A quest to tame technology-driven interruptions and distractions in my daily life.

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More or less free (and distracted)?

A month ago, the company I co-founded was acquired by a much larger, stalwart PR firm I greatly admire. The transition has meant fewer stresses, more support, and more robust projects as part of a team that is much bigger and fast moving than before.It has also meant an adjustment to my self-imposed disciplines around technology.

As per my last post. I’d recently been given the Apple Watch LTE, which allowed me to leave my phone behind much of the time. I still hadn’t set up email on it, but when I started at my new office, I began throwing it in my bag just in case. However, I soon discovered that although my new employer requires checking email early, late, and weekends, there still has been no real need to have email on my phone… or my phone at all, nor a laptop. Throughout the workday, I carry an iPad with a keyboard case (Belkin QODE, highly recommended) and that performs just fine when I’m in meetings, offsite, or at home. And if someone needs me urgently, they still call or text.
A couple of weeks back, I got Apple’s AirPod Bluetooth earphones, which pair simply with my iMac, the iPad, but most importantly the Apple Watch. Although I haven’t yet learned all the tricks, I can say without hesitation that an Apple Watch LTE with AirPods are a spectacular alternative to in iPhone altogether. It provides the ability to call, text, listen to music, and have turn-by-turn directions, and a few other key functions like a timer and calculator. That’s it! 

No social media, no web browser, no games, no distracting screen or lump in my pocket. Having the bare essentials on my wrist and — as needed — in my ears is a leap forward in near-distraction-free autonomy, having me very seldom missing the iPhone and feeling very, very free. I wish there were a simple way for people to just try this set up. I am certain so many would be convinced they don’t really want or need their precious smartphone.

The main question I get for people that happen to notice my Apple Watch is how I enter text messages. The solution is imperfect but completely serviceable: voice dictation and/or an on-screen function called “Scribble” where you use your finger to jot individual letters onto the screen. And yes, there are emoji. 

How Scribble works on the Apple Watch
I will say, the one thing that presents any challenge is when I leave my iPad behind I have no camera. Not a huge deal – I just grab my phone if I think I will want a camera or I just pay attention. There’s a positive side to this as well though: I don’t feel the compulsion to take photos just to take them. That makes me more able to be present.

As a recovering technology addict, these new devices can be seductive. Although I’m rebelling in leaving my iPhone behind, I now have a smart watch strapped to my wrist and find myself daydreaming about accessories that, frankly, I don’t really need. All in all, I am lighter, freer, and less distracted. 

But still I must be ever vigilant. 


Time for an Update

Seven years ago this fall, I made the decision to pare down my electronics, notifications, and the role of technology in my life—to reclaim the free moments that had been consumed by buzzing and idle browsing. Hence, The Off Switch, this blog I kept for five years, but which had gone dormant two year back, largely because I didn’t have anything new to explore or report. Until now.

In the intervening years, I had mostly stuck to the fundamental tenets of my discipline: computer only at work, work email only during work hours and none at all on my phone, no social media in the first hour of the day (had slipped into social media before bed), and my iPhone largely for text, GPS, and perfunctory utilities—although I’d increasingly added in web searches and a little Twitter. It mostly worked for me, but I’ll admit to a slow creep of social media onto my phone and “just quickly” looking things up. Not ideal, but workable. I even managed to get my phone, wallet, and keys into one unit (I jokingly referred to as “The Singularity”. But still I knew a change would have to come to rein it back in. 

Then a couple of months back, the technology advancement I’d been anticipating came to pass: Apple announced a version of their Apple Watch that had cellular service—meaning that should I want to, I could ditch my phone altogether and just have the watch for texts, brief calls, and GPS. The trade-off would be buzzing, flickering technology strapped to my body. Is that what I really wanted or needed? Would that be better and in support of my goals?
As it turns out, some online research revealed that the Apple Watch LTE is more dependent on the iPhone that is at first apparent. What’s more, this particular model requires ongoing pairing with a newer iPhone than I had – more modern than I wanted or needed. Whereas I had a small iPhone 5 with a $30/month plan from PureTalk, this Apple Watch has to pair with the iPhone 6, SE, or better. That meant getting back on a major carrier, and shuffling phones. All for a phone I would just leave at home. But as I learned, the watch relies on the phone for configuration, services, and its power for some things—even basic things. 

