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Tools and Techniques for Staying Current

by Kerry Dawson

Some of the Benefits

To follow on from my last blog entry I outlined the value but at the same time, the difficulty with Keeping Up with the latest and greatest Apple technologies and trends. The benefits are sort of immediately apparent in the wow factor. That is, we often are amazed at what we can do now compared to even ten years ago let alone twenty. That’s not a great deal of time and although there are great similarities to the past and the genesis of the present, it remains nontheless amazing what can be done.

A couple of very striking examples would be the manner in which we now receive media content such as music and video. We can just order our favourite songs or complete CDs online, movies and TV shows and even the old fashioned book all online at the iTunes store in digital format. At risk of course are the old brick and motar shops for buying this stuff. However, from a convenience point of view it sure makes life simpler renting that movie online and watching it on your AppleTV or sitting back with that book that you just downloaded to your iPad and happily reading away on what almost looks and to a degree feels like that paper based book.

Even such things that previously were already digital but were delivered in a physical medium such as the purchase of software can primarily be done online and directly downloaded to your computer. No longer do you have to trapse out to your favourite software store when you hear about the latest and greatest but rather you can just buy it online and for us Apple folks much of it can be acquired through the iTunes store. If not there, definitely through the developer directly.

Software updates, which were in the past a nuisance and still are to some degree are starting to happen almost transparently. Due to the new medium software updates can happen more regularly and rapidly whereas previously, since they were such a nuisance to obtain and deliver they happened more slowly and we as the user might have almost said forget about it. Currently, we are moving away from even having to issue a command to check for software updates but rather a dialogue box is presented to us saying an update is available, whether through the iTunes store or the developer and all we have to do is click a button and voila our software is updated. Even the requirement for us to keep our serial numbers and license keys safely stored away somewhere (where did I put that disk with its license key or email that I know had it) is becoming a thing of the past led by the Apple store wherein if you buy the software, once its downloaded its ready to go.

The Difficulties

Staying current or keeping up somehow feels like a lot of work and for some its almost accidental. People that work in the computer field are required to stay current due to the nature of their jobs and that requires a whole different level of committment than that of the average user but for some users they utilize the same techniques, just to a different degree, than those in the industry. However, staying current or keeping up can be done without an excessive amount of work but it must be done in a thoughtful and managed fashion otherwise you could easily feel:

  • overwhelmed which could lead to
  • the opposite of staying current and if this happens you might feel you’re
  • not achieving your goals which could finally lead to
  • I give up which would be not the worst outcome in the world but not the best either

Tools and Techniques

Fortunately, there are tools and techiques that are available that help with staying current. Some of these you are probably totally familiar with, some of them you might have heard about and use to some degree or some might be what is that or I’ve heard about that but I have no idea what its for or how to use it.

I’ll outline here some of the tools and techniques I utilize that might be of help. All require some commitment to their usage but some require time be put aside to utilize them and others can require time if you so want to give it or not. It might be more the odd glance at say a news reader header that is going by which catches your eye and you decide to take a quick look at the caption which leads to I think I’ll read that (goes for anything in the news not just technology). However, I don’t want to get ahead of myself here as I said the way that is necessary to approach the following is in a thoughtful and more importantly managed fashion.

The Basics or what we’ve always had

There are at least four basic tools that we’ve always had, some going back to the beginning of time whereas the others being more current. This is not a complete listing of these tools but we can say they are:

  • word of mouth or just plain interaction with people
  • newspapers and their specific columns on technology
  • Television which these days often includes a technology piece (sometimes overlooked but well worth watching)
  • technology magazines (certainly not an all inclusive list) and more specifically to the Apple world

Using the above mediums, tools and the technques involved behind each one certainly can help us keep up and definitely remain current. In fact, any one, on their own can prove invaluable as long as we’re willing to pay attention. So, although its more beneificial to employ all of the above its not fully essential to at least having a sense of what’s going on. A friend will often bring up something like I just bought an AppleTV and its the greatest thing since sliced bread. Your answer to that might be what’s an AppleTV and s/he, in his own way, can explain what it is and why they think its so great. The next thing you know, you’re out the door and buying that AppleTV, not really knowing how to install it but finding out that as long as you’ve got the right gear in place (e.g. a WIFI network, a TV and the time to glance at the simple and brief instructions) you too are enjoying the benefits of a very current and where its all going technology. All of this by word of mouth and the next thing you know you too are spreading the word and others are doing the same as you did and out the door they go and they too have their AppleTV. This is one very effective way of staying current without much effort at all.

