Taking the Best of Technology and Leaving the Rest

This post is written by contributing writer Samantha Sand. Samantha and her husband Richard, two IT consultants and parents, write about technology and making digital life easier at Digital Zen.

It’s true that my husband and I, both long-time IT professionals, love our computers. I’m a Mac and he’s PC, but between the two of us we can consult, code, build, script, design, burn, rip, perl, and Photoshop the day away.

Yet Rich still maintains that I was born in the wrong century. It wasn’t even that long ago when, as he was leaving for the store to get me a new mobile phone, I insisted on one that “just makes calls. That’s it.”

Now an owner of an iPhone, I’m not sure who that person was. One thing that likely will never change, though, is my apprehension for things with too many buttons. For example, the remotes in our house.

Operating the TV screen, cable box, tuner, DVD player, Mac mini, and now a new Apple TV has been a source of endless frustration for me. I need buttons that have a single function. Buttons that do only one thing, and — this is important — they do it every time you press.

Instead, one of my kids gets their paws on the remote and suddenly no button will do what it’s supposed to do. There are mysterious button sequences, and interpretive dances to perform in order to restore proper functioning. It’s maddening, especially when Rich is working out of town and I am left with two children clamoring for Wonder Pets and a big black screen.

It’s frustrating for him, too. Finally one night from his hotel room he found a diagram of the remote online, marked it up, and sent it to me via Skype. Then after fixing the remote I saved the file to my Evernote account. Modern marriage for the digital age.

Old Fashioned Jetson

So I do have some old-fashioned tendencies, and I’ve never been much of an early adopter. I like simplicity, quiet, and frugality too — all things that attracted me to Frugal Mama — but rarely apply to technology and gadgets.

At the same time I love organization, innovation, creativity, and social connection. Here is where technology has been driving some major transformations, and I enjoy watching it unfold.

What’s new, what works, what applies to me and my family? How can we actively manage our choices and gadgets and still maintain some peace and quiet, and is that even possible?

Starting Out

I decided to write a blog about my discoveries, and started researching and writing in the spring of 2010, under the name “Let’s Get Digital.” I had an infant and a three year old, so writing usually happened late at night, and the blog grew slowly. About a year later, I felt that this title didn’t really capture my core messages of balance, intention, and filtering of the endless technology tools and advances out there. Let’s Get Digital evolved into Digital Zen, a change that helped focus my writing and the topics I explored.

Double the Digital

At the same time, as more and more of our lives went online, I began consulting Rich for his perspective. As an experienced network security consultant, he helps clients like international banks and the U.S. military protect their data.

Increasingly I could see how important it is to avoid getting carried away with the fun and convenience of things like Facebook and the “cloud” and forget about security concerns.

Backing up data, managing passwords, protecting your privacy, identity, and kids — for every “aha!” moment there is an equal and opposite caveat. So I asked Rich to join me on Digital Zen and share his expertise in these areas.

Finding the Common Spaces

I believe many of Amy’s suggestions for the frugal and the simple can be applied to technology as well. When she cited J.D. Roth’s advice to “spend as little as you can on most things so you can spend lavishly on a few things that you love” — I realized that I practice this kind of conscious spending in my digital pursuits as well. I spend little time on Facebook so I can spend more time in iPhoto creating my daughter’s baby book. With no regret, my Twitter profile never quite got off the ground.

Amy explained why she doesn’t Groupon, preferring instead to “silence advertising”:  “When I need something, I’ll look for a good deal.”   This reminded me of my smartphone.

All notifications are turned off. No beeps or dings to announce every incoming alert or text. Voice messages can be days old before I hear them. When I need to make a call or dig up information, the phone is there for me instead of the other way around.

I’m honored to be a contributing writer for Frugal Mama. I look forward to sharing with you more of our little digital world, and how we seek to manage it in the pursuit of a life of purpose and intention.

Samantha Sand lives in Delaware with her two kids, two cats, two fish tanks, and one husband.  The pair write about technology and making digital life easier on their blog, Digital Zen.  Sam believes that without continuous effort and intention, slowing down to enjoy family life would not be possible.  She is committed to the challenge, as long as she can keep her iMac.

Share this post:


  • John November 4, 2012, 2:49 pm

    “spend as little as you can on most things so you can spend lavishly on a few things that you love.”

    what if you love LOTS of things? does that mean that you don’t really know the meaning of the word “love”? does it mean that it is unfair of you to love too much, for fear of spreading your love too thin?

    25 years ago, my apartment was littered with stacks of magazines and newspapers, books and records. my phone bills were exorbitant, as they were the best way to communicate with friends long distance. i would spend hours every week scouring used book stores, finding an occasional gem, but most often end up empty handed.

    digital technology has simplified my life, and given me a much greater sense of peace and focus than i had in the world of atoms. i’m now able to follow my many interests more fully. it enables me to form and grow relationships in ways that would have been nearly impossible 20 years ago.

    none of these approaches are inherently better than others, they are a matter of preference. the degree to which you include digital technology is an issue of preference, not orthodoxy. you can bond with your children making ice cream the old fashioned way. you can also bond over your children by kicking their butts on playstation.

    as for me, give me MORE buttons! they make my life much more simple and happy.

    • Samantha @ Digital Zen November 6, 2012, 10:53 am

      Hi John, it sounds like you’ve created a system that works for you. I’m glad to hear it! Now could you come over and help program our universal remote..? ;-)

      • John November 6, 2012, 12:34 pm

        Actually, we ditched our TV 10 years ago. We still watch TV and movies on our computer. If you like simplicity, AppleTV is great! Irony: I’m waiting for someone to complain that Apple TV makes it too easy to watch TV so they wish it was more complicated.

  • Amy November 2, 2012, 9:08 am

    Hey Sara and Samantha,

    It sounds like we are on the same page in many ways. Pen and paper sometimes feels more inconvenient, but not tempting myself with electronics makes my life easier in the end. It takes knowing oneself, as well as being able to say no to new technology, even if it’s
    supposed to make life easier.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  • Sara Tetreault October 31, 2012, 11:48 am

    Those remotes made me laugh! We (meaning my husband and I) are not very tech savvy when it comes to using remote controls and rely on our kids to straighten things out.
    I like the choosing aspect of technology as well and I don’t have a smart phone for the simple reason that I’m afraid I would be on it all the time. My solution is to carry around a little notebook and pen in my handbag and keep notes jotted down in there. It’s a very low tech method but works!

    • Samantha @ Digital Zen November 1, 2012, 11:52 am

      Pen and paper work quite well too! My kids are 6 and not quite 3, but I am sure they will be programming our electronics soon. Thanks for writing in!