Self-driving cars and why we shouldn’t be afraid of technology

Google self-driving car
One of Google’s self-driving cars in action (Photo courtesy of

Google is working on creating self-driving cars. They’ve already been testing these cars on roads in California. Think about that for a moment.

I think it’s a safe bet that within 10 years (probably less) we will start seeing self-driving cars on the road. You’ll look over at the car next to you, and the person in the “driver’s seat” will be fast asleep. How does that make you feel?

If it makes you nervous, you’re not alone. I’m no historian, but I think back to the books I read in high school English classes and I can remember several that painted worlds where technology had led to a terrible future (1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World come to mind). This fear of technology isn’t new.

Every technology can be abused, but each can be helpful in certain ways as well. I don’t think that should scare us. After all, isn’t that true of everything in this world around us, technology-related or not?

On an individual level, the reasons we fear technology are many. I’ve tried to boil this down to several primary reasons, but I’m sure there are more I haven’t thought of. I’ll try to unpack each of them, and then tell you why we needn’t fear technology for that reason.

Technology changes too quickly! 

For some people, this is an annoyance[1], but for others it’s really scary because we feel out of control. If I buy this, will it be out of date in two years? Why do I even need this thing? What are my kids doing on their phones these days?

It can be tough to keep up with the crazy pace of changing technology. The good news: most of the time we don’t have to. Do I really need a new TV with a bunch of features, or will a simpler one do the job? Do I need to upgrade at all? And if I buy a well-made gadget and take care of it well, then I probably won’t need to replace it as often as the advertisements tell me I should.

I don’t know how to use new technology! 

We’re all gifted in different areas, and for many people learning new technology is not where they’re gifted. Troubleshooting the gadgets you do own can also be really intimidating.

When it’s time to venture into unknown territory with some technology you’ve never used before, get someone to help you understand it. Look for a product that’s simple and durable. Sometimes that’s the newest model, but often it’s not. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re learning how to use it. We’ve all run into problems we don’t know how to fix, so there’s no shame in asking for help.

I don’t want to become dependent on technology! 

Technology promises to make life easier, but what if it works too well? If Google went down, how would we learn anything? If my computer crashed, would I lose all the photos I’ve ever taken? 

The reality is we depend on technology every day. Refrigerator, car, medicine…they make our lives easier and we so often take that for granted. We place a lot of trust in things we have no control over every day, whether we realize it or not. I think we can choose to enjoy and be thankful for these blessings and still be mindful of the fact that we may not always have them.

Technology is make me (or my kids) dumber! 

Harry S Truman
The Google search took 0.25 seconds (Photo courtesy of

Technology makes some things so much easier than they used to be. Parents often hand their young children their iPhone as a pacifier. Kids don’t memorize all the presidents, because they can just go to Google and see that the 33rd president was Harry S. Truman. (His middle name was actually the letter “S” by the way.) Children don’t even learn cursive in school anymore!

Things are certainly very different for this generation than previous ones. But hasn’t that always been the case? At some point in time, kids no longer had to go chop firewood because the family home was heated with oil. Did that make that generation lazier than their parents’ generation, who chopped wood as kids? No, and in fact it probably gave the children a bit more time to study or go to baseball practice or whatever else they were involved in.

I freely admit that many kids miss out on life experiences because they spend so much time staring at a screen. But that’s not the fault of technology; allowing that is a choice their parents make. I sometimes fall into the same problem those kids do. But it’s not my phone’s fault; it’s mine, because I choose how I interact with the technology around me.

Technology in the hands of the government/terrorists/hackers/corporations/public/robots will destroy society and the world as we know it! 

This is the fear in our hearts that is touched by so many dystopian novels, most recently and notably The Hunger Games. We fear that those with power will abuse technology for their own purposes. The fear is even greater when it’s a technology we’ve heard of but don’t understand.

