I’ve been using and supporting a wide array of tech devices over my entire lifetime. As a tech consultant, my livelihood depends on supporting people who use computers and related technologies.
Throughout my career, I’ve been an advocate of low-tech and simple no-tech solutions to accomplishing tasks.
The advice I am giving everyone these days is to reduce their dependency on technology, and simplify their use of technology as much as possible. If a task can be accomplished effectively with a pen and notepad, choose the pen and notepad instead of a high-tech solution.
Social media like Facebook and Twitter are not the only sinkholes for our time, energy, mind, and money. Other computer-reliant tasks are taking more time and more money.
This document describes why we desperately need to reduce our tech dependency, and how to do that. The goal is to reduce stress, gain independence, save time, save money, create a more predictable daily experience, and live a better life.
The iPad as a Simple Tech Solution
For most people, an Apple iPad can accomplish 90% to 100% of tech-related needs. This includes:
- Interacting with healthcare provider websites
- Financial management and banking
- Sending and receiving emails
- Communicating with text messages
- Participating in Zoom video sessions
- Browsing the web
- Searching with Google, Bing, or Duck Duck Go
- Reading news
- Watching videos
- Listening to music, audio books, podcasts, and streaming radio broadcasts
- Reading books, news, and magazines
- Online shopping
- Managing contacts lists with names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.
There are many people who already use an iPad as their primary or only computer device. The benefits are explained below.
Benefits of an iPad
Using an iPad has many benefits over a traditional desktop computer, and some benefits over a laptop computer. Here are just a few of the areas of improvement.
- BACKUPS — If you use the Microsoft OneDrive cloud synchronization and backup feature, it disables the Windows file history backup function that would copy your files to an external hard drive. A third-party program would be required. Third-party cloud backup services, such as Carbonite, let you backup your files, but probably won’t help recover the entire computer in the event of a crash. An iPad backup creates an iCloud backup of all your programs, settings, and synchronized files.
- DUST FREE — Computers typically generate a lot of heat, and they typically require fans to keep cool. This results in pulling dust into the computer. The dust builds up and results in worse overheating problems. When a computer gets hot, the processor will usually slow down the computer. An iPad typically runs cool and does not have vents where dust gets pulled in.
- EXPANDABLE — The iPad is a complete self-contained system that requires no accessories. However, it can be expanded with a large display, full-size keyboard, mouse and other accessories. If an accessory fails, you can continue working. An iPad can be docked to a hub and function like a full desktop computer if desired.
- INTERNET — A very time consuming, costly, and frustrating problem with traditional computers is the Internet connection which typically depends on routers and other networking equipment that can fail or services that can be unreliable and sometimes slow. Diagnosing these problems usually requires time on the phone with your service provider, and possibly an on-site visit. The iPad can use home or business WiFi, but can be configured to work with cellular data plans to give you access to the Internet even when your primary Internet service is not working. You can get access to the Internet from just about anywhere with a proper data plan.
- MAINTENANCE — Computers need regular maintenance to maintain the security and reliability of hardware and software. This can be time consuming and costly. [Learn More] An iPad needs little or no ongoing maintenance.
- MIGRATION — Transferring to a new Windows computer can be a time consuming hassle. Utility programs designed to make the process easier do not always work properly. Due to copy protection and licensing, software programs usually need to be reinstalled and reconfigured. Dozens of Windows updates need to be installed with multiple restarts required. The entire process can take many hours. With an iPad computer, when it’s time to switch to a new iPad, you turn on the new device, restore from your cloud backup, and you are ready to go.
- NO CABLES — Most computer training and support needs can be resolved over the phone and with remote support software. However, sometimes computer problems require an on-site visit. For example, if a computer display, webcam, microphone, speakers, keyboard, or mouse stop working, these things typically can’t be fixed remotely. When a cord is loose or disconnected, or an external device has failed, these on-site visits can be costly for what turns out to be a simple problem. Other than power, volume, and home buttons, the iPad has no moving parts that can break or wear out. An iPad has an internal webcam, microphone, display, and the touch-screen functions like a mouse, so there are not cables to cause problems.
