Lazy web: my 2013 year in tech

I thought it might be interesting to document how I’m currently using technology in my personal life. I’m not sure I’m representative of any larger trends, but one theme that emerges as I reflect on my year is probably true for many people: there is an overwhelming volume of content and number of devices competing for my attention, and I am ruthlessly ignoring anything that requires too much effort on my part. Lazy web, c’est moi.

One of many lazy moments

One of many lazy moments

Devices

Both at home and at work, I move seamlessly between Mac and PC. The distinctions between the two seem less and less important – after all, so much of what I do is now browser-based.

I upgraded from an iPhone 3GS to an iPhone 5 this year, and I must say, I love the phone, despite a few annoyances with iOS7. As with my desktop/laptop use, the browser is central: most apps still seem to be more trouble than they’re worth; I could count the number of apps I actually use on the fingers of one hand.

Social networks

I continue to find Facebook boring and unrewarding, but (like many people, I suspect) I find myself locked into it as a way of communicating with a subset of people in my life. In 2013, I went down to weekly FB logins and shared less than I had in previous years.

My love affair with Twitter continues: it is personalized, relevant, convenient – my sun, my moon, my stars, etc. etc. I access it throughout the day every day for both leisure and professional purposes. I use its direct messaging to communicate. It’s the third thing I look at every morning (after email and the weather forecast) and the last thing I check before bed every night.

I use Goodreads regularly, but more as a way to keep track of my personal reading than as a social or discovery platform.

Books

I read more ebooks in 2013, but print is still a big part of my life. The Retina display on my new phone has made ereading more enjoyable, and usability improvements to the library’s ebook service, as well as a wider range of available titles, have led me to borrow ebooks more frequently. My main concern with ereading continues to be quality-control issues with the content: poor layout, garbled special characters, occasional duplication or omission of chunks of text. Until these quality issues are worked out, ebooks won’t be my first choice for the reading I really care about.

the-goldfinchI was reminded of one of the small pleasures of print books while reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. As I carried my hardcover library copy everywhere with me in December, racing to finish reading all 771 pages by the due date, I found myself connecting with other public transit passengers who were reading or planning to read the book. Smiles and nods and brief conversations — “How are you finding it?”; “I’m hoping to read it over the holidays”; “I loved The Secret History“; and so on — this is an experience you just can’t have with ebooks.

Newspapers and magazines

2013 was the year all the major Toronto newspapers went behind paywalls. I figured I would just get into the habit of clearing my cookies and continue reading them as usual, but instead, my behaviour changed in a way I wasn’t expecting: I now find myself hesitating to click links on the news sites’ homepages – I’m taking a second to think about whether or not I really want to read a particular article, and most of the time, I decide I can’t be bothered even though I know perfectly well how to get around the paywall if I need to. I’m reading significantly less content from the major newspapers than I did a year ago. I feel badly about this (I had promised myself that if I was clearing a particular site’s cookies too often, I would consider a subscription), but it seems I’ll avail myself of any excuse to winnow down the queue of things to be read.

So how am I consuming news? Twitter has become my go-to source for breaking news. I get my in-depth journalism from The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Wired, Slate, and dozens of other sources (thank you, @longform!) and use Readability (one exception to my rule about the general uselessness of apps) to save articles to my phone.

I gave digital replica magazines a whirl this year when the library introduced the Zinio magazine service, but they failed to set my world on fire. Flipping through glossy photo spreads is OK, but the reading experience just isn’t that great. Apparently I’m not alone in this conclusion.

Music and TV

In music, this was the year of Songza for me. The curated playlists are amazing: the perfect way for the lazy/time-strapped listener to discover new music.

TV’s share of my leisure time continued its long decline. I discovered the handy workaround of VPNs that let you access geo-restricted content, but it still feels like too much work to get the shows I want when I want them. I watched the latest (disappointing) season of Mad Men, kept up with the entertaining silliness of Downton Abbey, and enjoyed the bizarre and memorable Top of the Lake – but that’s about it.

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