To a certain degree this has been happening for centuries and I’d argue even millennia, whether the technology be related to farming, communications, weapons, or computing. And I have no doubt it will continue to happen; we can expect no less from imperfect, fallen people. But we need not fear it!

In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus says “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Worrying won’t help us.

In day-to-day life, let’s focus on using technology in ways that makes our lives simpler and more enjoyable. To the degree we can, let’s look for ways technology helps instead of hurts, and make sure those in power don’t abuse it. But instead of worrying about what we can’t control, let’s trust the One who does control everything and has promised to make all things new.

A vision of busy streets full of cars driven by computers can be scary. I can immediately think of many problems that might arise. But with human drivers, car crashes are already one the leading causes of death in the United States. Maybe self-driving cars will get us around more safely. And I also think of people who can’t physically drive a car (elderly, disabled, etc.) who would be able to maintain more independence with a car that can take them to the grocery store and back.

Like every technology, self-driving cars will be used in bad ways by some, but I’m equally sure they will also bring big and small benefits to many people. Let’s be thankful for the cars we have now, and if we ride in driverless cars one day, we can be thankful for that, too.

Did I miss anything? I’d love for you to be part of the conversation by commenting below and sending me a message.

1 – For example, I owned every Star Wars movie on VHS…and then last one was released only on DVD. Annoying!

Mac vs. PC

Apple and Microsoft logos
Aaaaaand in this corner… (Photo courtesy of

A reader writes in: “At my school, they promote Mac laptops over PC’s. What are the difference between Mac’s and PC’s? Is one better than the other? Thanks!”

When I was looking at different options for universities, I noticed one of my top choices required journalism majors to have a Mac. I’d only used Windows PCs before[1]. So I started researching. I ended up going to a different school, but I did buy a Mac for college.

That computer lasted me 5 years, and when it died I bought another Mac. I know there are a lot of people who are fanatical about one system or the other. I have experience with both Macs and PCs, and I’ll give you as unbiased of info as I can.

First though, check out this Apple ad from 2006:

I think it’s a good laugh (apologies to any of you who have recounted your vacations with a pie chart). In reality though, Macs and PCs are much more similar than this ad implies (and PCs do a lot more than spreadsheets!) There are differences, however, and here are the main ones I see between the two:

Advantages of Macs:

-Apple makes both the hardware and software for Macs. In contrast, Microsoft makes the the software (Windows) for PCs, while other companies make the hardware (Acer, Dell, HP, etc.)[2]. If you buy an HP laptop, it will often have some HP software installed on it, plus trial versions of software like anti-virus. By contrast, all software that comes with a Mac is made by Apple, so no extra, hidden software eating up your computer’s performance.

-Likewise, Macs do come with apps like iPhoto and iMovie, which can be very helpful for organizing your photos and creating home movies.

The vast majority of viruses and malware are created to target Windows computers[3]. These problems are so rare on Macs that many people say Mac owners don’t even need antivirus software. (Of course, you should always use good judgment when clicking on websites and downloading files, regardless of your operating system.)

The parental controls options and backup software included on Macs are much easier to access and use than on PCs (although Windows 8 has made backup simpler).

Apple has better support, both online and in-person at their Apple Stores. In addition, when Apple updates their operating system, Mac users get to download it for free. On the PC side, you still have to pay to upgrade to new Windows versions (unless you buy a new PC).

Advantages of PCs:

PCs have many more options available. In addition to many different hardware manufacturers to choose among, each of those manufacturers often offer more choices than Apple does with it’s PCs. The choices include color, design, size, and many internal choices, too.

PCs are much more upgradeable (is that a word?). Macs are becoming less able to be upgraded without taking them in to an Apple store. By contrast, a PC user could replace almost any internal hardware from home.

-Here is the most obvious difference to most people: PCs are almost always less expensive. The cheapest Mac laptop currently costs about $900 regularly, while comparable PCs run about $700. And there are options among PCs even cheaper than that.


