I've been a dedicated tech geek for pretty much all of my life, from getting excited as a kid over dictation machines I didn't need to record "radio shows" at home and Casio watches with built-in calculators, through to my almost 12 years as a tech writer for CNET. But in recent years things have changed, and technology has gone from being a point of excitement in my life to a cause of genuine frustration. So I'm left wondering: Has technology changed or have I?
It's not that I don't like tech anymore. I'm pretty sure I do. It's that so many of those gadgets designed to make our lives easier and more fun actually don't work as they should. Take game consoles, for instance. My Xbox Series X is great fun when it works. But more often than not when I find myself in the mood for some button bashing and fire it up, I'm met with a lengthy wait while massive updates are downloaded for both the console and then whatever game it was I wanted to play.
By the time I've made a coffee and stared out of the window while the updates install, I've usually lost that urge to play and I end up doing something else. Ditto for the PS5. Then are the numerous games that launch essentially broken, with huge day-one patches required to make them even barely tolerable. I'm looking at you, Cyberpunk 2077. Do you know what doesn't require gigantic updates and patches? My Scrabble set.
It'd be fine if it wasn't for the constant updates.Andrew Hoyle/CNET
Then there are the various Bluetooth earbuds I use -- the AirPods Pro 2, Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, OnePlus Buds Pro -- which work fine most of the time and then, every so often for no discernible reason, one earbud will decide not to connect and I have to stop what I'm doing and re-pair the whole set. Worse still are the occasions when one slightly goes out of sync, meaning the audio in my left ear might be a split second ahead of the audio in the right. Headache-inducing.
Audio has been a big deal for me this year. Most of the time I love my Apple HomePod. The sound quality is great and AirPlay works well when it wants to. But it often doesn't want to and decides to disconnect halfway through a song. And when I try to reconnect through Spotify, I can't even see my HomePod as an option anymore.
I've had numerous similar experiences with Bluetooth speakers from other brands, too. And don't get me started on the fragility of in-car Bluetooth connections, which often seem to entirely forget your existence each time you turn off your car.
My record player and Tesseract's Portals on the turntable. Great stuff.Andrew Lanxon/CNET
Last Christmas my brother gave me a vinyl record player. I then immediately bought myself a whole range of records from some of my favorite bands, including Periphery, Incubus and Royal Blood. I've honestly found the whole experience to be something of a revelation.
I'm not going to opine on the "warmth" or "character" of the audio from vinyl because I'm honestly not that bothered as long as it's "good enough." What's refreshing is putting on a record and having it actually play, without the need for establishing wireless connections or having the connection inexplicably cut out. I drop the record onto the turntable, move the needle and it just plays.
I've found, too, that I love listening to whole albums again, rather than simply adding a few songs to a playlist or shuffle playing all my "liked" songs on Spotify. Going out to record shops to find specific artists I want is a much more satisfying process than simply scouring the infinite abyss of Spotify's catalog. Perhaps I'd also enjoy getting back into DVDs instead of endlessly scrolling Netflix and failing to decide what to watch. Probably not though.
It's worth noting that in January 2024 I'll turn 36. And there's a certain cliche about people who hit their mid-30s and suddenly start getting into vinyl. I'm a professional photographer and, yes, I've even started dabbling in film photography too, enjoying the more stripped-back approach that my Canon R5 lacks.
To be fair, I've always felt a bit older than my years. I prefer bubble baths to nightclubs, I've made homemade scented candles since my mid-20s and I've always been able to identify the most comfortable chair in any given room.
Lavender, lemon oil and fresh rosemary from my garden. I know how to make a pretty damn good candle.Andrew Lanxon/CNET
So is it me? Have I just reached that age? Or is tech actually just more annoying? Connections that drop out; constant updates and patches needing downloading; software bugs on phones that cause restarts; apps that crash; games released half-finished with the promise of updates to come. What happened to tech just working? Just doing what it's supposed to and providing the smooth experience we've paid for?
Am I wrong to feel frustrated when things don't work? I love tech and everything it brings to our lives. I love gaming. I love Zoom calls with my family. I don't want to return to a "simpler time" when "instant messaging" was done via the post or when the latest AAA game was ball-in-a-cup. I just want things to work properly and not leave me feeling like I'm battling against the tech that's supposed to be helping.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to my comfortable chair with my hot cocoa and my blanket.