After some deliberation, I decided it was worth it. While not having a phone I don’t really utilize in my pocket all day long was a big motivating factor, the bigger driver ended up being the realization that I needed to be in regular touch with my wife, co-workers, and the school nurse to manage our kid’s type one diabetes. This means I was pulling my phone out every 10-15 minutes at minimum, then inevitably checking one other thing. Additionally, I was doing a lot on my iPhone like managing my calendar, tweeting, and more… just because I could. Even though I don’t use my smartphone for Facebook, even though I have less than 5 third-party apps installed (most of those not internet-dependent) I had been increasingly using my partially neutered iPhone just because I could.

For those loophole types like me, I’ll report this: no, you cannot use someone else’s iPhone with your SIM card and iCloud info temporarily to activate your Apple Watch. It seemingly works, but then when you swap it all back, the phone and connectivity stops working immediately. Save yourself the trouble.

So, I decided to go for it. I ended up borrowing a tech-forward friends “old” iPhone and got it all set up with very little trouble. After several years off AT&T, I got back on a family plan with my wife for maybe $10 more a month than my off-brand plan—even with the Apple Watch’s required $10 plan. As before, I deleted Mail off the iPhone, which in turn didn’t install that app on the watch. Messages, phone, music, maps, calendar, weather, and the other basics work as advertised and the watchOS specific apps like Activity, Breathe, and new-to-me Wallet are Apple Pay are nice touches that do simplify and… dare I say… improve my day.

So a handful of days in, I am surprised to report that not only have I been able to gleefully leave my iPhone at home all day long, the Apple Watch is far superior than the phone in so many ways. Although I think most would consider it an extension to the phone, I see it as an apt replacement—doing the most critical things an iPhone does, but better. Here’s what I mean:

  • Text messages are available at a glance in any situation without having to pull my phone out—an awkward distraction in social settings.
  • I miss far less calendar reminders and text messages.
  • Less compulsion to start text conversations out of boredom.
  • I’m finally using Siri for little things – which is easy and, on the watch, often a necessity. 
  • Checking the time, something I’d used my phone for the most often, is easy as… looking at a watch. Imagine that! And as an added bonus, the Photos face serves up a different photo from my favorites album, so I am repeatedly delighted by a memory or face I love.
  • The Activity and Breathe apps already have me standing, walking, and breathing more ‘mindfully’ which is very good.

Are there down-sides? Always. So far, they are the buzzing on my wrist (which I am slowly configuring to a manageable minimum), the relative self-consciousness of having a screen on my wrist, talking into a watch for short calls, and initially just the fussing with it. But those will likely all fade. I’m more concerned about doing rougher things like camping, spontaneous messy things, and the watch making me more of a target for petty thieves… but these are all concerns with an iPhone as well. Also, there’s no camera so if I am without my iPad, I just have to take a mental picture. 

But already haven taken a trip, attended a conference, and used the Apple Watch for work and off-time for everything from quick payments at the register to boarding passes, I can confidently say that a little screen on my wrist is appreciably more human feeling than cradling a medium screen in my hand. Glancing at the time or a message with the flick of the wrist gets me back to the real world and that, really, is the whole point for me.

So what’s next? While I’ve long-ago disabled these on my phone, I’m going to try to recommit myself to less social media, less email checking, and just less iPad at home altogether. The truth is, when I am with my wife and kid, there’s really nobody I need to be in touch with anyhow. And that’s what matters to me most: being present and just me. Disconnected. But so connected. 


Just about four months ago, I got some news that knocked me over. We learned that a brother—who had been increasingly distant and irresponsible and with whom I hadn’t been close since we were kids—was very addicted to a very dangerous hard drug. It was a friend that messaged us and between what he revealed and our research, this was going to kill him within a year. 

It was at once totally shocking and it completely made sense. He had been struggling with his finances, had relationship trouble, and had been really dishonest and duplicitous with our mother especially. After ditching a short-lived plan to ape the Intervention TV show and show up at his place, we came to our senses and consulted professionals. We heard on Monday night and by Saturday morning we had a recovery center lined up and a professional interventionist identified and I went over to break it to my mom (age 76)—who was our key to the social security and insurance information we needed to establish how expensive this all might be.

All things considered, she handled it pretty well. We made our arrangements and by Tuesday night, we were en route to rendezvous in his city. There, in a economy hotel room, we composed our intervention letters each on our own and helping my mother edit her’s. We picked up my brother’s good friend at the airport who flew in with several hours notice then were up and meeting with the interventionist by 5 am. 

