When low tech is better than high tech

Sometimes the latest isn't the greatest

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And because it's low tech, it's both simple and cheap.

While the rest of us are getting constantly raked over the coals by predatory banks that charge credit card fees for everything, M-Pesa is a banking system that barely uses banks. There's a very small fee charged for each transaction, and that's about it.

And while we're all waiting for some utopian future with mobile payments, Kenya has had mobile payments for years -- the low-tech way.


In the past four years, thousands of education-, news- and information-related mobile apps have emerged. And they're getting increasingly sophisticated. For example, a new iOS app I told you about recently called Grokr practically reverse-engineers your brain to deliver news and information it thinks will be relevant to you.

The newest learning technology is the best technology, but it doesn't give you the best learning.

The best technology for learning and staying informed since the creation of the book is the humble podcast.

A good podcasting app will let you subscribe to your favorite podcasts and automatically download them. When you're ready to listen, they're already on your phone.

Podcasting, and by extension Apple's iTunes U and audio books, is best because it's reliable, it offers high-quality content, it's flexible and -- best of all -- it lets you learn while you do other things.

The biggest barrier to your ongoing education is time.

You want to stay on top of all the news. You want to learn a new language. You want to become more educated about your line of work. You want your mind expanded by the ideas of brilliant public intellectuals.

Nobody has time for that.

But with podcasting, you do have time. You can listen while driving, exercising and while doing errands and chores.

Yet most people who want to learn more don't listen to podcasts. I believe the reason for that is paralysis of choice -- there are too many podcasts out there, and most of them are terrible.

The secret to falling in love with podcasting is listening to the good ones, not the bad ones.

So here's my starter kit -- the 10 indispensable podcasts that every educated geek should listen to (in alphabetical order). Just search via your podcasting source for:

  • BBC Food Programme
  • In Our Time
  • MacBreak Weekly
  • No Agenda
  • Slate's Culture Gabfest
  • Start the Week
  • StarTalk Radio Show
  • TEDTalks
  • This Week in Google
  • This Week in Tech

I would also continually explore new podcasts, and experiment. Great podcasts are priceless resources for staying informed.

By embracing the humble and low-tech podcast, you can use those hours you're wasting to educate yourself in a way that no other technology can match.

And more

These are just three older technologies that everyone should embrace if they can. Others include RSS, SMS, Google Alerts and even simple text editors like Notepad.

Advanced technology is great. But even greater is an advanced user, someone who chooses technology that improves his life the most, no matter how low-tech it may be.

Why? Because the best technology is the one you actually use.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him on Google+. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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