Gadgets and Simple Living: Is it worth the cost?

Posted December 7th, 2009 by Tammy "RowdyKittens" and filed in Issue 13: Technology and Simple Living

image from Apple.comIt’s time for me to make a confession: I absolutely love gadgets. I don’t buy gadgets very often, but lately I’ve been fascinating about purchasing an iPhone.

On one hand, I see the usefulness of the iPhone. It’s a phone, camera, iPod and has amazing applications. If I purchased an iPhone, I could reduce the amount of stuff I carry around everyday. Also, being able to connect with friends and family with the touch of a few buttons is pretty cool.

On the other, hand what about the cost? On average iPhone plans run about $1,500 per year.

And I wonder about the implications of feature creep?

What do you think? Do gadgets, like the iPhone, enhance the concept of simple living? And are they worth the cost?

You can learn more about my downsizing journey by reading my blog, RowdyKittens, or following me on Twitter.

16 Responses to “Gadgets and Simple Living: Is it worth the cost?”

  1. C.No Gravatar says:

    Nope. Not worth it. I have one plus laptop and other stuff that goes to/from work with me. I work a second job at work (bosses are aware and approve).

    I got the iphone after my gphone was stolen. The lack of a tactile keyboard cut down on my use of the phone for anything other than phone calls. Also the camera sucks. My partner’s N95 has better camera, lenses, and higher res. than the iphone. If I were to choose a smartphone with my own money again I would choose the nokia n900 or the e72 or the n97 depending upon your carrier and the form you use. I also dislike the struggle you have to make to get contacts backed up with the iphone to anything other than itunes. It doesn’t play well with others. I am actually considering moving to a phone phone with a large sd card for music and calling it done. I carry a separate camera for conferences and trade shows and need it to be separate for the size of the lenses and ability to do video etc etc. In short. I don’t find the iphone to be a mature technology in part because of the lack of a real keyboard and the inability to pair a bluetooth keyboard to it – which might make it a bit closer. Also the less than 5mp camera that’s slow and horrid in low light just makes it a waste of money. I’d either wait another year for smartphones to actually get up to the feature level that makes them worth their price or I’d go with one of the nokia options which is much more workable.

    Best of luck to you.

  2. Grant WagnerNo Gravatar says:

    Hi All!

    I’m putting this hear, but I am really addressing this to all of the entries. Tech is truely a double edged sword, and in no one location is it more apparent that with cell phones.

    First, think of all the great advances technology has given us, expecially those of us who want to be off grid. Solar panels and small wind turbines are now comidity goods, which can be picked up at my local Manards. In terms of cost per output, they have never been cheaper and are only going down. CFL and LED lighting is not just a odd alternative, with very poor output and institutional blue colors, but are now main stream and available even at your local sams club. I’ll take that over a sooty oil lamp anyday, although candles are still a nice alternative if you’re not trying to read.

    Digital storage has made even the most extreme media collection extremely portable. My 1TB external drives contains copies of all my pc games, all my music (~400CDs worth) and many of my movies (currently about 20 out of 150), and it’s only growing. I’m not going to get rid of my original media, but it’s a lot more useful this way. Things like netbooks and the nicer smart phones make accessing all fo the information both portable and easily powered by the off grid systems mentioned above.

    Finally, the cell phone. I gave up on smart phones as a PC replacement a long time ago, but my dead simply phone is still quite usefull. The glow from the screen is a nice emergency light, it’s alarmclock feature is the only one I use, and well, it’s all the communication I need. But let’s face it. Exepecially in the back country, connectivity can be hit or miss. Make sure your carrier is the right one for you. Even then, I truely believe there is no one more evil than the celular carriers in the united states. If my extended family wasn’t on our family plan, I would have dropped them long ago for a pay-as-you-go service.

    However, technology means complexity, especially as vendors keep going for more “value added”, and it does become extremely taxing. Some basic decisions can help simplify your technologic experience.

    Descide how much you want from a phone. Is it going to replace your pc for browsing, music, movies, or other uses? Will it replace the PC a significant amount? Can you get by with a less expensive plan? I personally take the view of let it be a phone, and keep a pc for when you need it.

    Descide if you really need a PC, or it’s connectivity. Consider switching to a Mac or better yet, free Linux to free yourself from viruses and mal-ware, and endless popups. Remove all applications which you don’t actually use. For those that you do use, see if there are simpler versions. Try to avoid unnecessary software which may come on new hardware, like picture managers or backup assistants, it’s very rarely required to install anything to use any piece of hardware these days.

