Chris Wiegman Chris Wiegman

Can I Ever Be Happy With My Tech?

I’ve written a lot over the years about my “ideal” tech but I never seem to find it. As I’ve jumped from device to device, tech stack to tech stack and even ecosystem to ecosystem it’s become pretty clear that I’m always searching for something that simply doesn’t exist. I believe I can do better.

What would get me to stop searching?

What is my ideal tech?

These are questions I am thinking about a lot lately as, frankly, I’m tired of changing everything all the time. For example, I love my new Linux laptop but with all my data still in Apple’s ecosystem I find the prospect of making it my daily driver daunting. Why is that? What would it take for me to stop searching and be happy with what I have? I don’t know if it is even possible but, if it was is here is what it would take:

My tech needs to fulfill my own needs

First and foremost my tech needs to be able to do what I need it to do. That may sound like an obvious goal but I found out the hard way that this is easier said than done when I tried to step out of the Google system on my Android phone. Leaving both Apple and Google meant simple daily tasks like getting good driving directions across the state were pretty much impossible and forget most other travel apps. Without Google or Apple services you’re quickly going back to paper for nearly every need and you just have to hope that where you’re going even still even allows you to do so.

It’s not just about travel though. While I don’t actually do a whole lot with my computers much of what I do seems to wind up requiring some very specific setups to work. I’ve been trying to come up with a list of what I want my tech to do lately and here’s how I break it down:

  • I need to write code for WordPress, GoLang and other miscellaneous projects
  • I need to get my email
  • I need to browse the web
  • I need to be able to keep track of and manage my bank accounts
  • I need to be able to access my calendar and contacts
  • I need to be able to safely get to my files
  • I need to be able to write
  • I need to be able to manage my photos
  • I need to be able to listen to the music I enjoy on descent speakers throughout my home
  • I need to be able to use work tools such as Slack and Zoom
  • I need to be able to speak to people via Signal, text message and voice or video calls

Believe it or not that’s a pretty comprehensive list of everything I need my tech to do. There are some “nice to haves,” today we use HomeKit for our lights and more and my Apple Watch helps me meet my fitness goals, but it is the above list that I can’t do without and, most of all, I need to be able to do from any and all my devices.

Having to carry multiple laptops, a tablet, a phone and other devices to do these tasks in any given settings is simply a no-go. For example, if I’m typing on my laptop and get a message I need to get that message on the laptop as well as be able to stop my music from the laptop while I do so. I do not want to be reaching for a phone or another device to do so.

For me each of my devices needs to serve a purpose in that it allows me to do my work in the most appropriate way wherever I am and shouldn’t work to impede that work. If I have to have both my phone and my laptop with me at all times my tech has already failed to fulfill my own needs.

My tech needs to work with my family

Once my tech fulfills my own needs it is just as import that it works with my family as well. I support both my wife’s and my parents’ tech and we exchange a lot of data. I share my calendar, password manager, numerous files, photos, messages and more with them so everything needs to work for them too.

We were able to make this mostly work when we went from Apple to Google in the past but, when we left both, everything broke down pretty fast. Getting my parents to use NextCloud or sharing LibreOffice documents with my wife caused too many issues, not to mention trying to setup video calling during our first COVID Christmas with my parents who had only ever used FaceTime.

I sometimes envy folks who can use very niche tech successfully but one commonality I notice with most of them is that they don’t seem to have many people they work closely with. They can focus on their own data on tech and don’t need to worry if their setup works with others nor do many of them need to support the tech of others. That simply doesn’t work in my case.

My tech needs to be as ethically sound as possible

While I wish this point could go first, the world we live in simply doesn’t allow that to be the case. I would love to step away from big tech services and use all open source software and repairable hardware to fulfill my needs but, to date, that just isn’t possible.

If I had my choice all my hardware would be fully repairable and run operating systems and applications free from spyware and other anti-user patterns. I would own all my own data and be able to share it freely and at will with all who need access to it and I wouldn’t have to replace it all every two years (on average).

Instead of this ideal I know whichever path I choose is going to be a compromise on my values as life simply does not allow any other option. Simply existing in the western world means we need tech and that tech we need will sell us, its users, to ensure their stock price continues to climb. I fear that means I will probably never be happy completely with the tech I have but that doesn’t mean I can’t do better.

Where will my tech be in 5 years?

I remember when companies would ask me where I wanted to be in 5 years. At age 44 I no longer worry much about that question. I’m not going to be able to make major career changes again and, frankly, other than where I live I’m pretty happy with my lot in life. I could even see me still working for WP Engine in 5 years time, a fact that would make for quite a record tenure for me.

My tech, however, seems to be something I have to update every 2-3 years which means that I hope the next upgrade cycle will lead to very different tech than I have today.

First, I don’t want a bunch of devices. I want to drop down to just a single laptop and phone. I don’t know if I’ll even keep my Apple Watch in the future as, not only do I not really need the features but it’s just such a wasteful device that is so horrible for my privacy.

I would love to be running Linux on my Laptop which means I would probably end up with another Android phone. That’s probably not a bad thing. I used to think Apple was somehow better on Google for privacy but I realize that is no longer the case. If moving some things to Google would allow me to move other things to more open software while, at the same time, allowing me to run more sustainable hardware and do it all with the support of my family I could see that being the right choice. As long as I could use my phone to get what I needed when I don’t have access to my laptop and both devices can be used if I leave the other one on its charger I’ll be happy.

More than the devices themselves I think it’s safe to say I want to spend this current cycle simply working to more sustainable tech that isn’t “all in” on any platform but uses what I need in any available platform while still allowing me to be more open than I am today. For example, I could see getting another Pixel for my next phone and moving a few services back to Google where they would be accessible on either device without requiring a Mac. For everything else I could go with FOSS (or even proprietary solutions from ethical companies) that would serve as first-class services on both devices, something nothing but Apple’s own services can currently do on its hardware.

More than anything, today I have time to sort this out and make the transition and that’s what I need to start doing. Last time I wound up back on Apple because I tried to change everything all at once. There’s no reason to do that again and that means that in 5 years I might finally be at a place with my tech where it all does what I need it to do, what my family needs it to do and where I can feel good about the companies and services I’m supporting.