Curmudgeon watch: My 2020 tech resolutions

Now that I’m in my 40s, I am officially Old™, which gives me license to be curmudgeonly. I take as much advantage of that right as I possibly can.

But I don’t think that my 2020 list of tech resolutions, which I’ve been formulating over the last three weeks, is actually as curmudgeonly as it might seem on first glance.

Yes, many of the items are pitched as negatives, but that’s because we’ve awakened as a society to some of the ways that digital technology may inhibit rather than enhance life. I like to think of the list below as my attempt to make tech work for me rather than against me—to provide freedom, information, and entertainment without making life into a “content consumption” quest.

Here’s what I’m focused on this year; leave your own resolutions in the comments section.

Stop downloading apps with ads or microtransactions. I’m done. Having an app incentivized against you—often the case with microtransaction-driven games, in particular—is no fun. Neither are in-app ads, which have become increasingly invasive. It has taken a while to root out the last remnants of these apps from my iPad’s library—my kids love a couple of them—but the end is in view. I’ve had good luck directing the kids to high-quality, pay-once games like , and the overall result has been a gentler, friendlier, quieter gaming experience. Pay what something’s worth and align your interests with those of the developer. For this same reason, I have my eye on Apple Arcade but have yet to pull the trigger, thanks to my next resolution…

Limit my digital subscriptions. You may well be a better human than I am, someone who frolics freely within the world of unlimited content, but I find that the more watchlists, playlists, and podcasts I have, the more stressed I become. There’s no possible way I can watch, listen to, or play so much content—not even the best of it. So too many subscriptions can feel less like freedom and more like… work. Even when they don’t, content queues encourages me to spend ever-more time in front of a screen, to the detriment of all the non-screen-based activities that make up life’s rich pageant. And I spend enough time in front of screens without extra help!

2020 is the year I cut back. I’ve already reduced my podcast subscriptions to a couple that I actually make my way through, and I tossed some great ones that tend only to taunt me with their “unheard episode” counts. I’m pondering a cancellation of Netflix, as most of its original shows (apart from and , which is terrific when watched with kids) have left me cold. I’m also culling the watchlists I currently have, with a special eye on any series that runs more than three seasons.

My kids currently want Disney+, but I’m holding the line until we cancel our Hulu subscription first. We added Hulu so my wife and I could make 2019 our “Summer of Seinfeld,” but there are a of episodes. Our “Summer of Seinfeld” gradually became our “Autumn of Seinfeld” and our “Winter of Seinfeld,” too, but—with Festivus behind us—I’m optimistic we can wrap the show before spring. Perhaps then— awaits!

Share more music with my kids. Despite what I said above, I think a good digital-music-service subscription is worth both one’s time and one’s cash. It’s an amazing way to explore tunes, and I wish these were around when I was a kid with three CDs—one of which was by Weird Al—and a boombox.

I currently use Apple Music and recently upgraded to a family plan so that my kids would stop interrupting my glorious hair-metal riffs with their Kidz Bop. (Seriously, you have no idea how much Kidz Bop is consumed in our household. If I hear those little Kidz Boppers doing their version of “Old Town Road” one more time, I may have an aneurysm.)

I hope to avoid a scenario, though, where everyone in the family has their own device, their own headphones, and their own songs, in their own rooms. So we’ve started doing family “song nights” after dinner, in which everyone gets to add a single track to the playlist and we listen to them together. Yes, this usually means I have to hear “Thunder” agaaaaaain, but it also means I can introduce my kids to Johnny Cash, Survivor, U2, Josh Ritter, and Chvrches. And we’re spending more time together, not apart.

Be content with the “old.” Difficult in a world that primes us for consumption—and perhaps nowhere more difficult than in tech. Pondering my two-year-old Moto G5 cell phone this Christmas, I began eyeing replacements but then realized that the thing still works fine, that it still has plenty of storage, and that I don’t to spend more time staring at a screen. So I’m sticking with it in 2020. We’ll see how long this lasts… and whether I can extend the attitude to book buying. Probably not.

Buy more handcrafted gifts. This Christmas, our family exchanged more gifts than usual that were handmade: a carved wooden necklace from Ukraine, a small St. George and the Dragon icon from California, a set of refrigerator magnets made in Greeley, Colorado, and a hand-drawn Stardew Valley map made in… someone’s bedroom, I guess. Such gifts are always more of a “risk,” but they’re fun to shop for and, if only because of the thoughtfulness they show, great to receive. Digital platforms like Etsy make it easy to connect with artisans around the world, and the results this year were quite positive. Even when a gift isn’t a surefire hit, at least the money went to a creator or a small business rather than to a factory stamping out yet more plastic landfill fodder. This year, I’m going to start dropping hints early about that Nietzsche bust I have my eye on.

Catch up to 2018 in my gaming. No, that’s not a typo. I don’t have time to play enough games to “keep up,” and I don’t want to invest the time needed to do so. But I do enjoy the occasional deep dive into a fully realized virtual world, and staying behind the pack gives me two advantages: 1) the games have been widely vetted already, and 2) they are cheeeeeeap (like me). That means I play only the best stuff, for the lowest prices, but only after everyone has stopped talking about these titles.

Over the holidays, for instance, I just bushwhacked my way through the surprisingly solid  (2017), which I picked up on sale for under 10 bucks. My other 2019 gaming included , , , and . Waiting in my unplayed games queue for 2020? , , , , and possibly a re-play of the amazing . None of them is new—but they are all terrific. I make no apologies.

Play more tabletop titles. The reception to our weekend board gaming coverage here at Ars has been strong, so I know many of my fellow geeks also appreciate the analog virtues of a tabletop experience with friends. I had less time for board gaming in 2019, and I missd the tactile nature of it, the camaraderie round the table, and the brain-burning strategy I don’t often get when playing video games or mobile apps. Will 2020 be the year I finally make it through my unplayed “shelf of shame”?

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