What happened over the next 8 hours was miraculous, horrifying, and in many ways incomprehensible. If I live to be 100, I will probably never process everything I saw, heard, felt, and spoke. I can only compare it to the last great thing my brothers an mother did: to surround my father fifteen years ago as he died at home of multiple myeloma. We sat around him and told stories and tended to him. The last thing he said before he passed on (two days later on Christmas Day, actually) was “it was such a pleasure.” I reflect on the experience like a slow motion car wreck—something we all saw coming but wandered away from bloodied and disoriented. Still, we all consider the experience a privledge.

Back to the intervention. Essentially, it all played out like it was supposed to. We suprised him at his apartment. He sat down. We read our letters. Everybody cried. And it was clear he was—along with many other complex things—ready to go and glad we came. We then followed our plan to scrub his place of electronics, drugs and paraphanalia, and we changed his locks and gathered his essential papers/identification not knowing how long he would be gone.

Naturally, I suppose, things got dicier once we handed him over. His detox and abbreviated stint in recovery were fraught with accusations, manipulation, paranoia for everybody, and a whole lot of waiting. Right or wrong, I had made it my responsibility to be the hub for communication between loved ones and the professionals as well as trying to sort out his computer and bills in the interim. I told myself that I wouldn’t make decisions for him but I would try to make sense of things and to filter out triggery emails.

When you have a loved one in crisis (or rather when I do), there’s a tendency to want to rush in to fix everything. I was worried, frustrated, angry, and disappointed—and more than anything, I wanted to protect my brother. There were frantic text exchanges and obsessive voice mail checking. But with no way to see or contact him while in rehab, I set about trying to investigate the logistics of his life so I could help facilitate key transactions and decisions. When and how was rent due? Car payments and insurance? HR at work. IRS situation. And on and on and on. Then there were emails with drug connections and other things I won’t go into here. I started filing emails so he wouldn’t come out to temptation. Then I started unsubscribing him from nefarious services. Then I was obsessively checking his email for trouble or for action items. 

Then I realized I was addicted.

If you’ve never had a loved one with an addiction, here’s the punchline: you cannot control what they do. At all. Not even a little bit. All you can do is to decide what you require of them for your participation in their treatment or life. And then stick to it. In the days and weeks that would follow, my family would attend family therapy without my brother, group therapy with him, Al-Anon, and we sought individual therapy—some of us for the first time ever. 

The whole thing was a wake up call. Whether it was my brother’s life. His internet accounts. Technology in my life. Our employees. My wife. Whatever… I have no dominion over any of it really. My brother in recover and my mom and I went to some AA meetings. While a lot of the higher power stuff isn’t my bag, there were a few tenets that really helped:

  • We admitted we were powerless over [whatever]—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

The process helped me remember not to overreact to external stimulus and that worrying is fruitless. It also made me recognize the addictive and compusive habits of technology in my own life. And it made me really look at things clearly.

I’m pleased to report that by all appearances—rather miraculously—my brother is doing very well. He’s not using and seems to be on a path of self-realization, healing, and improving his broken relationships. Cautiously, I can say for the first time that we’ve got a real shot at a meaningful, grown-up relationship. If not, that’s okay, too.

Which came first: the decline of decency… or the internet to show us?

Last week, nearly the same big-big-picture question was posed at two different times by two really different people: my mother and my good friend Scott. Going through it twice got me thinking about it further, as did the coincidince of the topic recurring. Here’s the question:

What precipitated the decline of decency and personal standards in the United States?

While I realize there’s no pinpointing the answer—because there are many answers and many viewpoints that are likely conflicting yet right—I still feel compelled to ask. First, what I don’t mean:

  1. People dressing nice.
  2. People using proper manners or language.
  3. Chivalry.
  4. Church-going.
  5. Acting nice.

What I do mean by “decency” is behavior that conforms to accepted standards of morality or respectability. Right away, the word “accepted” is highly conspicuous because, as we all know, what is accepted changes over time. But we’ll get to that in a few minutes. 

To put a pushpin in the American timeline of recent understanding—let’s just say the fifties. Depending on who you were and what gender, race, socio-economic status, and place you were born… things may have been dramatically better or worse for you, but the options for “accepted standards of morality or respectability” were inarguably more cut and dry. I mean, I guess. That’s how it seems in retrospect anyhow. Now if you were on a side of life that was in conflict with the norm, then you had a rougher road ahead of you—certainly—but looking back, it appears as though the choices for behavior were simpler: be decent to your family and your community and you’d be respected. I don’t know if that’s fair or a gross generalization, but that’s how it seems. 

