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How to live low-tech and prosper
Scripps Howard News Service


December 29, 2005

If your wish list this season centered on the hottest new electronic gizmo, then you may be what marketers call an "early adopter," the type who must have the latest toy available.

Early adopters drive the world electronics market. They're the people who are never satisfied with last year's model. They're willing to spend top dollar rather than wait for prices to fall.

They're the ones who push manufacturers to make products smaller and faster and ever more complex. They have to be first so they can gloat and strut.

They are, in short, a big pain in the neck.

It's because of these gearheads that your new computer is obsolete before you get it out of its box. It's because of them that cell phones now take pictures and play songs and send e-mail. They killed VCRs in favor of DVD players, vinyl in favor of CDs (then CDs in favor of iPods), stereo speakers in favor of "earbuds" (which sounds like a disease).

Guess it's clear that I am not one of those guys. I resist every new electronic development. I was the last guy to surrender his Betamax. My stereo is older than my teenagers (and just as troublesome). My computer starts with a crank like a Model T.

I'd still be using land lines and listening to a "hi-fi" if weren't for my wife, who happily buys every new widget that comes along, and my kids, who are thoroughly modern, which means they'd rather talk to their friends by "text messaging" than in person.

Part of my resistance comes from the fact that I tend to rigidly compartmentalize: cameras take pictures, phones make calls, computers send e-mail, orchestras play music. That makes it difficult for me to fathom one gizmo that does all those functions and is smaller than a filling in your average molar.

The other reason I resist is that I don't want to spend weeks learning to use these products. Reading manuals (which are always written in techno-speak pidgin English), visiting instructional Web sites or - God help us all - calling technical support all seem like forms of torture to me. Just thinking about learning to take photos with a phone gives me a headache.

So I'm a "late adopter." I'm last in line. I embrace the new technology only after it's been loved by every geek in town. And I use a gadget until it either falls apart or my wife sneaks around and replaces it while I'm asleep. Even then, it'll be years before I learn to use the danged thing, and I learn only as much as I absolutely need to know.

I was drinking beer with a couple of friends recently, and they were comparing cell phones. They had the latest in shiny chrome fold-up phones, each smaller than an Oreo, which do every function you could imagine, short of lubing your car.

When it came my turn, I pulled out my cell phone and thunked it onto the table for their amusement. My phone's nearly as large as a brick. It doesn't do anything except make phone calls. It has a belt-clip holster and looks very much like the "phasers" used on the original "Star Trek."

"My God," one gearhead said, "that's prehistoric!"

"That's right," I said. "And I still don't know how to use the voice mail."

They stared at me as if I were an exhibit at the Luddite museum, with that mixture of awe and head-shaking disbelief that says, "How did people ever live that way?"

I just smiled. And set my phone on "stun."


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Bank Job."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)

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