The tyranny of obsolescence

obsoleteI’ve recently been helping a friend with some IT issues, and it got me to thinking about the state of technology from the perspective of people who aren’t particularly technical.

The accelerating rate of technological advancement is both exhilarating and frightening.

Beyond reading the occasional news story, the average person has given up trying to keep up with it. Who has time?

When you work in the industry, you spend quality time with technology as a matter of course. You read technical journals, blogs, and websites, and even drill down on their sources. The Internet is your friend.

You enjoy exploring new hardware, software, and services. You like to drill down on how things work, for example, or why the designers of a new device, application, or service made the choices they did.

And, of course, you can always find things to complain about, sniff at, or outright condemn. Fact is, there are a lot of bad products out there.

Which leads me back to my friend and folks like her who are somewhat at the mercy of the technology they choose to use for whatever reason.

Symptoms of the syndrome

People typically rely on their devices to do a few essential services. Social media. Messaging. Web browsing. Storing pictures and music. Composing documents. Over time, a number of festering issues can emerge and impact average users.symptoms

  • People tend not to spend much, if any, time caring for and feeding their devices.
  • The years go by quickly, and before they know it, they find that they are relying on increasingly outdated equipment and software to perform what, for them, are mission-critical functions.
  • As issues arise, they often simply add newer equipment to supplement what they already have, without merging the data sets. When they need some data from the old computer, they figure out a way to copy it to the new computer. So…
  • They have a lot of duplicate data spread across multiple devices.
  • The years go by quickly, and they lose track of where certain data is stored.
  • Consequently, they are afraid to throw anything out.

It’s becomes a mess, pure and simple. And I haven’t even brought up hardware failures, data loss, and computer malware that can further exacerbate the issues.

Opposite end of the spectrum

I’m sort of at the opposite end of the spectrum. I update my equipment more often than I need to, and sell what I don’t use. I spend a fair amount of time keeping systems that I use pretty much up to date.

computer-geekWriting a tech blog gives me an excuse to explore and play with new tech. Because of this, I’ve developed methods to ensure that my data is properly backed up and secured, that I can transfer it to new devices, and that I can recover it in case of an equipment failure or other catastrophe.

I’m not a particularly fastidious person. My home office is a bit messy, I’m behind on my laundry, and I always wait too long between haircuts.

But when it comes to my digital data—photos, music, documents, records, etc.—I’m pretty darned organized. I refuse to be intimidated by technology, and take pleasure in bending it to my will.

My data is valuable to me. I want to be able to move it around, ensure that it is preserved and protected, and keep track of it.

Hyperbole—or the way it is?

For less technical individuals, however, it is possible to become victimized by equipment that becomes outdated. And this can happen all too quickly—two or three years. The problem weighs on these folks. It causes stress. And, since they aren’t experts, they’re often unsure how to fix things. So, they procrastinate, and the situation only gets worse.reality-check

One could argue that the phrase “tyranny of obsolescence” is hyperbole. “Really, tech-52,” you say. “It’s not nearly that serious! You’re exaggerating.”

Nope. I really don’t think I am.

Let me give you an example that pertains to my friend. Her situation was perhaps unusual. Her husband was the technical guru of the household, and he died after a long battle with cancer.

Now, almost three years later, after selling her old home and moving into a new one, my friend finally has mustered the energy to start consolidating her data and getting her digital life in order. She wants to organize her photos and documents, and she wants to use her address book to reach out to her many contacts to help her start a foundation.

The problem is that she has dozens of devices—cell phones, tablets, external drives and flash storage devices, and an ancient Windows XP computer. All of these devices may have data such as photos, music, and other files that she doesn’t want to lose. In addition, she has stacks of storage boxes full of floppy disks and CDs, software, manuals, and other documents.

It’s a daunting, even frightening, logistical and organizational nightmare.

Essential routine maintenance

So what should the less technical among us do? Well, short of doing what my friend is doing—having knowledgable friends who are willing to help her sort things out—there are a few things that you can do to keep your digital life better organized.

checklistSettle on a central computer for your digital life, and commit to keeping that computer current in terms of operating system and security updates. There’s a plethora of solid advice to be found on the web, or at your local Best Buy or Apple store.

Once a year, get some advice on the viability of your central computer for the next 12 months. Going forward, will it support the necessary operating system and security updates? Does it still have plenty of free space on the hard drive, and adequate memory?

Doing this, you’ll know well in advance when you should replace it.

Use your computer for what it’s good for: organizing your data. Back up data regularly from your other devices, and then back up your computer to at least two separate destinations (external drives, the cloud).

Take pictures of paper documents and store them in appropriate folders in your file system.

Tag and label cables, power bricks, and cords to associate them with the devices they belong to.

Get rid of devices you’re not using any more. Migrate any data from them, as necessary, restore them to factory defaults, then sell them. Donate them. Recycle them.

Destroy old media—floppy disks, zip disks, tapes. If you haven’t looked at it in five years, you are never going to.

Get caught up, then maintain.

Like any routine that you perform on a regular basis, the proper care and feeding of your technological tool set will pay enormous dividends.

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