- NO NOISE — The cooling demands of a computer usually result in noise from cooling fans. An iPad has no fans or moving parts to make noise.
- NO VIRUSES — According to some reports, there are over one billion computer viruses that have been identified. The iPad operating system is designed to be secure and will only allow pre-approved software to be installed from the App Store. Viruses and malware designed to self-install on Windows computers can’t be installed on an iPad. While there have been some security concerns with iPads, those vulnerabilities are minimal compared to a Windows computer. One needs to still be alert to phishing emails and fraudulent websites, but in general it is a safer device to use.
- PASSWORDS — One of the most costly, time consuming, confusing, and frustrating tasks with a typical computer involves the management of passwords. An iPad will manage your passwords for you, securing them with face or fingerprint recognition, and notifying you of weak and duplicate passwords or those found in dark web and data breaches.
- POWER — Last year, more than 400,000 people were without power in the Midwest, some had no power for an extended period of time. Fires, floods, and state-sponsored cyber threats continue to disrupt the energy infrastructure of our country. Desktop computers require expensive battery backup systems to keep running during a power outage, and these typically run for only an hour or less. Using an iPad allows you to be free from the disruption caused by power outages. It also lets you use less power, which collectively can help the planet.
- SIMPLICITY — Typical desktop computers are powerful because of their complexity, features, and customization. This also makes them difficult to use. An iPad is designed to be easy to use. The main screen can be configured with a few essential icons for the programs you need on a regular basis. This simplicity of an iPad is helpful for people who find themselves bewildered by increasingly cluttered and complicated computers.
- SOFTWARE — The software is generally inexpensive or free. Installing and updating software is easy. Removing a program can be easily done in a single step.
- SPEED — Some desktop computers are slow to start and load programs due to limited memory, slow processors, and slow mechanical hard drives. The iPad utilizes fast solid-state components. This eliminates the long waiting time to start a computer and open a program.
- UPDATES — Updates to software and the operating system are very easy and can be configured to happen automatically.
Samsung Tablet Considerations
A Samsung tablet provides all of the benefits of an iPad that are listed above with a few important exceptions:
- CUSTOMIZABLE — What makes a Samsung tablet desirable is the customization and personalization of the Android operating system. While Apple iOS is slowly moving in that direction, Samsung began years ago and offers a wide variety of Home Screen customizations and widgets. Some people feel that the customizability makes the Samsung tablet better than an iPad. While that may be true for spry tech-savvy users, the customization can also result in additional complexity that can confuse some users. The structure of an iPad screen layout can either be a benefit or a frustration depending on the person using it. For example, with a Samsung tablet (or phone) you can place program icons wherever you want on the screen. The iPad lets you organize icons, but it automatically puts them in rows. On an iPad, you cannot scatter icons on the screen, they must be in rows. That helps the screen stay tidy and organized. Some people will react to this saying, “Oh, how delightful!” Others will be frustrated and want full control over their screen layout.
- NOTE: If someone is considering purchasing an older iPad, with an older iOS version, it will be even more constrained. A Samsung tablet does not have these constraints.
- SUPPORT — Due to the customization of Samsung and other Android devices, your device will likely become very unique in appearance and layout. In addition to the customizations you make, there may be specialized Samsung software installed on top of Android. In addition to the specialized Samsung software, there may be software installed by your cellular provider. In addition to specialized Samsung software and carrier-specific apps, your version of Android will dramatically impact the appearance, and in some cases the steps required to complete a certain task. Having such a fluid, accessible, and customizable system allows other manufacturers to join in the development process. This is seen as a good thing. Lenovo and Amazon have Android tablets. This competition keeps prices down and gives consumers more variety to choose from. Okay, now for the bad news. Having so many hardware vendors, and OS versions, and other variables makes it very hard to provide consistent simple support documentation. There are millions of iPads, but for the most part they are all about the same. There are millions of Android devices, and probably a million different user configurations and combinations of manufacturers, carriers, and OS installed.
