IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Living the simple life with high technology

Looking to simplify your life?  Start by emptying your pockets.  Chances are you’re lugging more gadgets than you need.
/ Source: Special to msnbc.com

Looking to simplify your life?  Start by emptying your pockets.  Chances are you’re lugging more gadgets than you need. Your phone, pager, MP3 player, camera, even your laptop can be replaced by an all-in-one unit for less than the price of buying separate gadgets.

If you’re like most guys on the go, you won’t do serious typing away from your desk.  You just need to check mail and messages, and you need to be findable by phone, text, e-mail, or IM in case the boss (or the girlfriend) wants something.  The gadget companies call it “presence,”  but you can call it covering your butt.

For a few hundred bucks, you can get a phone with all the basic communication software of a laptop or PDA — e-mail, text messaging, IM, browser, even a basic editor for Microsoft Office and PDF files.  It’ll also serve as a camera that shoots stills and short videos for those “wish you were here” moments, and an MP3 player that holds up to a couple hundred songs from your PC on a smart card.  Or, some phone plans offer dial-in radio stations you can listen to on a headset.   The clerks behind the counter at the phone store usually don’t know what the phones they’re selling can and can’t do.  Prepare yourself by doing some power-surfing on Web sites like engadget.com before you buy.

If you plan to send lots of messages every day, pay extra for a full QWERTY keyboard and a high-res screen, which can set you back five hundred bucks but will save you from lugging your laptop out of the house.  Otherwise look for a cheaper phone that uses ‘predictive text’ software with a smaller phone-style keypad.  Predictive text means that when you hit the keys 3-6-7-0-7-8-7-3, your phone will guess correctly that you’re trying to type “for sure” into an e-mail. 

Either way, splurge on a phone with Bluetooth wireless.  A $49 dongle for your computer will let you transfer pictures and music files between your PC and phone.  Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be hooked.  And if you’re serious about carrying your entire music collection everywhere you go, or shooting print-quality photos, bite the bullet and commit to packing two pockets — a phone plus a high-quality camera or music player.

All in one
At home, ask yourself why you’re paying separate bills for cable TV, Internet and the phone.  Your cable provider may offer an all-in-one bundle that lets you surf the Net and make phone calls through the same wire that delivers your vids, for less than the price of buying the services separately.  Most bundled plans offer one flat monthly rate for all the phone calls you want within the U.S. and Canada.  If your high-tech Internet phone conks out in an emergency — say, due to a power outage — just switch to your cellphone.

If you’re in an apartment building with a few of your buds, there’s another way to simplify: Share one Internet connection via Wi-Fi.  Some Internet providers will gladly let you share your line.  Ask about their “terms of service”  before you sign up.  With a shared wireless network, you can let the house geek take care of things and just kick in a few bucks a month.

There’s one more spot in the house where most guys stuff many gadgets: the kitchen.  Not only do a bread maker, deep fryer, food processor and egg poacher clutter up the counter, they send a signal to your date: You can’t cook. 

You’ll never win starry-eyed praise for the wonderful bread your automated baker makes.  Lose the robo-chef gear and hang the following items on your kitchen wall: A nonstick saucepan, 12 inches wide and 2 inches deep, with a lid.  A stainless steel pot for boiling pasta.  A slotted spoon, a serving spoon, and one big chef’s knife — like Crocodile Dundee, you can use it for everything.  

Then, buy a cookbook — any cookbook.  You won’t whip up five-star meals overnight, but by simply following the instructions (tough advice for guys: pay attention) you’ll be serving candlelit dinners for two in no time.  And if you’ve followed our advice, you won’t have to empty your pockets first.

Paul Boutin is a contributing editor to Wired magazine and a technology columnist for Slate.