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July 4, 2013

In the last year, there has been a push for simplicity in our household.  While it has mainly been driven by yours truly, I have to give most of the credit to none other than our realtor for getting me in the mindset of reducing everything we use down to the bare necessities.  It started with one question:  “Do you really need all these computers running?”  She was giving the house a once over before putting it on the market and trying to maximize space for the photo shoot.  She didn’t realize that she had created a monster.

I realized over the coming months that most of the “stuff” in our house was not needed.  A Linux tower and two Windows machines were scaled back to one Windows machine.  (When was the last time I did anything with Linux at home?)  Our huge bookshelf full of books and magazines was emptied, disassembled, and removed from the house.  (When was the last time we read anything on actual paper?)  Our TV sitting on a table and surrounded by crates of the kids’ DVDs and the stereo shelf unit was hung on the wall and hooked to a Roku box.  (When was the last time we used DVDs?)

Let’s fast forward and summarize for a second.  We now have one full blown computer in the entire house (a Mac Mini hooked up to the big HDTV, with the option to move it over to a work station at the computer desk if needed).  We have an Apple TV to access and stream all our media over the network (we found that the aforementioned Roku box was just not as versatile).  Books and magazines have been replaced with iPads (back in 2010 I laughed at the notion that someday everyone in your house would have their own iPad.  How wrong I was.)  We’re down to one gaming console (my trusty PS3, which will be upgraded to a PS4 later this year), we simplified our Comcast service down to just a high speed internet connection, we have no phone land lines, and every bit of our digital “stuff” is backed up both onsite and offsite.

ln the 80s and 90s, the term “paperless office’ was thrown around quite a bit and was dismissed as an obnoxious corporate buzzword.  Rightfully so–it was really a pipe dream back then.  These days, that is not the case.  While some businesses don’t WANT to go paperless, or maybe don’t have the financial means to make the switch, it’s entirely possible for just about any business to make the switch whenever they’re willing and able.  But “paperless office” now goes way beyond both paper and offices.

If you replace the word “paper” with “physical media” and “office” with “everyday life”, you get…….um…….”physical media-less everyday life”.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s just call that “the cloud”.  Another term that really is just a fashionable buzzword to replace “the internet”. The hardware we use is simply a conduit now.  Remember what a pain it was to upgrade cell phones back in the day?  Your contacts never transferred over correctly to whatever format the new phone had, your purchased games and apps certainly didn’t either if they were even compatible with the new phone, and you had to learn a whole new operating system all over again.  (Remember that OS skin Verizon used to put on every phone they sold?  UGH!)  These days, I get a new iPhone, I hit restore from backup, I go watch TV for a half hour, and by the time my show is over I have my old “stuff” back on my brand new phone.  It’s so painless that it doesn’t even seem like it should work.  Hell, it’s the same concept for the computer.  If my Mac Mini crashes and needs to be replaced, I can restore the entire thing.  If my house burns down, I can contact Backblaze and get all of our data back.

I’m not writing this post to worship at the altar of “The Cloud”.  I’m simply saying that it’s beginning to act the way we always wanted it to.  That is what makes our shift to simplicity so easy.  The internet and mobile telephony were our first giant steps, but what we’re doing today with the cloud is boundless.  It absolutely still needs work and is in its infancy–there still aren’t that many companies that I actually TRUST with my cloud data, syncing still hasn’t gotten to a state where I would say it’s flawless (regardless of what ecosystem you use), and failures and outages still happen too often for my tastes.  But we’re going to get there.  And in the meantime, I’m certainly enjoying the ride.  It has not just changed my outlook on how to deal with technology, but also my outlook on life in general.  Making things simpler after years  of bad habits and accumulation of “stuff” is so refreshing.  I realized a few months ago that I’m sick of trying to hide my balding by wearing my hair long, so I simply shaved it all off.  I’ve traded my big backpack that I lug to and from work to a slim messenger bag that weighs next to nothing.  I’ve gotten rid of everything in my house that was broken or not serving my needs any longer.  This entire lifestyle change I’ve been going through was sparked by using cloud technology that was not available even 3 years ago.  THAT is what I think is amazing.

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From → cloud, Tech, Uncategorized

  1. Tim permalink

    When I think back to all the homes I’ve visited and loved, it wasn’t the ones that were spartan with a lot of empty space, it was the ones with character, old books, figures on shelves, etc., etc. Those are the spaces I remember warmly and the ones today I enjoy visiting.

    I put this all on Oprah. During her tenure on syndicated TV, she decided to change America’s attitude on how you live to one of nothingness and being grateful for it. That was her mantra and she beat it into people’s heads. I suppose if everyone is a TV show host, then there’s no jobs or purpose lost in that cold world. That said, she herself doesn’t live like she preached. Yet that mindset she spew lives on.

    I’d seriously think twice about following Oprah’s simplicity route as the other thing I’ve noticed about people who follow it, over time they become some of the most unhappy, judgmental people you’ll ever meet.

    • Stephen permalink

      Making statements like “they become some of the most unhappy, judgmental people you’ll ever meet” are statements which say much, much more about you than they do about anyone else.

