Maintaining the Technical Status Quo (For Now)

I spent the last week doing some intensive research on two potential tech purchases: an iPhone for me and Liz, and replacing this WordPress site with Squarespace. I decided to stay with WordPress and we both decided to keep our current "dumb phones." TracFone Wireless

The major lesson from this exercise was one I've seen pop up in various coaching and self-help articles: if it's not a hell-yes, it's a no.

Details follow, if'n you want to read them.

iPhone

Liz and I have both been using pay-as-you-go Tracfones of one sort or another for so many years I can't count them. We use them only for the basics -- voicemail, calling a few people close to us, texting, sometimes an alarm. I can use my Bluetooth headset and set simple alarms. We can't surf the web with them, check email, take pictures, or any other wonderful stuff iPhone and Android owners take for granted. (Well, the product specs and Tracfone say you can, and we were able to for a while, but it's too cumbersome.)

Tracfone support is not great, and transitioning to a new model was always rocky. But once it was set up, it just worked.

What we like about them is they are cheap to buy and cheap to add minutes to. Liz uses hers so rarely she has something like 2,000+ minutes. As far as Tracfone is concerned, those minutes are for voice and text. (Texts cost, I think, a third of a minute.)

I have fewer minutes than Liz, since I use my Tracfone for hour-long conference calls. That said, I've been calling in to one or two conference calls per week for the last 2 months, and have not needed to add any minutes yet. Also, my particular Tracfone model is pretty indestructible. I've dropped it twice; both times, I popped the battery back in, snapped the cover in place, and I was back in bidness.

So for our minimal needs, the Tracfones have served us well. But lately, they have been showing their technological age. Our friends with the fancy phones can't share pictures or links with us. My phone's keyboard has been sticking. We often don't know or can't tell that our phones are ringing or even that there's a voicemail waiting. They look increasingly old-fashioned. They are, to misappropriate Michael Leddy's word, dowdy.

I thought, it would be nice to have a single device to take the place of my camera, my iPod Touch, and my Tracfone. Why not upgrade these increasingly inconvenient phones and modernize?

Since we're an iMac/iPad/iPod family, iPhones are the way to go. I researched pre-owned phones, the reseller market, Apple's current line-up, and the newly announced SE. But that research was trivial compared to looking for an affordable carrier: one of the Big 4, or maybe an alternate carrier like Ting or Consumer Cellular, or even Cricket or MetroPCS.

For about an hour, we decided we'd each buy an SE and go with Verizon. But then the fever broke and we started calculating how much money we'd be shelling out to both pay for new iPhones (+ Applecare!) and pay for the ongoing service. My co-workers all complained they paid too much for cell phone service, but they are also on family plans, with kids who text and video chat a lot, and they are all hooked on the conveniences of smartphones.

Liz and I took a step back from the cliff, breathed in and out slowly, and decided to soldier on with our current phones. Yes, they are sometimes frustrating to use and not terribly fashionable. Yes, it would be nice to upgrade. But it's also nice to have paid-for, basic phones that we keep mainly for emergencies and to check in with family, and whose service has cost us about $20 total this year. As the saying goes, a luxury once sampled becomes a necessity. For us, now, smartphones are a luxury we can afford but do not want to pay for.

Squarespace vs WordPress

My first blog was on Blogger. After I had issues with Google's handling of my site, I opted to buy my own domain and purchase a hosting service through InMotion Hosting that supported WordPress. I was about to enter a master's program in information science and thought it would be useful to get familiar with these kinds of techy things.

That was in 2007. As the years went on, though, I had my ups and downs with the site. WordPress is pretty solid unless you add too many plugins that may conflict with each other or  slow down your site. I also had to manage the domain stuff, which meant fiddling with CPanel, the File Manager, and lots of other site-related maintenance duties I had to figure out through InMotion's then quite basic online documentation, support forums, and occasional tech support questions. And I always got the passwords confused for my WordPress site, my domain site, and InMotion support forum.