- SYSTEM ACCESS — The Android operating system that runs on a Samsung tablet has an advantage of allowing the user to have access to the file system, just like a desktop computer. This is considered to be a benefit. There are some protective measures in place, but these are easily disabled. This makes a Samsung tablet desirable to tinkerers and hobbyists, and allows for even greater customizations. Having a system that is less locked down can make it susceptible to viruses and malware. Antivirus software is available for Samsung tablets and phones. This software could possibly slow down your device. Because the iPad has a more closed file system there is less concern about viruses.
Overall, one can say that the strengths of the Samsung device are also potential weaknesses for some users.
A Chromebook computer has some of the advantages of an iPad. It is inexpensive, easy to use, and relatively secure. It’s a closed environment where only pre-approved software can be installed. Replacing an old or broken Chromebook is a fairly simple process. Just buy a new one and login. All of your files, programs, and settings will be brought in from your Google account.
A Chromebook doesn’t offer the wide variety of mobile features and apps available with an iPad. So there are some benefits to an iPad compared to a Chromebook.
If you use an Android smartphone, then a Samsung tablet or Chromebook might be a good choice, but possibly more confusing than an iPad.
Apple provides their cloud service called iCloud that provides data synchronization, backups, and other capabilities including a web portal to much of your iCloud data (photos, contacts, calendars, email, files, etc.).
For a longer description of the benefits offered by a Chromebook, read “Benefits of Chromebook Computers.” [View]
For a Chromebook buying guide, read “Best Chromebook Computers for 2021.” [View]
Other Devices for Simplifying Your Life
Here are some other devices you may want to consider as alternatives to using a desktop computer, either to reduce your dependency on a desktop or eliminate it.
- Amazon Fire is a well developed Android tablet from Amazon that can run Microsoft Office, Zoom for video conferencing, Spotify for music and podcasts, and many other apps. [Learn More]
- Chromebook devices are centered around the Chrome browser and compatible apps. [View/Buy]
- Mobiscribe is a digital writing tablet that has a simple interface for focused writing tasks. [Learn More]
- ReMarkable is a digital writing tablet with a focus on paper-like note taking with a pencil-like stylus. [Learn More]
- Samsung tablets are a popular Android-based device with many of the benefits described above for the iPad. [Learn More]
An Extra Computer as an Inexpensive Insurance Policy
If you really must have a Windows computer for some reason, spend an extra $150 to $200 on a used laptop that you can use if your primary computer starts malfunctioning. This way you can be less panicked if something goes wrong with your main computer.
Repair shops are typically overwhelmed. It can take days and weeks to get repairs done. Sometimes delays are due to limited availability of support technicians or delays in receiving necessary parts.
Important Backup Considerations
As mentioned in this document, when Microsoft OneDrive is enabled for making backups of your Desktop, Documents, and Photos folders, the Windows File History backup service may become disabled or at least stop backing up your files in those folders. You would need to copy those folders manually to an external drive to create a safe disconnected backup.
Many systems offer synchronization of files as a form of backing up your data (Apple iCloud, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive). These forms of backup are helpful if your computer or device crashes. You can still retrieve and recover from the cloud. So, synchronization services can help in some recovery scenarios. Other examples would be Box and Dropbox. Cloud backup services like Carbonite are designed to make sure you have off-site backups of all your data for recovery later, but Carbonite is not designed to be a file sharing and synchronization service.
Some systems don’t offer file versioning. So, if you make changes to a document and save it, you will have permanently overwritten the old version and it becomes unretrievable. This is a good reason to be in the habit of manually saving versions or revisions when working on larger projects. Periodically use the Save As option or duplicate the file.
Regardless of what systems you use for synchronization and backup, it is important to have a hard drive in your possession that contains all of your files in a safe location. Periodically copy all your files from OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud, etc. and save them to an external drive for safe keeping. In doing so, if your cloud account were to be hacked and all your files deleted, you would still possess a copy of your data.
