Gadgets of the decade that helped unclutter our lives

Paste Magazine dedicated their November issue to the “bests” of the 2000-2009 decade. They made lists of their favorite albums, movies, books, etc. of the past 10 years. One of the lists that caught our attention was their “20 Best Gadgets of the Decade.”

As unclutterers, we were specifically fond of Paste Editor-in-Chief Josh Jackson’s poignant observation about these technologies with item #3, the Garmin GPS:

When judging new technologies, you have to remember what they replaced. And is there any vestigial remnant from the 20th century we’ll miss less than the fold-out car map? The first automotive navigation system was developed in the early ‘80s, but it wasn’t until an executive order eliminated the intentional margin of error the military had insisted for commercial use on May 2, 2000, that the dashboard GPS became more accurate and widely available. Now you can navigate with voice directions from Homer Simpson, Gary Busey or Kim Cattrall. And you never have to try to fold those maps again.

The vast majority of gadgets on the list are devices that helped to get rid of clutter in our homes and offices. Gone is the need to stash blank VCR tapes thanks to the TiVo DVR (#2). The Amazon Kindle (#6) freed up space on our bookshelves. A single USB Thumb Drive (#17) replaced hundreds of CDs and floppy disks. Other items, like the iPhone (#7) created space in our bags and purses by replacing our little black books, pocket calculators, notepads, watches, calendars, and even our iPods (#1).

For all the unitaskers and useless doo dads the past decade gave us, at least there were a few gadgets that helped to get clutter out of our lives. Check out the “20 Best Gadgets of the Decade” and head back here to weigh in on the items selected for the list. Do you think the items are clutter-ful or clutter-freeing?

38 Comments for “Gadgets of the decade that helped unclutter our lives”

  1. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I applaud the inclusion of the iPod. As a total music geek, it’s made my life much easier. No more carting around a huge pack of CDs, along with the player!! A great unclutterer tool.

    And the iPhone too. I’m a new member of the iPhone cult and I looooove it!

  2. posted by JC on

    Don’t get me wrong, I love my GPS – but I have become so directionally challenged since I started using it.

    I used to stare at a map for 10-mins and find my various destinations and understand how they related to each other geographically. Now, I’ve been working in a new city for 5-months and I have only a rudimentary concept of how the city is laid-out and how the burbs relate in terms of distance and direction.

  3. posted by Jason on

    Call me a fuddy-duddy, but the GPS brings its own clutter with it. Batteries/power, mounting, hiding it to prevent theft – the GPS has to be tended to like any other electronic device.

    My paper road atlas, on the other hand, is cheap, needs no folding, and is impervious to theft.

  4. posted by Larry on

    “When judging new technologies, you have to remember what they replaced.”

    That’s so true. Its the main reason I can’t get into the Kindle or other electronic readers. Nothing can replace the experience of holding a book in your hand and reading in my opinion. They are certainly innovative products which have the potential to free up lots of space but I don’t think I’ll ever replace my books with one.

  5. posted by Loren on

    If one person had every item on this list they would probably be clutter… But a lot of items have made our lives ‘easier’.
    Personally I am still waiting for the system that will let me watch Blue-ray movies, play games, and surf the internet on my TV… To replace my HD Player, the Laptop plugged/TV Attachment, and the Wii. I’m sure the PS3 could be hacked. But I would like to just be able to bring the device home and plug it all in without post-manufacturer modifications.

  6. Avatar of

    posted by opadit on

    Call me a Luddite, but I took my daughter and myself on a road trip this summer with a big ol’ paper road atlas. I liked planning out the route, teaching my daughter how to estimate distance and time, and being able to get a “big picture” view of what we were doing by flipping pages.

    Every afternoon during the trip I opened up the atlas and wrote out our directions for the next day. It felt much more satisfying than being told where to turn by a GPS box.

    To echo a couple of comments above, the atlas didn’t need batteries or a power supply, either, just some daylight or a flashlight.

  7. posted by Lilliane P on

    The thumb drive gets my vote.

    I can’t get into the Kindle either as it’s only black and white and most of my books are fully illustrated in color. I like big, fat juicy cookbooks well illustrated and books with gorgeous nature photography. And, like it’s been said, there’s nothing like the pleasure of a book in the hand.