    Finally, don’t use it if you don’t have to. Get off the couch, get active. Build something! Meet your neighbors! Bake a pie! 99% of tech is about destractions. Sometimes it’s wise simply to ask what you’re being destracted from, and to see if you really want to be destracted from it. It’s most likely just life.

  3. Grant WagnerNo Gravatar says:

    To be honest, has anyone seen a phone camera which was actually useful?

  4. LucasNo Gravatar says:


    I agree that the more basic cellphones can be great. I also use the alarm function on mine – it’s the best.

    Cell phones are not really cameras – but they are always there – so they are the best camera you don’t have to carry and always have available. I have taken many of the best pictures I have of my family on mine and I treasure them. When I am down, I flip through them on my phone and make free calls to them on the weekends and at night, or if they are on a wireless network at all, depending on how I have my plan set up. It is better than having a Kodak Carousel slide show with me at all times.

    The new rugged phones from Verizon Wireless are great – super rugged, basic features, good cameras, great reception. No need to use the push to talk feature. Always have a second charger and a car charger.

    Last. I have worked for a cell phone company for nearly 24 years and I have watched the industry grow and transform up close and personal. We are not evil. We work very, very hard to provide the best service to our customers as is possible in as many places as possible for all the folks we possibly can. Lots of hours and unbelieveable frustrations and aggravations are taken for granted – by everyone. And we aren’t getting rich. My kids are studying for scholarships, too.

    Most folks have NO IDEA how difficult that can be – but the folks at my company know all about it and I am very proud of having helped build our company.

    Wireless phones and wireless data devices are transforming society, enabling more people to exercise their freedoms and live their dreams than almost any other device – including the automobile and even the radio itself.

    Of course, texting is the worst, unless you need your Mom or Dad to pick you up. Email IS an evil, unless you can get it out of the way when you’re doing other things – like watching the news.

    I agree – keep it basic and minimize the frills. All the inovoatinos of today are going to be surpassed and simplified, in any case. Use your device to free you from silly face time at the office and to make more time for your life and family, not to cram more junk into your cyber-life.

    Hear this now. Camera phones and videos will topple dictatorships and tyrants. Already they are used to provide the key insights necessary for social justice to prevail – on the news, on YouTube, on the web, on the network.

    As to iPhones and smartphones in general – no need to take the plunge just now. Just wait until the next LTE 4G network rolls out next year and the year after.

    You will be astounded and I am sure your device will become the most important device you own – and it will be worth every penny – but we understand nearly all customers will still hate to pay even one penny for any of all the vitally important functions it provides – because you will already have taken most of them for granted to the point of assuming they are practically basic human rights guaranteed by the constitution. We take that awesome responsibility – to keep folks connected, with all that entails – more seriously than I guess you imagine – and I don’t mean that in a perjorative sense at all.

    So thank you for using a wireless devices and please keep complaining – believe or not, people are listening and working hard to meet your requirements. Every day. During hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires and other disasters. All the time. Nearly everywhere today. Everywhere tomorrow.

  5. JudyNo Gravatar says:

    My son works for IT companies [hardware & software] that run phone companies, cable companies and the Internet. He has the most current iPhone and loves it. Personally he prefers the Mac world and his house is a Mac house. He will be the first to tell you that the guts of an iPhone are rather mundane. It’s the user interface that he likes so well. Because he travels, with his iPhone and his laptop he’s “at the office”. On another note, he also says that in terms of cellular service and what is delivered to it, North America is way behind Japan, Korea and even Europe. We should see major changes in the next 18 months.

    As for using your cell in an emergency/disaster situation, know that cellular service is over-subscribed 5:1 for the infrastructure. In a Katrina-like event, Ham radio is better if landlines are shut down.

    Regarding any technology, take a one month fast. What did you miss? Living simply to me is not just about less stuff, simple diet, riding a Vespa scooter. It’s also about less “noise” in my life on many levels. Some technology fails to contribute to my outworking of a simple lifestyle. For ME an iPhone creates “noise” in my budget and doesn’t enhance my lifestyle.

    Contributed to the For What It’s Worth Department. :)

  6. RowdyKittensNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments! I really appreciate it. :)

    For now, I decided to stick with my basic phone and plan. I might get a smart phone eventually. But the extra expense seems unnecessary. Especially since we’re moving up to Portland and I’d rather put the extra money toward a tiny house.