If you use an iPad and rely on the iCloud storage and/or other cloud storage, you’ll want to backup those files either with a drive connected to your iPad, or with an inexpensive used computer dedicated to that task.
If you use a Samsung or Android device and store files in the cloud using Google Drive or similar services, you will want to do this same process of manually backing up your files to an externally attached or wireless drive, or with an inexpensive used computer dedicated to that task.
For backing up your cloud-stored files, you could download files from a web browser, but that takes a long time. Having your files synchronized to a dedicated backups computer is better and will happen continuously. Then periodically make a manual copy of those files.
The reason for this overemphasis on backups is because avoiding data loss needs to be the primary goal and accomplishment of our devices. If we are at risk of losing data, then the device is not reliably useful.
Global Challenges and Disruption Factors
We’re in the midst of an unprecedented convergence of global challenges which are impacting almost everyone on the planet to varying degrees.
Major areas of life are being disrupted and hindered including our relationships, health, employment, finances, travel, and availability of products we rely on.
Because of these disruptions, reducing a reliance on technology can save a lot of time and money.
Here are some of the challenges and influences causing disruptions:
- CHIP SHORTAGE — There is a global shortage of important parts for electronic devices and consumer products. This isn’t just impacting computers, but everything from toaster ovens to pickup trucks. This makes it harder to purchase replacement parts. For periods of time, it’s been difficult to find laptop computers or printers, and prices for used items are sometimes at twice their retail value. This is a good reason to back away from an over-reliance on technology.
- CLIMATE — Climate extremes are impacting reliability of technology and the support providers we rely on.
- EXTREMISM — We’re living through an era similar to the Gold Rush of the 1800s. Extremism is the new gold, and it is proving to be extremely lucrative for numerous individuals and industries including those who profit from the dissemination of certain ideologies. Outrage fuels more clicks on web pages and the stories designed to entice. Firms specializing in the manipulation of audiences and individuals are making millions delivering messages to the masses and hand-picked messages to specific individuals. Followers in various camps, who are worked into a frenzy of fear and/or anger, are more likely to give financially, volunteer their time, and attend large rallies. This impacts technology because it means time, attention, and money is being redirected to this war of the words. Decisions are being made for political reasons
- HUMAN SHORTAGE — There has been much in the news about the mass migration of employees leaving their jobs. This has created unpredictable and sudden losses in IT which means the quality and reliability of tech hardware and software may be compromized. Customer service and support is increasingly being provided by overseas call centers. Companies outsourcing their customer service are taking shortcuts and not adequately training the people in these call centers. We have lost millions of people as a result of the global pandemic, and others are displaced due to regional conflicts, droughts, and widespread fires impacting millions of acres of land. So, millions of people we have relied on are no longer available to be part of the workforce.
- MALICIOUS HACKERS — There has been an increase in wide-spread and targeted malicious attacks on everyone from retired seniors to high-level government diplomats. Some of these attacks are very sophisticated and well funded. Every subsequent wave of attacks yields billions of more user accounts and millions of dollars to continue funding the global cyber crime syndicate. Reducing your exposure starts with simply dialing back how much time you spend on the computer daily.
- SUPPLY CHAIN — There has been a world-wide disruption with the network of ships, trucks, and other delivery mechanisms we rely on to get the products we rely on. This makes disruptions more frequent and more costly to recover from.
Reducing the amount of time and money spent on technology devices can improve our life. Reducing the number of devices, programs, and services we rely on can be very beneficial.
An initial switch to a simpler life, such as using an iPad instead of a Windows computer, will initially seem unfamiliar, and some people will conclude they don’t like a simpler tech life. They will want the complexity of a full desktop computer experience. As with any change, people can sometimes prefer what was familiar even if it came with costs and complexity.
The main goal to succeeding with simplification is to focus on your goals, tasks, and outcomes. Don’t hold to specific processes and programs, but instead focus on what tasks you are trying to accomplish.