It’s Canadian Thanksgiving, which means that many of us here in the Great White North have spent the weekend in food-induced comas. In between bouts of overeating, some of us may also have taken the holiday to heart and reflected on the things we’re grateful for. Since technology is the operative theme in these parts, I spent the weekend thinking about the various gadgets, software and tech-related things that I’m thankful for.
What follows is a top 10 list of technologies – inventions that have made my life better, easier or more productive. I tried not to include the big, obvious things, like the internet, but rather focused on the specifics that have enhanced my particular slice of the world.
10. Amazon: Whenever possible, I buy my stuff on Amazon, mostly because it’s the epitome of how a business should operate: low prices, great service. I also dig the fact that the company is a purposeful disruptor, even this far into its existence. Its ongoing fight with publishers to lower the price of books while at the same time giving authors the power to disintermediate those same publishers makes it an easy company to root for, both as a consumer and as a writer.
9: Xbox 360: I play most of my games on the Xbox 360, mostly because I like its controller better than the PlayStation 3. If measured by the number of hours of pure joy delivered, no other machine or technology even comes close.
8. SignMyPad: When thinking about which apps have really improved my life, I kept coming back to SignMyPad, a simple piece of software for the iPad that opens PDFs and lets you sign them with your finger (you can also add regular text and dates). I use the app all the time, to sign freelance contracts, non-disclosure agreements, waivers and so on, and it’s the main reason why I’ve been able to eliminate printers – which I hate with a passion – from my home.
7. BitTorrent: Some people – especially those on the media production side of the argument – consider BitTorrent to be the devil’s application, but believe it or not, it’s also a force for good. Without the media piracy it enables, we likely wouldn’t have elegant, easy-to-use and inexpensive legal services such as iTunes and Netflix. It’s a mediating check and balance that hovers over the entertainment industry, forcing it to innovate and provide fair value.
6. Nexus card: It’s not really a piece of technology, but some of the tech that goes into the back-end of this major time saver is pretty impressive. The Nexus card essentially lets you skip the customs line at the airport and land crossings to the United States. As a frequent traveler down south, I can’t count how many hours and hassles it has saved me. At airports, you don’t even need to take the card out – a machine simply scans your irises, asks you two questions about whether you’ve exceeded your purchase limits, then sends you on your way.
5. Skype: It’s been around for ages now, but Skype is still a fantastic tool that essentially allows me to work from home. I haven’t had a pricey landline for years and my annual bill, with all calls to North America included, comes to about $35. A while back, I also bought the eCamm call recorder plug-in for the one-time price of $20, so I have a record of every interview I’ve ever done.
4. Google Maps: I haven’t updated any of my Apple devices to the latest iOS 6, solely because I don’t want to use the new sub-par maps app, which uses data from TomTom and other sources rather than Google. As the old cliche (and Cinderella song) goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I’m sticking with the old Google-based maps until the search company releases a new app for iOS, supposedly by Christmas, simply because I use them all the time.
3. iPad: There was a time when I’d dread the thought of a flight delay. Now, I’m actually quite pleased when it happens because it gives me a chance to watch more movies and TV shows on my iPad. Moreover, it may be the gadget I use most, next to the iPhone, as I play games, surf the web, answer emails, look at maps, browse photos, read books and comic books, and even sign contracts with it. That’s why it’s the first thing I pack when I go on a trip, even before a toothbrush.
2. Satellite radio: It’s no secret that many businesses have had their entire revenue models overturned by the internet. Some of them, ranging from newspapers to pornographers, have been trying to suggest that people will actually pay if presented with a superior product, which is a position I’ve always thought was nuts. But not so when it comes to Sirius XM – it’s such a superior service to terrestrial radio, it’s well worth the monthly $16 to anyone who spends a significant amount of time in their car, like I do. I find my rage levels in the car have subsided substantially since I became a subscriber.
1. iPhone: For all my iPad love, the iPhone is all that and more, mainly because it’s the same sort of digital Swiss Army Knife, but it fits in my pocket. It’s the ultimate journalist tool since it lets you record interviews, snap important photos or videos and, of course, network through email, Twitter and so on. I routinely use every other smartphone in the course of my job, but the iPhone has been – and so far is – the best total package, new maps notwithstanding.
So who else has technology they’re thankful for?