’d used the cloud before for social media and email and creating budgets and writing blog posts, but it never occurred to me that every bit of my digital life could theoretically transcend format issues and live untethered in the cloud. Upon this realization, I took to Google to find out if files and folders and cares about a particular machine’s storage space were obsolete. I turned up a short article by Jan Senderek of the cloud storage company Loom, and he articulated how we’ve shifted from worrying about how to organize content to focusing on the content itself. It made me think of how l used to be the technology guru of the house way back when I was a teenager. If something malfunctioned with Windows 98 or XP, I understood the processes and could step in and fix it. Then Vista happened, and now that I have Windows 7, I no longer know what the guts look like. Windows automatically updates itself and fixes itself, so I don’t really need to know the guts anymore. Heck, Windows is even relaxed about where my self-created files live. But as long as they can be found, should it matter to me where they make their home? Am I fixating on it too much?:
We’ve trained ourselves to think in a file system approach… In fact, while using the traditional file hierarchy approach, it’s easy to go overboard with file creation and create redundant information by having too many files and folders, regardless of how organized your file management system is.
Guilty as charged. That person who spends hours formatting and reformatting their music folders? That’s me, unnecessarily swimming against the current.
I like to imagine that my organization means I’m cutting down the time I spend staring at computer screens, but I’m not. I’ll jot online lists down manually or make printouts, but I’m staring at a screen the whole time that I’m copying those lists or formatting the printouts. And when I misplace the printout or can’t read my handwriting, it’s back to the screen to retrieve the information. Why not just stick with the screen in the first place? After all, Evernote’s “Simplify Formatting” and “Remove Formatting” buttons are making recipe organization a much quicker, simpler, better process than Word and its finicky tables ever did. With so many processes of my daily life and my work relying on computers, the reality is I will never be able to divorce myself from screen technology as much as I’d like to.
The second best choice, then, is to embrace the more efficient cloud technology. No more messing around with Word documents or e-mailing links to myself when I can just log into Evernote and enter the information right there once and for all. And it presents the content so attractively, too!
I mean come one, which organizational system makes your mouth water more?
The only drawback I see (aside from not having a smartphone or tablet quite yet, of course) is whether all my info is truly safe out there in the cloud. I got an alarming e-mail from Target this past holiday after a huge security breach exposed shoppers’ credit card information to hackers, and Evernote has been the target of attacks as well. If I put my passwords and financial information in Evernote, will somebody else see it? Moreover, is it any more or less secure than keeping a list of passwords in one’s wallet or purse that could easily be misplaced or stolen? Does the easy access outweigh the risks?
And should I even bother with my other New Year’s resolution of backing up my files to an external hard drive, or did the cloud make external hard drives obsolete, too?