Revisiting “Gadgets you can keep”

Back over 10 years ago, I wrote a couple articles responding to various technology “predictions” wherein authors made an attempt to predict what technology would be gone… pretty much by now.

Back in 2011 I wrote the first such response called “Gadgets you can keep” wherein I responded to Sam Grobart of the New York Times. So let’s revisit that one first and whether my recommendations still hold up today given how much things have changed over the last 11 years.

1. Desktop computer

I said then: Wait a second…

I say now: Wait a second…

This really depends on your requirements. Most can work fine off a laptop, possibly even a tablet.

Laptops have really come along in terms of performance and power requirements over the last 10 years. Laptops can even power 4K displays without breaking a sweat. But they still cannot keep pace with desktops merely because desktops offer a LOT more flexibility in terms of parts and the performance that can offer.

So the question really comes down to what you need.

Many gamers will probably be fine as well with a laptop, depending on what games you are playing. eSports titles are also developed in a way to allow as many people as possible to play them, so they target much looser hardware requirements compared to trying to play a triple-A title at moderate settings, let alone at 4K 60Hz at maxed out settings.

So if eSports titles is all you play – Rocket League, Valorant, League of Legends, etc. – a laptop should easily meet your requirements. Your peripherals will matter more here.

But you cannot ignore the limitations laptops have. Photographers (such as yours truly) and videographers will be much better served with a dedicated desktop over a laptop. That isn’t to say a laptop isn’t capable of handling photo editing and video editing. But you’ll fast run into a ceiling of what a laptop can handle compared to the upgrade and expansion options you get with a dedicated desktop system.

And tablets and cell phones have significant limitations on top of that. And I know over the last decade a lot of people expected tablets to eventually replace desktops and laptops, and that just will never happen.

2. High speed Internet at home

I said then: Keep it

I say now: Keep it

While wireless and cellular Internet service for home has certainly become much more available and capable over the last 10 years, it will never match what a dedicated, wired home Internet connection can bring.

At the time of the original article, I was on Time Warner (now Spectrum) with, I think, 20Mb service. In 2015 I would be one of Google Fiber’s early adopters with their Gigabit home Internet, never looking back. And today I have Google Fiber’s 2Gb service (it’s 2Gb down, 1Gb up). Wireless isn’t even close to that, and likely will never be able to match it.

And with video streaming and video conferencing happening a lot more now than it did 10 years ago and the bandwidth requirements that go with it, again, wired home Internet service is the way to go if you have the option.

3. Cable TV

I said then: Depends

I say now: Lose it

Just don’t bother with cable home TV anymore. Virtually everything is available for streaming anymore, even to mobile devices, at a much better value compared to cable. For years being able to select channels a la carte was the most demanded feature for cable TV. And they never gave it to us. I fully understand why it never happened. But if we had that option, on-demand streaming services probably wouldn’t have gained the dominance they did when they did.

Sure on-demand streaming will still eventually replaced cable TV and DVR set-top boxes the way it is today. And they’d probably still have the dominance they enjoy today. But it likely would not have come about nearly as soon as it did.

Unless you live in an area where your Internet connection does not allow for video streaming, don’t bother with cable or satellite TV service.

4. Point-and-shoot cameras

I said then: Wait a sec…

I say now: Wait a sec…

The point and shoot market has virtually disappeared. Photographers are the only ones buying them because they make great cameras for scouting locations and for quick photos when taking photos on the go. And they’re indispensable when it comes to street photography.

I can’t ignore how good cell phones have become. But a cell phone still has two significant limitations: tiny sensors compared to even the cheapest point and shoots, and they’re entirely software controlled. Sure dedicated cameras are still firmware controlled, but it’s a dedicated firmware instead of an app running on top of a general-purpose mobile operating system.

The question really comes down to how much you care about your photos. Note: if you’re taking photos for Instagram or social media with the intent to build a following, you’ll get much better results with a dedicated point and shoot compared to your cell phone.

5. Camcorder

I said then: Not so fast…

I say now: Don’t bother

Dedicated camcorders like what existed 10 years ago are no longer around. Point and shoots cameras, DSLRs, and mirrorless cameras have pretty much taken over here and allow generally for a lot more flexibility compared to what home camcorders could ever give.

6. USB thumb drive

I said then: Keep plenty of them

I say now: Keep plenty of them

As I write this, 512GB thumb drives are available for around $50 or less, depending on brand and where you buy them. Meaning 256GB and smaller drives are going for much less. Need I say more? They’re great options for backing up files from your desktop or laptop. And with a compatible cable, they can be plugged into your cell phone for dumping photos or viewing files.

7. Digital music player

I said then: Lose it

I say now: Lose it

My entire FLAC-encoded music library will fit onto a 128GB storage medium without a problem. This means having a dedicated music player, even one with expandable storage, is largely not necessary. And I can stream my music from my NAS over the Plex app on my cell phone using a VPN connection.

And for those times where I won’t have a cell or WiFi connection to tap into my home VPN, I can plan ahead by dumping the music library to a USB drive and connecting it to my phone using an OTG cable.

8. Alarm clock

I said then: Keep it

I say now: Don’t bother

Unless you’re always getting rid of your old cell phones, this one is a tough sell anymore. Since your old cell phone can still double as an alarm clock with your current cell phone being used as a backup. And the travelers who actually use the dedicated alarm clocks in hotel rooms are likely very few in number anymore.

9. GPS Unit

I said then: Not so fast

I say now: It depends

This really depends on where you’re going. Dedicated GPS units have the benefit of not needing a constant Internet connection. But even Google Maps caches your most frequently-used maps to your phone in case you lose your Internet connection. And you can cache maps ahead of time based on where you’re going.

10. Books

I said then: Keep them (no exceptions)

I say now: Keep them (no exceptions)

My wife has a Kindle Unlimited subscription, but even she’ll tell you that nothing beats a physical book. For the simple fact that physical books don’t need batteries or an Internet connection.

And with cookbooks, I still stand by this sentiment:

Plus would you rather walk into a kitchen with shelves lined with cookbooks and other assorted recipe books, or one with an iPad or e-reader and few, if any, cookbooks? The cookbooks tell you you’re walking into the kitchen of someone who loves to cook, and that’s the kind of kitchen I’d like to walk into.

Conclusions and verdict

So a few of my my conclusions have changed over the years. Technology has improved significantly over the last 11 years since I wrote the original response article, no doubt.

But technology will never get to the point that desktop computers, dedicated cameras, and wired Internet connections become obsolete. And physical storage media like USB thumb drives and optical media can never go away either since it’s never a good idea to put full reliance in your Internet connection for… anything mission critical.