I’ve rethought a lot of my life in the last 6 months or so since I was diagnosed as diabetic. It wasn’t so much that my diabetes was so out of control that I was facing imminent doom (at least I realised that when I got over the initial surprise and learned more about it) and that sense of my looming demise forced a rethink of my life and general direction. No, it was more that my diagnosis prompted changes in my lifestyle which necessitated different approaches and perspectives which led to further changes. It was a cascading series of changes. In the process my life changed fairly profoundly and continues to change.
I have been thinking about a number of things during this time that I have realised are mostly bullshit. Those things include the almost religious zeal with which many of us (I include myself in this insular group of tech- and digital-aware pundits with too few substantive challenges in our lives or who lack the appropriate perspective to recognise the real issues) approach consumer tech. Another item on this list is commercial banking which we allow to totally screw up our financial wellbeing.
The consumer tech rant
The consumer tech obsession isn’t new. It’s been going for ages and I have made a small contribution to it in my brief time blogging about it. I still obsess about aspects of it, mostly social services like Google+, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as part of an externalised series of thought experiments. I still find myself getting caught up in new shiny things from time to time and that annoys me. I have been reading posts about recent new devices and the commentary is pretty much the time. The difference is that specs change.
The commentary is generally that some device is the death of another because of its size, screen resolution (aside from whether a device looks good to you as an individual, do you really care precisely how many PPI you can squeeze onto that screen?) or some other arbitrary factor. I use an iPhone and I upgrade to the new one every other year or so. I largely do it because I want more capable devices (better camera for better photos on the go, faster processor so my phone runs my apps more effectively and so on). Yes, Google’s software is pretty good and, yes, many non-Apple devices have multi-core processors and other features that seem better on paper or in a multitude of virtually identical reviews (which is why I don’t do gadget reviews anymore) but I like my iPhones and they work for me.
Unless you are a tech journalist or blogger who gets caught up in specs for the sake of it, most people probably use the devices they use because it is what they could afford; because it works for them or because it was probably the best of a selection available to them when they upgraded their contract. Tech specs and the extent to which one device’s screen has worse white balance compared to another (insert comparative gripe here) are largely bullshit. Each of us have a preference for a device or range of devices based on what may appeal to us at that point. Tech bloggers and journalists are basically spoilt sales people who hype new tech based on meaningless criteria (at least for a substantial number of people). All this talk of devices being iPhone- or Android-killers is about as meaningful as, well, it really has no meaning in real terms.
I don’t know what the solution is. For me, at least, being amused because I still have an iPhone 5 when there are any number of bigger, brighter or newer Android/Windows Phone/Blackberry phones out and asking why I haven’t switched is pretty idiotic. If I really cared about the new thing, I would have changed over. What I have works for me and the same thing probably applies to most non-tech bloggers and journalists.
Oh, one more thing on this rant: I noticed a newish trend for tech journos to write really cynically about new tech. That newfound cynicism is just the flip side of what most be totally old fashioned fanboyism. It is still bullshit, just negative and oxygen-sucking bullshit.
The bank rant
We had a time in the last couple years where banks were falling over themselves to show us just how cool they are and how much they innovate. Many of us consumers were rushing to switch to one or more of these banks because we completely bought into the hype.
That new and shiny smell has worn off and we are still stuck with much of what we had at our previous banks, although service levels have benefitted somewhat from the competition. The flashy banks that offered us manufactured status, perks and loyalty programs have become victims of their success. They are overwhelmed and can’t meet the service expectations they created. They almost never call you when they say they will and their offers to support you with seemingly fantastic products and services have very fine and contradictory print.
What I realised about banks is that they sell lifestyles. At least, the money they loan to us in substantial quantities is justified by co-created visions of better lives (we are just as much to blame, we aspire to be more than we perceive ourselves to be) made possible by higher credit card limits and overdraft facilities. This problem tends to be exacerbated by most of us buying into this very early on, usually when we start working and are just happy to make a break with relatively poor student years. Once we are caught up in that world, it just becomes progressively more expensive until we find ourselves in our 30s and 40s and in obscene debt.
The people who keep their costs down out of university and save as if they may need to pay for cars and houses with their own money (imagine being able to do that!) are the ones who have living expenses at a fraction of everyone else’s, much higher disposable income (which they probably mostly save) and who retire at 65 with a smile on their faces.
The rest of us are fools. We start off buying into the promise of a better life and wind up pursuing it because we just want to go on that one holiday or survive the month before the next payday. Although these banks are our best friends and @-mention us on Twitter when we are first dating them, we are eventually reminded that until we generate substantially more income than we did at the beginning (and merit more attention), we are economic slaves in tough economic times. All that advertising and all those benefits of switching from one bank to another are also mostly bullshit.
What really counts
Twitter co-founder, Ev Williams wrote a post a while ago in which he sets out his Formula for Entrepreneurial Success. Two of the items stand out as truly important things in life (they all are important and meaningful, so read the whole post):
3. Take Care of Yourself
When you don’t sleep, eat crap, don’t exercise, and are living off adrenaline for too long, your performance suffers. Your decisions suffer. Your company suffers.
Love those Close to You
Failure of your company is not failure in life. Failure in your relationships is.
It is easy to get caught up in bullshit and I still do it far too often for my liking. Developing a healthier perspective on that stuff takes work and it worth the time and effort. When you do, you begin to reintroduce more meaning into your life which becomes more your life the more you do it.
My diabetes diagnosis is one of the best things to have happened to me as an adult (after meeting and marrying my wife and having our children). It has become a metaphor for how I manage (loosely) my finances and even how I perceive attitudes to my work. I have more thoughts and questions about so many aspects of my life and far fewer answers. How about you? How conscious are you of the cruft in your life? Assuming you’re living your life, of course.