  8. posted by Debra on

    Technology has come a long way and i love inventions like the IPOD. As for the GPS, I still like to navigate the good old fashioned way. Although technology has helped us to reduce clutter, in a way, if we have too much technology in our lives, it can lead to clutter in a different way.

  9. posted by Lilliane P on

    As to the music, I have a subscription to Magnatune which means I can play their entire music catalogue 24/7 if I feel like it. This is even easier and more clutter free than owning everything. I couldn’t afford to buy that much music anyway. They have music available in all genres, too.

    http://magnatune.com

  10. posted by Karen on

    Totally agree with the sentiments above about the Kindle. Right now my kids are curled up with a big picture book from the library, the oldest reading to the youngest..would those pictures fit on the Kindle, and how cozy is it to curl up with a computer book? If one loves books, one doesn’t see the books on the shelf as “clutter”, and personally I’d rather have lots of books than knicknacks.

  11. posted by Anita on

    USB thumb drives are my #1 gadget from this list, followed at a respectful distance by PVR. I’d add digital audio players to the list, but they’re outside the time limit for this, since the first mass-produced models were released in 1998 (3 years before the iPod).

    I also prefer books to Kindle and maps/atlases to GPS.

  12. posted by Amanda on

    Eaching comments on Kindle and GPS. I prefer holding a book, and I think GPS degrates one’s sense of direction, plus they can be wrong. I think alot of the gadgets have helped people, but I chuckled to myself as to how few of them I own.

  13. posted by David Engel on

    For me, many of these seem to suffer from the mistaken belief that “analog is so yesterday,” so they have developed horrendous user interfaces (I put the Kindle, Garmin, Blackberry, and Bluetooth earpiece in this set).

    Many of the rest seem to be specialized gadgets for a particular group of people, and often, I’m not a member of that group. The entertainment/gaming gadgets are most obvious here(iTrip, Bose headphones, Flip Video, PS3, XBox, Slingbox, Wii, and Tivo DVR), but I’d have to admit the rest that are acceptable to me (like the USB thumb drive) are probably okay just because I belong to that group.

  14. posted by tabatha on

    i love my GPS, but i already had a horrible sense of direction before i started using it. i mainly use it for long trips anyway when i am going somewhere i haven’t been before. i still might double check the directions on a map if i am not sure though. being lost or thinking i am lost puts me into a panic attack. i love my ipod, also for long trips, but i will probable never own a kindle. i just don’t think its as good as holding a book and turning the pages. plus i don’t need electricity to read a book, i don’t have to make sure my books are charged up to use them.

  15. posted by Kalani on

    In a lot of ways, these gadgets have revolutionized the way we think as consumers in this decade.

    BUT… to say that they have had a tremendous influence on society is not to suggest that these are “must-haves” or that they automatically enrich one’s life. I use Google Maps before trips to new addresses and write the result on a post-it, even though the GPS is a phenomenal device. I have an older cell phone and have no real need for everything that the iPhone does. Would I find a need for it if I had one? Sure. Do I want to have another gadget that I simply cannot live without? I’m not sure.

    I think, in a lot of ways, these are the 20 best gadgets of the decade. But “best” means influential, revolutionary, paradigm-shifting– not necessarily “things you must have for a fulfilled life.” To make that leap would be a mistake for many of us.

  16. posted by RCcola on

    I have a difficult time understanding people who are against the Kindle because they love the feel of a book, or the smell of a book, or they need their illustrations. I have an equally difficult time understanding anyone who would throw out all their books for a Kindle.

    When I get a Kindle, I will still have my Lord of the Rings, my Bible, my Chronicles of Narnia, my cookbooks, and anything with illustrations in paper form. The books that I want to honor will be in dead-tree form. The Kindle will be used for any fiction that I would have picked up in paperback and read only once or twice, any non-fiction that I want to cart around with me and read in small doses to digest, newspapers, etc.

    There’s room for both. They each have their purpose.

  17. posted by Louise on

    We live full-time on the road in our RV and travel almost every day. In five years, we’ve visited all lower 48 states and some of Mexico. Every week, we are driving a 48,000 lb., 39-ft long, 13-ft tall vehicle down unfamiliar roads.

    I love our GPS, but it will not replace large paper maps. It’s a matter of scale. Being able to see in detail an entire state at a glance is invaluable. How do the rivers run through the state? Where are the scenic routes? Where are the state parks and national forests? Where does the time zone change? These questions heavily influence our choice of roads, and cannot easily be found on most GPSs.

