In my 12 years as a professional freelance writer and blogger, I’ve written about everything from mesothelioma to homeopathic medicine, from social media best practices to the best places to eat in Maui. But one subject area or industry that has always played such a huge role in my career is that of consumer electronics and new technology.
Part of this comes simply from following the latest developments and trends, and part of this comes from actually reviewing the products themselves. I get a fair bit of hands-on time with quite the range of gadgetry, even if I don’t always get to keep it (I rarely do, actually). And yes, it is absolutely easy to see how the rapid rise of the smartphone has completely transformed our society as a whole.
But that got me thinking. What other relatively new technologies am I already taking for granted? What has irreversibly changed my life (and hopefully for the better)?
Streaming Media Subscriptions
I remember as a kid, we bought cassette tapes. If we wanted music “for free,” it meant sitting around the radio and waiting for our favorite songs to come on before hitting record, only to have the track ruined by the DJ coming on a little too early. We eventually progressed to CDs, but to my recollection, I never paid for a digital download in the form of an MP3 file. I never bought a track from iTunes.
Many people may have forgotten about the Microsoft Zune, a device that was severely overshadowed by the iPod, but it was the Zune that first introduced us to music subscriptions. Instead of buying individual songs, we can pay a monthly fee to access all the songs. That’s how Spotify, Netflix and Google Play Music came to be.
Coupled with more affordable wireless data on my phone and essentially unlimited Internet at home, my entertainment needs are suitably satiated. And let’s not forget about Kindle Unlimited and Audible subscriptions too.
Five years ago, I wrote that my Sonos speaker was the gadget that I can’t live without. I called it a smart speaker at the time, because five years, that’s what a smart speaker was. It connects directly to my home’s Wi-Fi network and I can stream music (see above) from all kinds of online services. I can control it from my phone, but the music isn’t actually coming from my phone (as would be the case with a Bluetooth speaker).
But in the last couple of years, a lot has changed and now “smart speakers” are the kind of new technology that actually listens to you. I’ve tested the Google Home Mini and I’ve got an Amazon Echo in the office… and my Sonos One works with Alexa too. While I’m not quite at the point where “smart assistants” have “changed my life,” the smart home ecosystem and easy wireless music streaming to these speakers has been truly impactful.
Here’s a nerdy little thing. To my knowledge, the first mechanical keyboard actually predates the first membrane keyboard, so it’s hardly a new technology. If anything, it’s a more refined version of an old technology. And now I can’t live without it.
My mechanical keyboard journey started out mostly with Cherry MX Black switches for more of a solid, linear feel. These days, I think I prefer the more tactile and “clicky” experience of Cherry MX Blue, even if the noise seems to drive my wife batty. I think the audible feedback helps with the writing process and it allows me to acknowledge the key actuation on a subconscious level.
I’m not talking about mobile payment. My payment method of choice still isn’t supported by Android Pay in Canada yet (but it’s supposedly coming soon). No, what I’m talking about is mobile ordering, which is still very much a new technology. Realistically, I only use it in two places: Starbucks and McDonald’s.
With the former, I really appreciate how I can take my time in concocting a custom drink (gotta make the most of those free rewards!) and be sure that nothing gets lost in translation. I can order ahead, skip the line, and pick up my drink when I get there.
Mobile ordering with McDonald’s is a newer thing and it’s arguably even better (though probably not better for my waistline). I can use my mobile offers/coupons and put together my order from the mobile app. That’s already pretty useful. What’s even better is that I can skip the crawl of the drive-thru and just pull up to one of the pickup spots, or if I’m staying, I can get them to deliver my order directly to my table. Stellar!
New Technology for a Better World
There are so many other things I probably could have mentioned in this post. As a self-described gadget geek, I revel in new technology. I love my Nintendo Switch. I think having a mesh Wi-Fi network is tremendous and affordable cloud storage is a real game changer. The list goes on and on.
What techie developments in the last few years have had the greatest impact on your life?