I’ve been an avid tech nerd all my life, from getting excited over Casio watches with built-in calculators when I was a kid through to my almost 12 years as a tech writer for CNET. But this last year things have started to change for me and I’m left wondering: Has tech changed or have I?
It’s not that I don’t like tech anymore. It’s that so many of those gadgets designed to make our lives easier and more fun actually don’t work as they should. Take games consoles, for instance. My Xbox Series X is great fun when it works. But more often than not when I find myself in the mood for some button bashing and fire it up I’m met with a lengthy wait while massive updates are downloaded for both the console and then whatever game it was I wanted to play.
By the time I’ve made a coffee and stared out of the window while the updates install I’ve usually lost that urge to play and I end up doing something else. Ditto for the PS5. Do you know what doesn’t require 80GB updates? My Scrabble set.
Then there are the various new Bluetooth earbuds I use — the AirPods Pro 2, Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, OnePlus Buds Pro — which work fine most of the time and then, every so often for no discernible reason, one earbud will decide not to connect and I have to stop what I’m doing and re-pair the whole set.
Audio has been a big deal for me this year. Most of the time I love my Apple HomePod. The sound quality is great and AirPlay works well when it wants to. But it often doesn’t want to and decides to disconnect halfway through a song. And when I try to reconnect through Spotify I can’t even see my HomePod as an option anymore.
I’ve had numerous similar experiences with Bluetooth speakers from other brands, too. And don’t get me started on the fragility of in-car Bluetooth connections which typically seem to entirely forget your existence each time you turn your car off.
Last Christmas my brother gifted me a vinyl record player. I then immediately bought myself a whole range of records from some of my favorite bands including Periphery, Incubus and Royal Blood. I’ve honestly found the whole experience to be something of a revelation.
I’m not going to opine on the “warmth” or “character” of the audio from vinyl because I’m honestly not that bothered as long as it’s “good enough.” It’s refreshing simply putting on a record and having it actually play, without the need for establishing wireless connections or having the connection inexplicably cut out. I drop the record onto the turntable, move the needle and it just plays.
I’ve found, too, that I love listening to whole albums again, rather than simply adding a few songs to a playlist or shuffle playing all my “liked” songs on Spotify. Going out to record shops to find specific artists I want is a much more satisfying process than simply scouring the infinite abyss of Spotify’s catalog. Perhaps I’d also enjoy getting back into DVDs instead of endlessly scrolling Netflix and failing to decide what to watch. Probably not though.
It’s worth noting that in January I’ll turn 35. And there’s a certain cliche about people who hit their mid-30s and suddenly start getting into vinyl. I’m a professional photographer and, yes, I’ve even started dabbling in film photography this year too, enjoying the more stripped-back approach that my Canon R5 lacks.
To be fair, I’ve always felt a bit older than my years. I prefer bubble baths to nightclubs, I’ve made homemade scented candles since my mid-twenties and I’ve always been able to identify the most comfortable chair in any given room.
So is it me? Have I just reached that age? Or is tech actually just more annoying? Connections that drop out, constant updates and patches needing downloading, software bugs on phones that cause restarts, apps that crash, games like Cyberpunk released half-finished with the promise of fixes to come later. What happened to tech just working? Just doing what it’s supposed to and providing the smooth experience we’ve paid for?
Am I wrong to feel frustrated when things don’t work? I love tech and everything it brings to our lives. I love gaming. I love having Zoom calls with my family. I don’t want to return to a “simpler time” when “instant messaging” was done via the post or when the latest AAA game was ball-in-a-cup. I just want things to work properly and not leave me feeling like I’m battling against the tech that’s supposed to be helping.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going back to my comfortable chair with my hot cocoa and my blanket.