    On the other hand, asking the GPS to find grocery stores, restaurants, and rest areas along our route is fantastic! What’s the shortest route through Charlotte, NC without getting on the interstate? Is there a Home Depot in Pembroke Pines, FL? “Jill” the GPS also makes an excellent marriage-saving scapegoat for wrong turns!

    These tools are symbiotic, not interchangeable. Oh, and after massively decluttering my life to fit it into 320 square feet of RV, I still have one entire file drawer full of paper National Forest maps. When viewed with a practiced eye, they pinpoint the loveliest, most isolated, pristine camping spots in the USA…

  18. posted by Szuy on

    When it comes to saving yourself clutter, you shouldn’t buy a Kindle.
    Instead save yourself the clutter of acquiring books (in digital or dead tree format) you’ll only read once a year or maybe even once in a lifetime.
    I don’t think there are many people who can claim they read every book on their bookshelves five times a year.

    Library services is the way to go.

    I further agree with David Engel and Kalani.

  19. posted by OogieM on

    Love the kindle, doesn’t replace paper books with color pictures or lots of illustrations but is far easier on the eyes than paper and also much lighter. Plus I can carry a hundred books in the space of one. Libraries are a poor second place, at least in rural areas. Selection is poor, and ILL often costs more money than buying the books.

    Don’t have an iPod but do have an MP3 player, also love it. Also don’t have that model GPS but have bunches of them. They do not totally replace paper maps but are complementary. Most of the other stuff would be clutter for me.

  20. posted by infmom on

    I am amused by how few of those doodads I actually own. :)

  21. posted by WilliamB on

    Bluetooth has many advantages but safer driving isn’t one of them. The accident rates are the same, whether the driver is using hands or hands-free. Further, the rates are about the same as for drunk driving.[1]

    I have an almost atavistic preference for paper. This has to be balanced against space, cost, and convenience. In general I prefer paper maps to GPS. Most importantly, paper maps give me a sense of place and proportion that’s lacking from GPS – and mapquest, for that matter. Because I see the whole picture I get a sense of what is where, and where that is in relation to other things. Also, the gadget and the subscription are both pricy whereas I can get paper maps for free from AAA.

    I prefer paper books because I can write in them, I can give them away, I can take them in the bathtub. I also don’t like the handhelds because the subscription company can – and has – removed books from them[2], in effect you rent the book rather than own it, and the technology is proprietary. If the tech standard changes I may lose my books and my investment – Betamax, anyone? And like GPS there’s a significant financial hurdle as well. I do look forward to the day there’s open source book reading software; then I’ll seriously consider going digital.

    Amazon can’t take the book out of my Kindle even though I bought it in good faith (see the story about “Brave New World”), the start-up cost of a Kindle is very high, and the technology is closed.

    Thumb drives are awesome. So are DVRs, except now I have 15x the TV I “need” to watch. I guess this means that DVRs cluttered my life even as it uncluttered my shelves.

    [1]http://www.psych.utah.edu/AppliedCognitionLab/CogTechChapter.pdf
    [2] See http://www.newsvine.com/_news/2009/07/21/3043922-amazon-redacts-orwell-on-kindle-like-its-1984

  22. posted by Gina on

    I can’t stand GPS systems — my uncle drove us around one afternoon showing off his GPS and by the time we were done I was ready to smash both him and it.

    Give me a plain paper map any day. Or written instructions. Or a printout from mapquest.

  23. posted by iGlad on

    I have an iPhone, iPod’s but I have found myself actually listening to music played on my hi-fi be it vinyl or CD. I now seem to use my iPhone for listening to podcasts etc and not the music. Also I have developed a notebook fetish, Rhodia are my notebooks of choice however my local supermarket (in the UK) dod a really cheap one that has perforated pages and I am thinking about buying a boxfull. I love tech and have spent the past 2 weeks trying to declutter my office as it needs a thorough redesign so I can work more productively and also get rid of over 10yrs of papers mags etc. It’s amess now but I hope to send you my after pics.

    Best app has to be the iPhone, I love it despite not listening to the music on it.

