Top 10 tech innovations that have made life better

With all the buzz from Apple’s latest invention ringing in my ears, I started thinking about gadgets and new technology, and how much of it really has value. In this world of constantly-updated gadgetry, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

iPad this, iPad that.  Status updates about purchasing the shiny things, news reports about Apple store lines that stretch for days. Techies singing its praises and luddites slagging the device, and vice versa. I admit that without any particular interest in its features, I’ve been partially detached from the media glaze regarding this new laptop-esque contraption. But it’s hard to ignore when folks are so obsessed with their new playmates that websites are cropping up suggesting that one person + one iPad = a couple.

With all the buzz from Apple’s latest invention ringing in my ears, I started thinking about gadgets and new technology, and how much of it really has value. In this world of constantly-updated gadgetry, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Inventions come and inventions go, some claiming to be breakthroughs and ending up just wasting our time and money. I think it’s easy to get sucked into a pattern where we expect the latest and “greatest” of whatever gadgets are available, throwing caution to the wind. My general rule of thumb is that if it’s new, free, and performs some time-saving function, try it out!  If it costs something, you need to figure out if its time-saving function is worth that cost.

Being tech-savvy is a treacherous conundrum. On one hand, you could become a gadget-obsessed fiend, interested only in your toys and grasping for the latest version, no matter what its reviews were like. You can become so concerned with trying out every new application that comes out, that it ends up being all you do — upkeep your various profiles and devices. And of course you’re never satisfied, because there’s always something newer and shinier that you just can’t live without. Then you realize you haven’t gone outside in weeks. This is not good.

On the other hand, keeping abreast of technology’s trends can help save time on life’s more mundane tasks and get you back to doing what you really love to do. Spending hours driving around in the mall parking lot can be replaced by just minutes of online shopping, and it cuts out having to deal with crowds and a greater temptation to impulse buy. Making special trips to get film developed or pick up prescriptions can be cut out completely by shooting with digital only and using online ordering of medications. A spreadsheet really can do in seconds what a pen and paper take hours to do. And so on, and so forth.

The key is to remember that when you choose certain technologies to espouse, you have to decide wisely what to do with the extra time they free up. So for example, spending that extra time drooling over more gadgets and signing up for more online profiles is probably not a wise way to spend your extra time. Going for a walk or trying a new recipe probably is. You get the picture.

In the spirit of taking stock, here’s my list of technological innovations that have made my life easier and better, without adding unnecessary bulk to my daily routine.

1. Gmail

Fast and a zillion times more reliable than other free email services, Gmail is integrated with my calendar, documents, and chat. It’s easy to organize, and has a lot of cool Labs features that enhance the overall experience. Special thanks goes out to the friend who relentlessly peer pressured me into trying Gmail.


The trouble with taking advantage of the numerous free services you can sign up for online is that you have to actually upkeep all of your profiles. Unless, of course, you want to send the message that you’ve been “working” since 2006. Sign up for, link it to your different profiles (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Google Chat, etc. etc.), and bam — you update in one place and the change is reflected on ALL of those sites. I’ve got it set up so that if I send an IM to the bot on my Google Chat list, it updates all my various statuses. None of this running around logging into eight different things each time I want to update friends. Done and done.

3. iPod

Good riddance, giant CD wallet of doom. Hello, podcasts, audiobooks, and music for days. Tiny plastic box: $249. Tackling Dickens’ entire catalog while walking to and from work: priceless.

4. Google Reader

My adoption of this service signified the end of checking 97 web sites compulsively every time I opened a browser, and signified the beginning of letting just the updates from those sites come directly to me. Besides saving a lot of time, this also enabled me to pick up with reading the Internet right where I left off at any given instant.

5. Google Calendar

A planner that lives on the Internet, can be accessed and updated from wherever you happen to be sitting, can be shared with others, and can never be lost or “forgotten” on my desk at home. I can organize my own calendar, along with the other calendars that matter to me, and then I can color code them. It reminds me to give the cats their flea medication, and that I need to pay certain bills. And it keeps my husband and I from double-booking without the use of some unwieldy refrigerator wipe-off  board.

6. GPS

Completely idiot-proof to use, and it means you will never, ever be lost in DC again. The stress and danger of dealing with maps and written directions while driving is now gone. You just listen to the voice that says “Left turn in point. Five. Miles.”


Like browser favorites, but instead of living in your browser, they live on the internet. You have the ability to make them public or private, of course. And you have them at your fingertips no matter WHERE you are in the world. Need to find that one article that you’re sure you saved three years ago?  A simple search through your delicious will do the trick. And these babies never need to be transferred to a new/additional machine, and can never be lost by a crashed browser, either.

8. USPS Click n’ Ship

Click n’ Ship means NEVER HAVING TO GO TO THE POST OFFICE AGAIN. Suddenly, the universe seems like a kinder place.


This web site will sell you tons of different toiletries, household items, snacks, etc. with free shipping. The only catch is that you have to be buying six items at a time — no big deal for most of us, whose errand lists are never shorter than 10 things. If you’re like me and hate to travel out of your neighborhood and into the trafficky, sprawl-laden abyss just to pick up toothpaste, toilet paper, and household cleaners, will change your life. I spend a few minutes ordering things, they get to me in roughly two days, and I never have to waste an afternoon buying too many things I don’t need at Target.

10. Buying groceries online

Just kidding, this hasn’t happened yet, but I needed another item to make it an even 10.  As far as I know, there are no services available for Richmond, but I am patiently waiting / hoping will expand. You see, I really don’t mind doing most chores. Gardening, cleaning, organizing, bookkeeping, etc. Love it. Love it all. But grocery shopping is something I absolutely loathe and detest. I just hate the stress of the situation: the crowds, the rotten produce (ahem, Kroger), the infinite choices (for someone who loves all food, this is daunting), the way all stores are organized differently and you can never find the olives, the self-checkouts that are either broken or yelling at you in robot voices, the milk that’s sitting in the cart as you wait 40 minutes to be checked out, the crazies in the parking lot, and so on, and so forth. I know technology will save me from this too; it’s just a matter of time.

Alright people, list us your favorite, life-changing tech innovations.  We’d love to hear them!

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Tess Shebaylo

Tess Shebaylo is a freelance writer, crafter, history geek, and compulsive organizer. She works at Tumblr and lives in Church Hill with her daughter, Morella.

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