Personal Technology Levels: What Year?

One of the things I’ve been thinking through as I finish out the Greer America trilogy (and Retrotopia specifically) is the concept of “tech levels” in personal life - and I’m still thinking through a lot of this.

But the concept is along the lines of “What is your target time point for how technology interacts in your life?” With the endless treadmill that modern consumer tech ends up being, I don’t think it’s terribly feasible to actually run decades-old tech in practice, but I think there’s a lot one can apply in terms of concepts.

I’ve realized that what I’ve been aiming for is somewhere around a “2000” tech level in my personal life, and so far, it’s not a half bad place to hang out. Cell phones existed (my current flip phone being a bit more advanced than the 2000 versions, but not by much - come 2002 or 2003, texting was well established), computers could do just about everything I care to do on them, but they weren’t pervasive - they were something you went to, for a while, and then walked away from. Laptops existed, but without wireless networking, they weren’t nearly what they’ve become today. And, of course, smartphones didn’t really exist.

The one chronological oddity I’ve been making heavy use of is the e-ink reader concept - not just for books, but also for reference materials and web articles as well. It’s more or less a less-papery version of “just print stuff out,” which was certainly a thing in a 2000 tech era, but with a bit less money spent on printer toner.

My vehicles, also, fit more or less in that model (some being actually that old - I realized that one of our motorcycles is almost old enough to drink, and the truck being a '97). I’ve got some basic smarts like fuel injection (in… actually, not that many vehicles, now that I think through it), the car has a built in satnav system and I’ve got a GPS in the truck (pretty sure it didn’t handle the epoch rollover, but it still works), and they don’t have always-on cell connections tracking me and OTAing and all the other stuff that modern cars seem to consider required. The Volt has an Onstar module, but it talks to towers that no longer exist, so I may as well remove it.

I work in the weeds of modern tech, but it’s been an interesting way of thinking about personal technology. Is this a helpful model at all, or just off in the weeds?

I think of it less by ‘what year’ per se, and more ‘does this technology work for me, or someone else?’ This doesn’t just mean ‘you’re the product’ data mining time-suck hate/outrage-generators like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Etc. but also technologies I find myself serving more than it serves me.

The e-ink reader- higher tech than 1999 perhaps, but it’s serving you as a single[ish] purpose device, with less connectivity, updates, charging, distractions, etc. than an Ipad or similar. Especially before such devices are stripped of their bloat/ad/spyware they come bundled with.

An SDR based handheld transceiver is still more directly serving me and my needs over a cell-phone for local/LOS comms, even if the underlying silicon and software technologies are similar.

There’s some aspects of self-hosting I’m glad I put in the time to figure out. Once configured they are services that provide assistance without constant babysitting. Technical reference in Dokuwiki, file backups and sync via Rsync and Syncthing. CalDAV on the other hand was an often broken mess, and I decided all the time I saved having an auto-synchronized calendar on all my devices was just being spent trying to fix the darn server again.

Not to say it’s all about time savings. I’d rather have a truck, tractor and other tools that I can repair myself, not have to rely on John Deere’s diagnostics truck to figure out what’s wrong with it. Costs aside, it’s about the self-sufficiency of being able to repair and modify such systems to my needs, and being less beholden to the manufacturer and [ever less resilient] part supply chains.

Now how much a tech is worth having to me (in the sense of ongoing time and money costs to own and maintain) certainly slides around with experience and knowledge. What’s repairable to me might not be to someone else, and vise versa. An expert sysadmin might not have any frustrations getting CalDAV running. Meanwhile most folks don’t know how to repair circuits like a wireless gate-controller; I built my own from scratch.

The one I’ve thought about most lately from a longevity/repairability/tech level standpoint is the inverter heat-pump. Is it significantly higher tech than an electric coil-heater and a basic thermostat? Sure, but it’s one I think worth leveraging because it does serve my interests of improving performance at less energy cost. Even if my assessment of reliability and repairability is accurate, I would always of course maintain the low-tech HVAC backups of a wood stove, swamp-cooler, floor-fans, and cellulose-based solar-powered shade producers.

So I’ll stick with high-tech where’s it seems useful to me (like an EV/PHEV, heat-pumps) and reject it where it isn’t (and that is a quickly growing list of things).

Personally? Hrm. Current year, with fallback stuff from various eras as required and as curiosity dictates.