  24. posted by gerette on

    I’m a print designer and do a fair amount of book production. Not surprisingly, I was pretty opposed to the idea of reading a book on-screen–and I didn’t want to spend $300 or whatever on a Kindle. My iPhone eliminated the cost argument, and once I saw that I could sample the first chapter of a book, I was hooked. I have too many books on my shelf that looked like winners, but ending up sucking. Reading the first chapter lowers the chance of losing money on a bad read.

    Like @RCcola said, I now differentiate between types of books. For some, those by my favorite authors which I will read again and again or for those where the illustrations/diagrams are key, only paper will do. But for the run-of-the-mill paperback, business/productivity books (like Erin’s), or sampling before buying, I’m now a fan of the Kindle (or at least its software).

  25. posted by Malcolm on

    Like some others, I actually own few of the listed gadgets. The ones I do have are the source of most of the clutter in my house! Batteries, chargers (why isn’t there a standard charger for all rechargeable items!) and masses of cords… some of these have influenced my life indirectly, but GPS is a no-no, it simply cannot replace paper maps because as many others have pointed out there is no feeling of scale or totality. Handy sometimes, yes, and the technology in a GPS has revolutionised surveying and air and sea navigation, but in cars they are just another gadget. Kindle – well I use an old PDA to replace some books, and some people use their I-phone. The kindle is just a good bit of marketing really, good luck to Amazon but it is not really a life-changer.

  26. Avatar of

    posted by Lori Paximadis on

    I love my paper maps. I have a need to know the big picture, not just blindly follow directions. And I don’t always want to go the fastest/most direct way. But I also love my husband’s GPS, which is really handy when you’re going somewhere totally unknown. (But I still take a look at a paper map while he’s fiddling with setting the GPS.)

    I love the idea of a Kindle, especially for newspaper subscriptions, but until the price comes down and they come in full color so I can get my magazines that way too and not lose anything, I’m not all that tempted to actually get one.

    But overall an interesting list. And count me as hardcore in the iPhone cult.

  27. posted by Malcolm on

    And another thing: if we were honest most of the gadgets on this list would qualify for the Unitasker Wednesday list too…

  28. posted by Catherine on

    I’m glad to see there is still a lot of support for paper maps. I would hate to see them stop being produced. I also prefer to see the big picture and draw all over my maps. I would also much rather pay $20 to update my map directory than $200 to upgrade a GPS subscription.

  29. posted by Judy on

    Re the Kindle, I received the smaller one as a gift and hardly knew what to say–we have a large home library and LOVE books. But I find that I also love the Kindle. I use it with a leather cover (feels more book-like) and slip it into my purse. Will never give up my books but, for anyone who travels a lot, spends time waiting for appointments, etc., the Kindle is wonderful.

    Re the GPS, I map my route at home but keep GPS in car–was sure glad to have it when I got lost, alone, in downtown Los Angeles very late one night.

    @WilliamB–I agree that Bluetooth doesn’t improve safety but it keeps Californians from getting tickets for using cellphones in the car. ;-}

  30. Avatar of

    posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    It would be nice if the editors of “Paste” could count from 1 to 10 and realise that the first year of the new millennium was 2001 (2000, being 20 x 100 was the last year of the 20th Century according to our standard of counting years).

    As for the top 20 list – I have only one of the 20 – a flash drive (in fact, I have more than one).

    And as for multitasking devices removing clutter, there is something to be said for good uni-taskers like cameras. A decent camera doesn’t pretend to be a phone. Cameras in phones generate quality poor pictures because they’re trying to be too much. It’s useful for showing your spouse at home what item you’re looking at in a supermarket but I wouldn’t try hanging phone pictures on my wall.

  31. posted by Daniel Ho on

    I’m amazed at what gadgets have accomplished, and how far they still need to go. I think encumbrance like cash, a set of keys, a wallet, and a camera/camcorder will go away into a single smart phone with heads up display (a genius phone?). I’m still waiting for an aerogel-based winter coat with the bulk of a windbreaker. I look forward to driving a solid-state electric vehicle one day. And every back issue of magazines or tv programs available for perusing at my leisure on a tablet-like PC.

