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Trashing Techno-clutter

Once upon a time, farmers in the American South used wooden plows of a design basically unchanged since the time of William the Conqueror.

The great-great-grandchildren of those farmers have lived in an era of such rapid-fire obsolescence that, in the time it takes to read a user’s manual, the latest “new thing” in microcircuitry has been tossed into the dustbin of techno-history. Seeking help with it at a so-called “help desk” will earn you a look of pitying scorn.

In March, The New York Times ran a column titled “Gadgets You Should Get Rid Of (or Not),” informing readers that several common devices had been superseded by new, more versatile technologies. The writer’s curt advice in most cases: “lose it,” and switch to devices and Internet tools that enable you to do more with less hardware.

For most of us, says the writer, Sam Grobart, a smart phone will do everything we might want from a point-and-shoot camera, camcorder, digital music player, or GPS unit. Junk the desktop computer, Grobart says, and rely on your laptop. Move your files around through the Internet, he advises, rather than relying on a losable, breakable USB thumb drive.

The young and the laptops
Data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project show “millennial” consumers (ages 18-34) were more likely to own laptops and other portable electronic gadgets than older consumers. A survey of 3,001 American adults, conducted in August and September 2010, showed 70 percent of millennials owned a laptop computer, compared to 52 percent of all adults and just 43 percent of those ages 57-65.

The Pew Center reports that ownership of both types of computers has declined slightly since about May 2010, however. That’s in keeping with a prediction by the audit and consulting company Deloitte that consumer spending will shift away from desktop and laptop computers toward mobile devices like smart phones, tablets, and netbooks. Deloitte forecasts that, worldwide, smart phones alone will account for 46 percent of all spending on computing devices during 2011.

Smart phones are taking over
Their versatility and improving video quality have made smart phones an enticing alternative to camcorders and video recorders. For casual users of video devices, the ease of uploading video to social media sites may give smart phones a competitive edge.

Similarly, cell phones with global-positioning technology are threatening the dominance of stand-alone GPS devices as navigational aids for drivers. Built-in GPS applications are becoming standard on smart phones. To use some features, such as voice-guided directions, users may have to subscribe to a location-based service, but Google, Nokia, and Microsoft offer premium GPS features for free.

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