Farhad Manjoo’s Five Tech Resolutions for 2013

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Jan. 4 2013 5:10 AM

My Technology New Year’s Resolutions

Forget Inbox Zero. Get off Twitter. And other resolutions to make my tech life better in 2013.

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OK, so if I love Twitter so much, why am I ditching it? Because it’s sucking up too much of my time. Twitter has become so entrenched in the news business that much of what I see there shows up at other news sources more or less immediately. So you don’t really need to follow Twitter that closely anymore; the stories you’ll find on any good news aggregator, from Techmeme to the Drudge Report to “The Slatest” to Digg, are deeply informed by what’s going on Twitter.

More and more, these days, I find myself following Twitter not for news but just as a way to procrastinate. I get pulled away into the minutiae of news, the stuff I’d never have cared about in the past—just now, for instance, I followed, in real time, the vote count for speaker of the House—only because people are talking about it on Twitter. That’s no way to live. Twitter is the world’s most comprehensive news source, but as a result it’s also the least efficient. Your time is better spent doing other things. Or, at least, mine is.

3. Become a better mobile typist.

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I’m a terrible typist even on the best keyboards, and on touchscreen devices I’m hopeless. I’m slow and make a lot of errors. Sure, lots of people have trouble on touchscreens, but I know many who are ninjas on them. And not just kids. Mark Zuckerberg wrote Facebook’s IPO investor letter—more than 2,000 words—on his iPhone.

I don’t want to write a treatise, but I do want to be able to do more than just dash off one-word texts. Right now emails I send from my phone are torturous to compose and full of errors. Surely I can do better.

How am I going to improve? Practice, of course. There are lots of typing-trainer apps available for mobile devices. I’m going to pick one up.

4. Use Android more often.

One of the best tech developments of the past decade is the decline of Windows as the world’s sole personal computing platform. A dozen years ago I used Windows exclusively. Nowadays most of the software I use on a regular basis works on the Web or many different kinds of devices; this lets me switch between my Windows desktop and my Mac laptop very quickly.

But mobile devices are less compatible with one another. Because Apples and Androids rely on different app stores, most people use either one or the other. This causes lock-in: You keep buying iPhones because all your apps are there, even if something else might work better for you.

I worry about that happening to me. As a tech journalist I’m always trying out new phones, so I always have an Android device around, but my main personal phone and tablet are made by Apple. This isn’t terrible: Apple makes the world’s best mobile devices. The iPhone and iPad work better for me than their competitors.

Still, I’m wary of getting locked in. I don’t want to get stuck on a particular device with a particular way of doing things. I want to keep an open mind. So: Sometime this year I’ll replace my beloved iPhone with an Android phone, and I’ll try to stick with that device for at least six months. I’ll do it for the columns, but I think regular people should think about switching things up, too. You’ll never know what you’re missing—or how good you have it—until you try the alternative.

5. Record more of my life.

Ever since I had a kid a couple years ago, I’ve been capturing more and more of my life for posterity. I snap photos and videos of my toddler every day. As a journalist I also capture a lot of my conversations—I take notes and record phone calls and face-to-face interviews.

Yet I keep missing stuff. My son has been talking for about six months, and it’s been remarkable to see how his speech has changed over time. One of his first words was cookie, but he’d pronounce it cook-a. Then, over the course of a few months, he began to learn the correct way. Now his original pronunciation of cookie is lost to me; I didn’t record it because I didn’t realize how ephemeral it was, how it would soon become something else, and how I’d forget it. So now it will be gone forever.

This year I plan to record a lot more videos. In my ideal scenario I’d set up cameras all over my house and just record everything. There would be a server farm somewhere storing hours of videos of my happy little family. I don’t have the resources of the producers of The Truman Show, but I am going to make an effort to pull out my phone and start recording more everyday stuff. Even if we’re doing something banal and uninteresting—or, especially then—I’ll try to get it on tape. I’ll record dinner. I’ll record bathtime. I’ll record bedtime stories, tantrums, cajoling him into his car seat, everything.

Is all this shamefully narcissistic? Is it a pathetic way to guard against the inevitable loss of my kid’s childhood? Sure. But why not? There are few technical limits, anymore, to recording everything. You’ve got enough storage space, you’ve got cameras everywhere. Soon all those videos will become searchable. Forty years from now I’ll be old and bored, and won’t it be a blast to look back in my archive and see what life with my son was like for two minutes on some random Thursday before the robots took over?

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