A "favorite" technology may not necessarily be the most cutting-edge technology.

Share story

Silicon Valley View

A few years ago, readers and I exchanged lists of our favorite pieces of personal technology.

The exercise started as a column about the shame of being a late adopter in Silicon Valley. I admitted I was hardly obsessed with the latest and greatest (particularly when obtaining the latest and greatest required an outlay of cash).

In short, I explained, I’m a cheapskate who is satisfied with technology that does what I need to get done and makes me happy — no matter its vintage.

But the column spawned something of a peer-counseling session. You sent me stories of 30-year-old calculators that still know 1 + 1 = 2 and of the Swivel Sweeper (“taking floor care by storm”). One of you extolled the virtue of paper — a storage device that needs no battery, never crashes and is completely recyclable.

It’s high time for a technology-inventory update. I’d like to hear about the gizmos you are most thrilled with these days.

Meantime, here’s me: It turns out my top-five technologies of 2008 — Apple’s AirPort Express, Dish Network, MLB.com‘s streaming service, Pandora and my Logitech wireless mouse — are innovations I use every day.

The way I use some of them, however, has evolved — evolved almost entirely because of my new No. 1 favorite piece of technology: Apple’s iPod Touch.

Go ahead. Laugh as you caress your new tablet computer or tricked-out smartphone. (Me? I never want to own a phone that is smarter than I am.) I find the modest, mobile Wi-Fi device to be a marvel.

And it’s helped me realize the big changes in our everyday technological lives are not always the result of one Next Big Thing. Rather, big change often results from the convergence of a series of smaller, complementary innovations.

Take my iPod touch. Wait. Don’t. I love it too much. True, the device hardly balances on the cutting edge these days, but it has made my life more delightful. It regularly teaches me things it can do that I didn’t know it could do. Months after receiving the device as a Christmas gift, I was walking down the hallway at the San Jose Mercury News when the iPod started chirping. I took it out of my pocket, tapped it and there on the screen was a source calling from Israel using the Wi-Fi-enabled FaceTime function. I had no idea my pocket computer was capable of such things until that instant.

That MLB broadcast stream? There is an app for that, and I now carry the iPod in my pocket and listen to radio broadcasts of my beloved White Sox through an earpiece. It’s exactly like having a transistor radio, which we did have 50 years ago. Apparently it’s taken us a half-century to get back to where we were.

Or I can route the broadcast stream from my iPod through my AirPort Express and listen as the game action blasts from my home stereo speakers. I can do the same with Pandora, playing one song after another with like properties through my stereo speakers. I regularly read out-of-town newspapers on the iPod, and I recently finished my first e-book on the device.

I’m infatuated. My palm-size computer has turned me into “that guy” — that guy who stands in the corner at a party, head down, thumbs flying as he posts one last tweet or looks up George Brett’s lifetime batting average or checks tomorrow’s weather when he could be talking to anyone in a roomful of people who have gathered to socialize.

The biggest sign the modest iPod has become my go-to technology? More nights than not, it ends up on my nightstand — the last device I look at before falling asleep.

The point here is not that we don’t need big thinkers innovating in big ways. The fabulous leaps ahead in technology, the unveiling of innovations no one has even dreamed of, are vital to Silicon Valley. But the latest inventory of my own favorite technology has convinced me that technology evolution is every bit as important as technology revolution.

At least for those of us who prefer to savor our journey into the digital future rather than race through it at breakneck speed.

Mike Cassidy is a columnist with the San Jose Mercury News. He can be reached at mcassidy@mercurynews.com.