Cut to now. Things are much more complicated and there are many, many, many ways to live that are “accepted” even while they may not conform to any standard. For oppressed or marginalized populations and individuals, things are better now generally. Right? Abuses and injustice are out in the open and—although not eradicated—we are free to call them out, to escape them, and to try to right them. And that’s wonderful.

But what about decency? How are we doing in that department? How do we treat one another in day to day exchanges? It seems to me—someone born in the seventies that came of age in the nineties—that as a whole, we are less decent to one another now than we were then. Hell, I have noticed a decline in civility even from the eighties and nineties. Now, I do recognize that I am getting older and I have a kid—and that colors how I see these things—but not entirely. Here are some anecdotal examples of change I have noticed in the last 25 years:

  • People wave less, even on country roads.
  • Clerks don’t apologize for bad service or faulty products.
  • Whereas people used to argue or agree to disagree, they now shut each other out.
  • The norm seems to be that everyone has an assumed right to disregard others’ rights or needs.
  • There’s a prevailing attitude of “fuck you/them” about different outlooks.

In each discussion with my mom and with Scott, I tried to trace a path back to what was behind the thing that’s behind what we were talking about. In both conversations, I came back to unchecked corporate greed and our collective willingness to allow it for short-term gain. My mind went to our own increasing willingness to eat, watch, hear, work with, and vote for worthless crap—and that we shouldn’t be surprised when that’s all that’s available. This goes for media and technology as well. To me, this added up to the price of apathy.

There’s something called “social norming” which simply means that there are norms defining appropriate behavior for every social group. For example, students, neighbors and patients in a hospital are all aware of the norms governing behavior. And as the individual moves from one group to another, their behavior changes accordingly. In sociology and related fields, they talk about “social norming” in the sense that people act how they think they are supposed to act because they percieve that this is just what’s being done. But, social norming can also be used to flood the group consiousness with appropriate or healthy behavior so people understand the other option. So I wonder if we’ve just gobbled up the cheap thrills and shoddy products being fed to us with increasing profit margins and decreasing shelf-lives because that’s what we think everyone is doing now… and that’s what we’re reaping now: impatience and a prevailing sense of entitlement.

Enter: my wife. Ever the blunt pragmatist, she said “no… people have always been selfish assholes and now we can just see it more because of the Internet and social media.” She has a point worth considering. Are people getting less compassionate and less thoughtful? Or do the dummies just make for better clickbait stories?

I think I know the answer.

Back to those conversations, my friend Scott recounted a story of overhearing two women on an airplane talk about one’s experience working at a daycare. One of the moms comes in daily on the phone, points to her kid, and leaves without ever talking to the caregiver or to her own. You have to ask yourself: did the mom think to herself when she was pregnant “when this little miracle comes into my life, I am going to ignore it and teach it that phones are more important than people”? Alternately, did Steve Jobs and Jony Ive (chief architects of the Apple’s iPhone) scheme to make people disreguard one another in a diabolical plot? I don’t think either is true. 

Rather, as the technology became available and was weilded in this way—and ready to be adoped by the marketplace at a reasonable price to make its use widespread—then the capability to be taken away from the moment and ourselves and each other was thrust upon us unwittingly. And like a frog in boiling water, we didn’t jump out. Nor did we speak up when we saw it. 

Certainly, while television and then cable played a role in broadening our understanding of social norms, it seems that the Internet and now smartphones have accelerated what’s happening with society. The hardware, the software, the advertising, the services are all big money-makers for corporations. And we’re all too happy to give it to them, it seems. 

So what is the answer to the question “What precipitated the decline of decency and personal standards in the United States?” In a sense, it was corporate greed that hastened our lust for useful things and for crap. And it was our own willingness to just hand ourselves over to it. Because in our nature is the fundamental capacity for selfishness and disregard. When something like technology comes along to make it simpler to tweet than to talk, to video an assault than to intervene, to point at our child rather than to embrace them—if we are willing—then we’re inclined to let it override our responsibility to one another. 

Are we less decent than we were? I think we are. I think in many respects our phones and the apps on them have reverted us to three year olds: seeing what we can get away with. Is it reversable? I believe so, to the extent we are willing to change and speak up… requiring something better of ourselves and one another.

Otherwise, if we don’t change where we’re headed, we are going to end up there.

Technology is driving us crazy

I’ve got a nagging suspicion that how we behave behind the wheel is a pretty good indication of how we act otherwise. Sealed away from other people—excluding stink-eye—we are quasi anonymous and tend to let our true nature come out. There are the benevolent ways like singing broadway tunes at the top of our lungs or waving at dogs… but then there are the uglier sides of ourselves.

