The virtual cloud hangs over us

Technology was supposed to make things simpler. This, of course, was the famous promise of those laughable 1960s predictions about life in the 21st century – flying cars, robots doing the housework and electronic shopping consoles.

But it is a promise still made frequently today: “simplicity” is the selling point of nearly every app, phone or tablet. The problem is that technology has an irritating way of making things more complex at the same time as making them simpler.

Most of us, when we talk about being “more organised”, are really expressing the desire for a greater feeling of control over the unfinished tasks that clog our homes and the emails and electronic files that colonise our computers. In principle, modern gadgets make it easier to achieve that control. But they also mean there is infinitely more “stuff” to control. There are, at the time of writing, 7161 iPhone apps and 3240 iPad apps that promise to improve your productivity.

Advances in cellular technology have made things worse: when all your stuff is accessible to you everywhere, the feeling of not being in control of it follows you everywhere, too. But if you are not ready to ­forswear digital living, here are some tools for making your gadgets work for you.

<strong>Web terms</strong>
A relative veteran in web terms, Evernote (<a href=”www.evernote.com” target=”_blank”>evernote.com</a>, for Mac, PC, iPad and most smartphones) is essentially just a filing cabinet that lives in the “cloud” &ndash; the ethereal name given to the very non-ethereal data centres around the world in which our information and software will increasingly be stored. Evernote, like its competitors Microsoft OneNote (<a href=”www.microsoft.com” target=”_blank”>microsoft.com</a>) and Springpad (<a href=”www.springpad.com”>springpad.com</a>), is all about “universal capture” and “device agnosticism”: throw text files, web pages, audio and photos into it and they are all instantly available, on all your devices, everywhere. Find a recipe online in the morning, press a button and it will be there on your phone when you go shopping that evening. Take a phone photo of a business card, say, and it will be there on your laptop. Effortlessness is the key here: manually moving documents between gadgets is easy.


There are countless apps and websites for managing your to-do list Ta-Da List (<a href=”www.tada-list.com” target=”_blank”>tada-list.com</a>), Toodledo (<a href=”www.toodledo.com” target=”_blank”>toodledo.com</a>), Wunderlist (<a href=”www.wunderlist.com” target=”_blank”>wunderlist.com</a>) and Producteev (producteev.com) are all worth investigating &ndash; but they suffer, inevitably, from one big problem: the more you try to run your life from a smartphone or tablet, the more time you are obliged to spend plugged into your devices.

A job to which the web is better suited is reminding you of birthdays, anniversaries and the like. Many to-do apps can do this, but Remember the Milk (<a href=”www.rememberthemilk.com”>rememberthemilk.com</a>) remains the most user-friendly.

There is plenty of software aimed at helping you to keep things orderly in the physical world. The web has long been a boon for those of us with compact disc-alphabetising tendencies. <a href=”www.LibraryThing.com” target=”_blank”>LibraryThing.com</a>, for example, is a great resource for cataloguing your bookshelves. Now there are also the iPhone and iPad apps HomeRoutines, which helps you to stay on top of shopping, cleaning and other errands, and Chore Hero, which aims to turn household chores into a points-based family competition.

There is an argument to be made that if you are going to store anything in the cloud, why not store everything there? Evernote, or something similar, can handle all your papers. Digital cameras can serve as scanners. Google Play (<a href=”www.play.google.com” target=”_blank”>play.google.com</a>) can store your music. The final  step is to scan all your books and magazines. (There are instructions for doing it at is.gd/EFCWof.)

Imagine having every piece of information in your life tidily arranged in the cloud, accessible at the touch of a button &ndash; and then closing your laptop, switching off your iPad and going for a walk instead. &ndash; © Guardian News & Media 2012

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Oliver Burkeman
Guest Author

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