-If your work or school requires a certain operating system, don’t look to me for help!

-If you want specific customization options or want to build a computer for a specific purpose (like computer games), definitely go with a Windows PC.

-If you are interested in trying things like editing photos or videos, or recording music, look for a Mac, which has great apps for those things built-in.

-For the average person, I believe a Mac will give you the best overall experience, due to its simplicity, dependability, and support after the purchase. It’s also similar enough to a PC that switching is not usually a difficult process.

-For a person who expects to only write emails and documents, check social media, etc., a PC is a fine choice. The price difference between a low-end PC and a low-end Mac is big, and both will handle those basic tasks just fine.

Neither option is right or wrong…just a better option for your particular situation. I hope I’ve made things clearer for you. Let me know if you have any questions about this.

Plus, fill out the form below and your question could be the topic next week! I’d love to hear from you.

1 – PC stands for “Personal Computer.” Technically, a Mac is a personal computer, but PC has come to refer only to computers running the Windows operating system. So that’s how I’ll use PC in this blog post.
2 – Laptops running a Google operating system (known as Chromebooks) have been on the market for a couple years. Google’s OS is specifically designed to be connected to the Internet almost all the time.
3 – This is due to a combination of the more secure way Macs’ operating system is designed and the fact that 90% of computer users use Windows.

How to back up your computer (Just get started!)

Note: This is the second half of a two-part introduction to backing up your computer. Last week’s post explained why this is so important and what you should look for in buying a backup hard drive.

Socrates bust
Socrates would’ve been wise enough to back up his computer (Photo courtesy of

As Socrates once said, getting started is the hardest part of a big project. Well, maybe that was my dad who said that when I procrastinated on the gigantic research paper in 12th grade English.

Well the same thing is true in computer backups! And it’s actually a lot better than a gigantic research paper: once you set up your backups, all you have to do is plug in your hard drive every so often. Everything else is automatic! How easy is that?

You need an external hard drive (we covered that last week). You need backup software (it came with your computer, ready to go!) And you need to know how to set it up the first time (we’ll cover that here).

We’re going to start with Windows 8 computers. If you have Windows 7, click here to skip ahead to that section. If you’re on a Mac, click here. (If your computer has Windows XP, you’ve got bigger problems, but you can click here to read about XP’s backup software.)

Windows 8

Windows 8 calls its backup software File History, and it’s the best backup software yet for Windows. Here’s how to use it:

File History setup
File History page in Windows 8 (Photo courtesy of

Click “Control Panel” on the start screen, then scroll to the bottom of the list and select “More settings.” In the Control Panel window that appears, click “System and Security,” then look for “File History” at the bottom of the list. (Come on Microsoft, this is harder to find than it should be!)

Now you’re in File History, and you’re almost done. Once you plug in your external hard drive, you’ll see a button labeled “Turn on.” Click it, and you’ve set up your backups!

Windows 7 Tools tab
The Tools tab in Windows 7 (Photo courtesy of

Windows 7

Windows 7 uses a program called Backup and Restore. It’s a big improvement over what came with previous versions of Windows. Here’s how to get started:

Open “Computer” from the Start menu, right-click on your Local Disk, and select “Properties.” Click the “Tools” tab, and then the “Back up now…” button. Click “Set up backup.”

You’ll see your external drive in the list, and it should be labelled Recommended. Select it and click Next. In the next window, have Windows choose what to back up (again, it’s the Recommended setting.)

Windows 7 review page
Review your backup settings in Windows 7 (Photo courtesy of

You’ll notice in the next window that Windows has set a schedule for when to back up your hard drive. Change it if you want (I’d change it to at least once a week), then click “Save settings and run backup.” Ta-da! You’ve started your first backup. Congratulations!