January 1, Austin, Texas outlawed holding devices while we drive. I know, ’bout time, right?! We’ll see how the enforcement of that unfolds, but I am most fascinated by the reactions I read about in the paper and on social media. They generally go like “it is totally unreasonable that I drive from A to B without checking my phone! I need to be in touch!!”

What hits me about this idea is both its prevalence and how illogical it is… when you really break it down. As I often joke, unless you are an organ courier or a high-stakes stock broker, when do you NEED to get any call—much less a text? Think about it. Let’s consider a worst case scenario: driving to work and stuck in traffic, you get a text that your kid is really sick at school and you need to come as soon as possible. Or your sibling was gravely injured in an accident and the in-laws need your advice. Or the cops are at your house.

Wouldn’t these people call if they needed action or an answer right then? Or if they decided to text, isn’t it reasonable that you could just react/respond when you got to where you are going? I have a child with type one diabetes (a condition which has a risk of severe low-blood sugars leading to coma or death) and I don’t feel compelled to check every text immediately. Again, if it is urgent or life/death, I know I’ll get a call.

One of the initial and recurring realizations of cutting out a lot of the alerts and constant distractions of my phone is that most of those notices are really not that important. It doesn’t matter that I was just mentioned on Twitter or that a celebrity just died or that a client is upset or that our bank balance is low. I mean, some of those things matter later, but they are not truly time-sensitive. We tell ourselves (and each other) that they require swift action, but I have found that urgent is as urgent does. The world does not stop if we don’t answer a text. It does, however, slow down.

What I mean by that is the boomerang effect of interacting on messaging or social media channels drops off when I am not pushing the food pellet lever. This goes back to my theory about car habits and our true selves. If we get behind the wheel and are self-absorbed to the point of compromised safety for ourselves and others (oh, I HAVE to reply to this), then we need to take a long, hard at our priorities.
And by we I also mean me. I won’t lie… when the law went into effect, I thought to myself, “now it’s time to truly stop”. Mostly I have been disciplined about not using my phone while driving, but I had been taking calls in our older car without a speakerphone set-up and occasionally would start or finish a text while driving. I know.

For me, this self-assessment also goes beyond the phone. Am I driving in a way that is safe and is a good example for my son? Am I letting people merge in moments after I am furious that someone wouldn’t let me in? Aside: one has to wonder if early merging and late merging is a predictor of other behavior. Overall, what much of our digital bad habits point to is our low resistance to new social norms that make us increasingly selfish. Something about technology has a way of out-sizing its own importance. This is apparent in the “I’m on the phone!” attitude when people are, in fact, driving or in line someplace. Being on the phone is a secondary or tertiary luxury, not an inalienable right. The optimist in me believes people want to be a part of a civil and compassionate society. Then the pragmatist in me reminds the optimist to look around.

So, while this new hands-free law slowly becomes the new world order in my town, I am wondering about the logistics of a citizen’s arrest. But I am also wonder about where this road is taking us. In the rear-view mirror is an old-fashioned sense of ‘a time and place for such behavior’ and up ahead is probably more legislating people into good sense decisions. In the end, each of us has to decide how we want the world to become and if risking people’s lives is worth just one… more… Tweet.

Tweeting from Glass Houses

There’s something that seems to be happening more and more—and it’s pissing me off. Broadly speaking, they call it “cyber bullying” but more specifically, this is somewhat of a local phenomenon. Hyper-local-cyber-bullying? Or is it just bullying?

A few years ago as belligerent blog/news commenters became the norm, there was a new, growing, troubling trend of people not only airing their grievances about local businesses online, but primarily or exclusively doing so and using their chosen platform as a bully pulpit. Think Yelp. Think #GamerGate. Think The Oatmeal. Certainly, the anonymity and distance that the internet provides us is a convenient way to say a bunch of things we wouldn’t otherwise say—in a way we wouldn’t otherwise say them. More and more, I’ve sat by and watched people become shittier and shittier to one another. It was one thing when it was ‘society’ in general. But then it was people I knew.

I first moved to Austin in 1980 as a kid and grew up here until high school, returning for college. Over the years, the quality I have most identified with this town is the friendliness. Sure, it has become less-so over the years—ever so gradually—but still, the more I go other places, the more I’ve come to appreciate how good most Austinites are to one another. Not nice in that bless-your-heart, Southern sort of way, but genuinely decent. Even to this day, I am affronted when someone does something dishonest or gross to someone. Call me old fashioned, but it just seems so… un-Austin.