WordPress is a popular target of hacker attacks and, more than once, inMotion has locked me out of my site due to such attacks. Last year there was a particularly nasty set of attacks. So I spent several nights with InMotion's list of 20 or so WordPress security items to check, plugins to load, plugins to uninstall, WordPress configuration tweaks, edits to text-based configuration files deep in the bowels of the WordPress directory infrastructure, and so on. I bought a Genesis framework to provide more stability and some design choices I could not implement otherwise; WordPress is notoriously finicky if you color outside its lines and don't know CSS or PHP. I have Google Calendar reminders to back up the SQL database and I use Site Sucker as a secondary backup.

All in all, this site now ticks along pretty well with minimal care on my part. But when my friend Mike wanted to start his own web site a few years ago, I instead suggested he look into Squarespace. No fiddling with CPanel or managing a server. Limited templates but rock-solid. No need to update plugins or manage security since Squarespace handles that. Easy to add a blog or a picture gallery page. Mike took that suggestion and ran with it; he enjoys playing with his site and loves how easy it is to update and manage. He never stops singing its praises.

It's hard for me to praise WordPress's complexity in the same way.

Recently, an acquaintance who had been a long-time WordPress user switched to Squarespace. She wanted to create a portfolio page for her samples and finding a way to bend WordPress to her will (WP is mainly a blog-platform, after all, not an everything-platform) was too much trouble. She had her Squarespace portfolio page up in a few hours.

This was all turning my head. WordPress has its place, of course. When properly set up and maintained, it's a rock-solid and dependable content management system. That complexity is necessary to handle big, complex sites. In the hands of a skilled designer or developer, WordPress can do whatever you want. There's a deep ecosystem of plugins, themes, support, how-tos, and so on.

But. As a hobbyist with now only mild curiosity in how all this stuff works, WordPress is overkill for my minimal blogging needs. And as I think about the next steps of my career, I also wonder how easy/hard it will be to set up a portfolio page or make other adjustments to this site. At that point, we'll see how easy Genesis is to use.

For now, though, this site isn't broken. No security alerts, no plugin conflicts, no crashes. I log in every couple of weeks to empty the spam comments and update plugins as needed. The Squarespace dashboard looks, at first glance, at least as complicated as WP's. It's also about the same cost per year as I'm paying now. (Am I suffering from a sunk costs fallacy? Maybe.)

Perhaps most important to me personally, changing platforms would not materially change my motivation to write and blog. I do not now have good low-level systems for creating blog posts anyway. Switching to Squarespace would only be a diversion from the real issue of me not writing. It would be activity, not productivity.

So I decided to make better use of what I have now and simply use it more by writing more.

Triggers and Deadlines

Having done all this research, though, I decided on what may I may want to do in the future.

With this blog, for example, I've set a few mental tripwires that will trigger me moving this site from WordPress to Squarespace:

  • If I need to create a portfolio page and WordPress/Genesis proves too difficult, then move to Squarespace.
  • If this site gets hit with another major hack attack and InMotion locks me out, or I have to do more hacking on the site to secure it, then I'll move to SS.

Until that happens, I'll keep using WordPress and InMotion.

With the iPhone, I decided that on July 4 -- if I really want to -- I will purchase a 64GB 5s from a reseller (probably on eBay), open a cell account with Ting.com, and start playing with the smartphone as a hobby. I do feel I've missed out on the conversations happening around me for years, and I would like to be a part of them. The 5s should be plentiful on the resale market as its owners upgrade to the SE. A 64GB 5s would replace my current phone and iPod Touch.

By having a real smartphone, albeit an outdated model, I would also get a sense of how much or how little I would actually use it. If I use it a lot, then maybe I would upgrade to a more modern phone later. If I use it only a little, I could stick with the 5s and enjoy what it does for me.

The long-anticipated conclusion to this endless essay

As I said a hundred years ago at the start of this post, if it's not a hell-yes, it's a NO. As I researched these two decisions, I could feel anxiety in my stomach that something was not right here. I was not looking forward to getting either a smartphone or a new web site. I could feel myself trying to convince myself that these were good, sensible purchases.

That's the lesson. When I don't feel clarity around a decision, it's OK to wait. When I really want something, I don't need to make pro/con lists or do extensive research or dither about this or that criterion. I'll know it's the right thing to do. When a decision has to be made now NOW NOW then, of course, make the best decision with the information you have. But if I'm not under deadline, then the decision can wait.

As my first coach said, I don't have to motivate myself to eat the cake. If I want the cake, eat it. If I don't, leave it.