      Also – judging a whole group of people and then calling them ‘judgmental’ is pretty ridiculous.

    • Not sure where you’re coming from on this–I’ve never watched one episode of Oprah. :)

  2. Filip Verhaeghe permalink

    I love the look of a book library.

  3. Neil Whitten permalink

    Loved this post… and i know how you feel… Though what really weirds me out about all this, is my 3 yo daughter.
    My daughter has never really seen an optical disc, (because of the technologies you have talked about, Apple TV, PS3, Ipads, iPod Touch, airplay, radio senders for the car etc etc) though, and this is where it get weird, she still knows what to do with them! ive caught her trying to put a DVD into my macbook (she was having issues as its been replaced with a second HDD) slot CDs into the little gap between the TV stand and the TV table, and even a paper disc into my PS3!
    HOW does she know that it works like this!!!

    The other issue that we have with her is the lack of physical media implies that its everywhere. She can watch Tangled on the macbook, big tv, ipod and ipad, but then has difficulty understanding that she cant watch it on the tv upstairs! The same applies to things that are on our satellite DVR, which creates a pseudo on-demand experience.
    Though I do have better luck explaining this to her than I did to a 70ish yo relative at a party when she asked “Wheres the music coming from?”
    “Well the music is stored on the laptop slotted behind the sofa, with the audio out to the stereo in the dining room, and at the same time sending the same music to little black box under the tv which is then connected to the soundbar under the tv, and its all controlled by this ipad” wouldnt have worked…. I just told her “It’s magic!”

    Anyway, Ive ranted enough…

    PS Great blog, cant wait to read more

    • I can completely identify. For my younger son’s second birthday, we had a Curious George party. I made a shared PhotoStream of pictures of Curious George that I got from Google Images, set that as the screen saver for the Apple TV, and then streamed the party playlist while pictures of Curious George rotated in and out on the screen.

      To my kids, this was nothing worth noting. To them, it was almost like “Why WOULDN’T the TV be able to do that?” As far as all of our older relatives, and even some that were closer to my age, I couldn’t believe how many questions I got about it. How are you doing that? What’s that little black box? Where is the music coming from? What’s with all the Curious George pictures? How did it know to use them?

      Watch this space, because I’m going to be touching on this very topic sometime in the next few weeks.

  4. fakefake permalink

    This sounds like you stopping being a packrat slob, not you using the cloud.

  5. Canary permalink

    I hope I can pare down to the basics again in order to be able to enjoy what’s in my home…It’s a maze or labyrinth here! I’m trying to feng shui this place…

    • Thanks! I enjoyed reading your reaction–especially because my wife reacted almost exactly the same way when she read some of the comments.

  6. Great Post!

    My wife and I are currently sorting through stuff stored box in our garage that had no seen the light of day since we started to co-habitat 10 years ago. It is an amazing journey looking at items that were core to your life then but not now. I found 4 generations of audio media there – vinyl LPs, Tapes, DAT and CDs. I have gotten rid of the CDs, tapes and DAT but can’t bring myself to do anything with the vinyl as those albums were such a whole part of my life.

    I think we strive for efficiency in our lives not just simplicity. The lack of physical media does not mean that the household needs to be stark or barren – I have more art of the walls that what my parents did.

    • Your comment reminded me of something else I did to “simplify”. I bought a brand new in the box VCR for $5 at a flea market and used it to digitize all of our home videos that were on VHS tapes, then threw away all the tapes. (Of course making sure that I had at least two copies of everything before doing so.) Right now, I have my whole media library backed up in both Time Machine and my Backblaze account, including all those huge (and very important) video files. I would never want to get rid of all these physical copies of anything without making sure they’re safely and securely stored somewhere.

      • Exactly, the detractors of throwing away stuff only fear the loss of stores memories of events. Sometimes those are triggered by the physical objects themselves, but most old media containers are prime candidates for tossing after the video and audio has been copied to a new format. I took my DVDs and ripped them, used a tiny Doxie scanner to scan my full administration and tossed it all. Extra benefit of that was that I know have fully searchable (OCRed) PDFs and I know exactly what’s going on. The ease of the scanner meant I could mindlessly feed the paper into it while I was watching a video. Took a couple of days, but man was it worth it.

  7. Logic permalink

    I hope you return to simple writing and drop this silly double spacing.

  8. By “simplifying” it sounds like you’re just migrating to new forms of the same content. To me simplicity means getting rid of the content and inputs in your life, not just changing their form. You mention some of this, but the thrust of your piece is about going from physical to digital. Digital “stuff” is still “stuff” and can create more complexity in life, even if your house is emptier. Thought provoking piece though.

    • I don’t feel that was the end result in this case. We enjoy our digital content and love having access to it from anywhere. It sounds like you’re saying that we should delete all of it, and that’s not really the goal here. The goal was to be able to call a song up on my phone, computer, tablet, or TV without having to get out a CD, do a file transfer, or find the specific gadget it’s on.

      • It’d be extreme to delete all your content, but I suppose I’m thinking more in terms of minimalism than just simplifying. It sounds like you’re doing both.

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