I think that’s why it has bothered me especially that, over the past month or so, I have watched as people I know and respect are using social media to slam people and small businesses right here in their own city. The Strange Fruit PR debacle was a really good example. To sum up, a couple of hapless, local, young women stepped in it royally with their racially insensitive name—getting negative national attention in the media and on Twitter—and the collective response locally was… “serves them right.” I think partially it was because it was fun to pile on and partially because people were afraid to take a stand. It’s much easier to be on the side of the angry mob.

Right now, there’s another thing bubbling up between two people I happen to know. I won’t go into particulars but—in essence—the instigator has taken to social media to mercilessly lambaste something the other did. Purportedly, it is all done for the greater good. But if that’s the case, why all the slander and mud-slinging? If you care about a business, or a cause, or a principle… why not contact the person that you perceived to have crossed you or a line and work it out? ESPECIALLY locally, we should care enough about decorum (and having stones cast at us) to just reach out and connect. Then here’s a radical idea: keep it to yourself. GASP! I know, it might be unheard of to not broadcast a social slight or a retail turnaround saga, but it might just be the right thing to do.

Of course the reason people don’t do that is that their intentions are largely disingenuous. They want attention, free stuff, a perception that they are more savvy/righteous, etc. I’ve been tempted myself. Once I sent a complaint tweet about Bird’s Barbershop, only to get a direct message, email, then call from the manager and a complimentary haircut with all the trimmings. All because I didn’t pay attention to the policy and bitched about it. You know how it made me feel? Like an asshole.

So, the next time you are out in the world and you see/experience something that just sticks in your craw, here’s what I suggest you do: give the person or entity the benefit of the doubt and bring it up right then there, follow up with an email later, or just rise above it.

People that live in glass houses don’t want rocks thrown at them. They just want people to look at their every move.


A black and white world…

Two months ago today, Apple killed the iPod. You probably didn’t read much about it unless you follow tech blogs. They are still selling a few other models of the revered music player, but the “iPod Classic”—the last in the line of iPods that started it all—is no more.

Scroll back to 2004 when, in my humble opinion, I actually think the iPod peaked, this i before they added a color screen. It may seem like a silly viewpoint, but it makes perfect sense to me. Let me explain.

We still have three old iPods lying around and they still get used. There’s a iPod mini in the kid’s room (which used to play lullabies but he now has by his bed with headphones), there’s an old Nano that’s charging up as I write this for the boy to start carrying around, and we use the 3rd generation iPod in the car plugged into the stereo. This one…


While it’s been a decade ago, I still have strong memories of first using that music player. I was already into technology, but since I had no cell phone, I was not carrying anything around. Like most people, I had given up on portable CD players and tried a crappy MP3 player, but the iPod was—of course—a revelation.

Looking back, I realize how it was in many ways the perfect little device. I got the 40 GB one, so it held my entire music library. As you may remember, it had Contacts, Notes (read only), Calendar, and a few little Atari-like games, and a small two-tone screen. Still, the power of carrying around all that music was mesmerizing.

I had my first downtown job and would walk on my lunch breaks and just listen to music. I might fool with it a little to choose new songs, but since the screen had all the graphical appeal of an early Casio watch, it was not something one would gaze into… especially given that there was no internet on it. You put in the headphones and just soaked up the music. It was incredible.

Like many other gadget happy people, I wished for the day that Apple would make a phone so I could combine the cell phone my job eventually insisted I carry with my iPod. I even bought the Motorola ROKR because it had iTunes. What I couldn’t forsee at the time was that once the screens went to color and there were photos to look at and album art and then (with the iPhone) the Internet and apps—what was once so magical became a sort of trap.

Fast forward to today. On what was probably an unstoppable march towards more devices that do more and more, color and everything that came after it were product features that would sell and we would gobble up eagerly. We’d not only want these things but we would believe we needed the 1-2 new models of iPod per year, the iPhone, the next iPhone, the iPad, and next the Apple Watch.

They are neat devices that do a lot of cool things and some of them actually useful, but I can’t say that—for me—after the original iPods that they really added anything to my life. I thought they did, but they didn’t. The other features started subdividing my attention and making me want more than just music.

As people do when they get to a certain age, I find myself longing for a time before things got so complicated and out of touch with simpler times. Inevitably, I find myself longing for a black and white world… filled with only music.