Tech Check: The Case Against Technology

by Jeremy Lesniak

What’s this? The technology columnist is writing a piece against technology? Surely that’s a typo.

No, it isn’t. In my role as consultant on all things that plug into other things, I’m constantly looking for places that technology can make lives better, easier or less expensive. My job is not to find the best piece of technology for the job, but to find the best solution to the problem. It’s true that the solution is usually a piece of technology. On rare occasions, though, I’m actually trying to talk someone out of a technological solution.

I have a saying I often share with clients: “paper doesn’t break.” Lots of offices want to be paperless—a concept that means you don’t have to save any paper or print anything. Once you start looking at the cost of scanning in paper from the outside, backing up the files, making them easily searchable and organized … it becomes really expensive and complicated. At least, it does compared to a few file boxes and color-coded tabs.

My often-used example of solving a problem without technology is using a notebook for storing internet passwords. Yes, there are excellent technical solutions to this challenge: lastpass.com, for example. However, some people need a low-tech solution. What’s more low-tech than a pen and paper? (Oh, if you do this, make sure to store it someplace safe.)

The point is that technology is not always better.

There’s a principle used in science and philosophy that you may have heard of: Ockham’s razor. If you’re unfamiliar, the short version is that when you have competing theories, the simpler one is better. I find the same holds true with technology—the less complicated something can be, the better. Or, to say it another way, pick the simpler path. Why? Because there are always unknowns when it comes to technology, and the more complicated you make a system, the more you compound the problem of unknowns.

The Spread of WiFi

From your television, to your phone, to your video game system, many of the devices that traditionally connected with a wire have shed their tether. Many of the devices that never carried a cord can now connect wirelessly—bathroom scales, thermostats and picture frames to name a few. As this trend continues, wireless networks become more important. What happens, then, when you find your devices out of reach? Well, you have a few options …

Wireless range expanders take an existing wireless network signal and rebroadcast it. You can use multiple expanders and each is under $100. Best yet, they’re very simple to configure, often requiring little more than the press of a single button.

More powerful routers and access points can be had for varying costs. Sure, that $30 wireless router seems like a good deal, and it may work well. If you have a large home or thick walls to send that signal through, though, having a router pushing a stronger signal can make a big difference. These better devices usually cost more, but it can often be better to have a single device to manage than putting a number of range expanders about.

Additional access points can be an easy way to bring a wireless signal to a specific location. By plugging in a standard network cable to your current router, you can put your new access point up to 300 feet away. Then you can connect to the new access point, rather than hoping that you can squeeze a decent signal out of the current far-away one.

There are other ways to spread your wireless signal, but they’re more complicated or costly. These three methods are fairly easy and relatively inexpensive. Enjoy!

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