Yet, there’s a lot more out there that even your friends might not be aware of that could be of a great benefit to you in both your personal and business life. That’s where these other mediums come into play and they actually primarily just involve a bit of paying attention except in the case of the magazines. Television newshows on the latest and greatest can be extemely useful just to highlight a trend or something which is gaining great traction. Newspaper columns can provide the same thing but might go into more depth around the technologies themselves yet they inform and at this point you might be the first one acquiring a certain technology which could loop back to word of mouth. Finally though, you might feel that although the above has brought some insight into what’s going on it might not be enough so you go to the newstand and buy a magazine, peruse it, read articles of interest and possibly more specifically articles which delve into that technology you heard about but want more information on before taking the leap.

All of the above or a combination of the above are excellent ways to take advantage of the technologies that are rapidly appearing before us at a pace now that’s almost too much to comprehend fully. Fortunately, there now are the newer technologies that help immensely with sifting through it all to get to a comfortable feeling of I kind of know what’s going on and what I can utilize that would be useful (better that than struggling with not knowing at all and struggling with outmoded techniques that just don’t work that effectively anymore). There are four technologies or techniques that I’ll outline below that are specifically beneficial in really keeping on top of things and they are all based on the granddaddy of the bunch the web.

  • world wide web or just the web and all that this encompasses which is a lot
  • search be it Google, Bing or what have you all bring us to a place that helps us isolate that which is confusing or needs elucidation
  • online magazines and news sites which extend dramatically the power of the printed news magazine and newspapers of which the following are just the tip of the iceburg examples thereof:
    • Zite a news compiler which provides you news based on your specific interests and actually learns from what you read and presents more of what you’re interested in
    • Zinio – online magazines of the printed nature only delivered in digital format (think of the trees that are being saved)
    • websites specifically and for the iPad/iPhone specific website apps that deliver the news
      • MacWorld
      • Maclife
      • Macrumors
      • CNET
      • and on this goes extensively
  • social media and one most specifically that gets briefly to the current hot topics
    • Twitter
  • media sites that provide tutorials and overviews on a specific area, product or topic of interest
    • ScreenCastsOnline
    • Vimeo
    • YouTube
  • News Readers which are an excellent source of breaking news and most specifically, to the theme of this article, that on technology
    • Newsbar for the Mac provides great streaming news in a side bar and as the topics go by you just might glance at something which catches your eye, look at it, find it of interest and open the article only to read it now or file it away say in Pocket or Instapaper for later reading when you’ve got the time
    • Reeder for the iPhone which is once again an excellent source of breaking news but unlike the above presents all the news stories at once under topics which can at first appear a bit daunting till you develop the technique of selective engagement or grabbing only that which immediately catches the eye
    • Mr. Reader for the iPad much like Reeder

Well I know that seems like a lot I’ve outlined for just staying current. However, in actuality any one, combination thereof or all the above will take you from the not knowing and not obtaining the benefits of our current technologies to being somewhere in the middle to away ahead of the game. If you like this stuff, all of the above can be fun but if you’re not so inclined just something of the above will do the trick to some degree.

Its important though to remember that there are advantages to staying current but not if it overwhelms you and takes every minute of your day. The latter would be very self-defeating. Rather, to keep this in check yet take full advantage of the new its important to approach this in a managed and prioritized way based on your level of interest and need. Even if you say you have no interest in this stuff you probably definitely do have a need and to be informed is the only way to possibly meet your needs adequately.

This now leads me to what will be my next blog posting and that will be on methodologies. To some degree or another we all approach stuff with a certain methodology either well defined or very loosely defined. We might not even be aware we are employing one. Yet, methodology is very important in this life of ours to take the most from it and have a bit of fun at the end of the day.

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