    Thanks for reading the journal. :)

  7. RedNo Gravatar says:


    I have to put in there my two-cents. I too was enamored with the iPhone, but I was unable to justify the cost. So I stuck with my 20$-something a month basic cell phone plan and bought an iPod Touch. It has most of the same features, can use wifi connectivity (email, web, texting, etc…) and syncs all my email, calendars, photos and music to boot! The best part it is only a one time payment of ~300$. And, at least where I live, there are plenty of free and open wireless networks in case I have to check my email on the go. I have integrated this device into my life, and use it all the time at work and at home.

    My favorite part is there is an application called Stanza (which is free) and allowed me to store books on my iPod! I got about 140 on there now, and i have read 20 books so far. This clears up space at home and allows me to take a small portable library with me wherever i go!

    I wish ya luck with your decision! :-)


  8. Mrs BrownNo Gravatar says:

    I second what Red said!

  9. Tammy "RowdyKittens"No Gravatar says:

    Thanks Red and Mrs Brown; I’m seriously considering this option. I appreciate the suggestions. ;)

  10. amylynn1022No Gravatar says:

    I third what Red said about the iTouch. I got it largely for Stanza–I like to read a lot of the public domain books on the internet but reading a novel on a desktop is rough. The e-readers on the market seemed over-priced and persnickety. I figured that iTouch would at least let me listen to music and watch video as well. I discovered that it does a lot more than that. And I only paid about $200 US for an 8G model (the smallest storage) about two months ago. You might be able to do better now or at least after Xmas.

  11. crienoloogNo Gravatar says:

    I would stick with the most basic phone there is. I have a Nokia 6021 no frills, no camera and have to pay about 10$ a month… that’s it. Read this first and maybe wait for something with the free Google phone or so.

  12. [...] Tech posted this cartoon a few months ago. It wasn’t an “advertisement,” but it stopped me from buying an iPhone. iPhones are beautiful gadgets. But I’d rather save $3,455 over the next two years. Besides, [...]

  13. CraigNo Gravatar says:

    yup, the iPod Touch rocks! I have had one for a few months now and it’s a constant companion. I set up google to sync with it and so now whenever I enter a frequented wifi hotspot I get my email pushed to the iPod from 3 email addresses and any changes I’ve made to contacts or the google calendar on the iPod while I’m not in wifi are sent to the google “cloud” so I know my data has a backup in case I drop my iPod in the river (or more likely a hot cup of coffee, which I did last month with my mobile phone -still works tho-)

    Oh, another cool part… there are tons of free apps from Apple’s app store and there’s at least 1 free song and 1 free music video from iTunes each Tuesday. If you download it and then don’t like it, that delete button is right there and very handy.

    Check out each Tuesday for a list of all the free TV shows, music and short videos for Apple products available that week. I download wirelessly a couple new tv shows each week, watch them when I have time and then delete them off the iPod.

    So yeah, buy at least the 8g for $200 and you won’t be sorry.

  14. Tammy "RowdyKittens"No Gravatar says:

    @Craig @amylynn1022 – Thanks for the tips! I finally decide to purchase an iTouch. It will be a great tool for my tiny business and a fantastic way to carry a small photo portfolio with me; in addition to all my music and podcasts.

    Plus, I’m going to turn the internet off on my little green phone and go with a less expensive plan. :)

  15. [...] do we spend so much money on gadgets? Do gadgets really make us happy or are we searching for something [...]

  16. StormNo Gravatar says:

    One thing to keep in mind with the iphone is that you are tied to AT&T. If all you are doing is making calls this is fine, but then why have an iphone? If on the other hand you are planning on using it for internet also, and like so many of us building tiny homes, you are not in the middle of a good sized city, then you will want to avoid not just the iphone, but AT&T (Cingular) completely.

    When I opted to keep my AT&T phone and use it for internet, I was promises by no less than three representatives in person and one online that where I am located was absolutely a 3G area.. Well as Verizon has pointed out so well with their Map ads, these reps just lied. The closest 3G area to me is just under 2 hours away!

    And the system in place for connecting in areas like mine? Well it reminds me of connecting my Commodore 128 via a 600 baud modem.. Dial up is lightening fast compared to this AT&T non-3G network.

    No matter how nifty the gadget, if the service does not exist, or is unreliable at best, like AT&T’s customer service, then that gadget is just clutter..