  32. posted by joss on

    I have a GPS and a road atlas in the car; much like the idea you don’t go camping without more than one way to start a fire, I don’t travel long distances without more than one way to navigate. The GPS has led us astray a couple of times (patiently recalculating to no avail when we wouldn’t take it’s advice to turn left into what was clearly a field) and it’s not hard for me to imagine the battery dying and realizing I left the car charger somewhere else (like in the other car, maybe).
    As for e-readers, I imagine those co-existing with printed books the way Amazon co-exists with a brick-and-mortar bookstore. I use Amazon when I want something very particular because their search makes it easy to find and their selection is far larger than any bookstore’s. I go to a bookstore when what I want is the pleasure of leisurely browsing and just seeing what I find. There are books that I must have in my hands (particularly reference books), but an e-reader is brilliant for me for eliminating pounds and pounds of read-it-once fiction (especially in an airport when there is not a single appealing new read to be found).

  33. posted by Linda on

    Love this post. I live in a small space and one way to survive small space living is through gadgets — I have a Kindle instead of millions of books, a DVR/on demand instead of DVDs, IPOD instead of CD’s, etc.

  34. posted by gypsy packer on

    The queen of secondhand ponied up the bucks for a new iPod Classic, and not the cheapest one, either. Folks still ask me what kind of medical device I’m wearing on my arm, so help me.

    The iTouch was a reconditioned model, and does everything I want, except shoot pictures. I do not need a $150/month phone contract from a company which bills Americans but hires overseas tech support.

    Both of these little beauties have uncluttered my life enormously. I can read ebooks on the Touch without bearing extra weight on an arthritic right hand. The newspaper app gets me most of my news without allergenic inks and mildewed paper dust.

    Nobody mentioned the solar flashlight. Put it in the window and leave it ’til ya need it.

    Somebody just came out with $29.99 software which provides streamed satellite TV on computer. I’d love to get rid of another multitasker.

    As for the rest–my two-buck garage sale Koss noise-cancellers have their own volume controls and are way cheaper than the Bose. And no screen is quite large enough to give me all of the back roads and small towns that an oversized atlas provides. When an app comes out with all of the paved, gravel, and dirt roads, I’ll check it out. Until that time, my paper dinosaur will have to do.

  35. posted by Beverly D on

    I thought I wanted a Kindle until DH and I discussed getting it. What we discovered is that we share books, (and we read avidly, 2-3 books/week) so we would both have to get one. He doesn’t like the keyboard feature, and I’m not too thrilled with it either. We just want something that shows the pages and turns them. No bells and whistles. Then I thought I wanted a Wii, and the more we talked about that the more we think it will go the way of all the other exercize related equipment we’ve had. I love my Ipod, but I still haven’t mastered the art of playing it in my car (it’s a 2003 so maybe when I upgrade it will be easier). He loves his GPS but I like a paper map. It’s all so individual.

  36. posted by Mark Carter on

    ooh yeah …. the Wii. Don’t know about uncluttering my life, but getting the family together and doing something physical and fun. Unbeatable.

  37. posted by Bryan on

    The standout items on the list, for me, were:

    Tivo. Our original Tivo has gone to the Great Recycler In The Sky, but we have a Comcast DVR which fulfills the same function. We get all the local radio stations on it as well. It has replaced all that home video/audio gear completely.

    USB thumb drives. Sayonara, floppies! CD’s and DVDs are beciming rarely seen around our house too – we copy them to our network fileshare, and back to a thumb drive if we need them.

    Kindle. I see lots of Kindle dislike here, and I can only say: don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I do have some books I’ll keep, but a lot of my reading is more or less throwaway paperbacks. Kindle kills a LOT of clutter there. And I can have the book within a minute of deciding to buy, no matter where I am. I *love* my Kindle.

    iPhone stands out, though I actually have a WinMo phone. Still have not found another smartphone which syncs my Outlook tasks (in a GTD’ish workflow) properly, and without Outlook tasks I’d be lost in the world.

    Same goes for the Apple Airport – it’s slick, but any wireless router does a lot of decluttering!

  38. posted by Cowboy Bob on

    Gadgets work both ways, cluttering and uncluttering at the same time. For instance, digital storage. Flash drives hold quite a bit, but they are relatively inexpensive, so we can have a flash drive for pictures, another for music, another for videos, another for my PowerPoint presentation on the plight of the Tibetans (yes, I do have one). Then a zippered case to hold them in.

    Since external and portable hard drives cost less per meg than flash drives, I have two. One to hold the good stuff, another to back up the first one. Sure, everything is on two inconspicuous drives, but they are cluttered inside, and I have to create folders to put things in. Lots of time lost (the down side), but I have my digital treasures stored (the up side).

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