Macs use Time Machine. Very easy to set up, and makes it almost fun to go recover an accidentally deleted file. Here’s how to set up Time Machine:

Time Machine Preferences
Time Machine Preferences page (Photo courtesy of

Click the Time Machine icon in the top menu bar (looks like an analog clock face), and click “Open Time Machine Preferences…)

First, hit the big switch on the left side of the window to turn Time Machine from OFF to ON. Once you plug in your external drive, you’ll click “Select Disk.” You’ll see a drop-down menu of available disks. Choose yours, click “Use disk,” and Time Machine will run your first backup in a couple minutes!

Wrapping up:

One important thing to keep in mind after you finish setting things up: Windows 8 and Mac computers will run a backup every hour when the external drive is plugged in. Windows 7 runs a backup once a month by default, and if you don’t have your drive plugged in, then you miss that month’s backup.

The easiest thing to do is just leave the hard drive plugged into your computer all the time. That’s better than having no backup! But keep in mind what I said last week about the importance of offsite backups.

I promise getting started is the hardest part! Hopefully these steps will make that process easier for you. If you felt this was helpful to you, please pass it along to someone else who might need help!

As always, if you have any questions or a topic you want help with, send it to me with the form below. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Making Technology Simpler

Marty McFly hoverboard
Great Scott! This scene was set in 2015!

In the 1940s, we saw Dick Tracy’s wrist-radio and thought of how much easier life would be if we could call people without finding a pay phone.

In the ’60s, we saw Rosie, the Jetsons’ robot maid, and dreamed of how much more enjoyable life would be if robots could clean our houses.

In the ’80s, we saw Marty McFly riding that hoverboard and dreamed of…well, being able to skate across water?

Personal technology[1] has always seemed to promise an easier and more enjoyable life. But if you walk into an electronics store today, you can buy a wristwatch that allows you to make phone calls or a robotic vacuum cleaner. (I’m still searching for the hoverboard aisle.) Why then aren’t we all wearing smartwatches and having our floors vacuumed by Roombas? I say there are two main reasons: price and complexity.

From lightbulbs to phones, each innovation in personal technology has been introduced to the public at a price that you or I can’t afford to pay. But as time marches on, these innovative products are improved upon, and previous models become more and more affordable.

For example, in 1984 the Motorola DynaTac 8000 was the very first cell phone sold. It cost $4000 and weighed almost 2 pounds. As the price dropped and cell phones continued to improve, more people began to use them. Now almost half the people on the planet use a cell phone. New innovations and just-released products aren’t bought by many people…not yet, at least.

These new inventions and innovations might give us a glimpse into what personal technology will look like years down the road, but I will rarely talk about them in this blog. On the other hand, many of the personal technology products available to us today have reached a price point where their benefits in our daily lives might very well outweigh their cost.

This brings me to the second thing that keeps us from adopting new technology into our daily lives: complexity. Often, new devices just add more headache to our lives than benefits. In some cases, I’d say the answer is to stick with what you’re used to.

But many times these new technologies only feel overwhelming until you understand them better, and then you begin to realize their benefits in your day-to-day life. Maybe you’ve heard someone say you need to back up your computer, but you have no idea how. Do you even need a smartphone? What about lightbulbs: incandescent, fluorescent, LED, halogen? DVD or Blu-Ray?

That’s where I hope this blog will help you out. My goal is to help you make sense of the options out there in personal technology, and in language that’s understandable. What options are there, and what’s best for you? Will it actually make your day-to-day life easier and more enjoyable? Maybe you already have a certain product, but you’re trying to figure out how to use it more effectively.

I won’t be able to troubleshoot specific problems, but other people probably have those same questions you do. I’d love to help you understand what you’re using more clearly and make technology simpler for you.

Welcome to the first post on my new blog! If you feel this blog might be helpful for you, please come back. I plan to post on a new topic weekly, and I’d love to talk about what matters to you. If you want to get my posts sent to you by email, just click the “Follow” button on the right side of this page.

Maybe you feel pretty tech-savvy, but you know someone who could use some help in this area. Pass this on to them!

Fill out the form below to send me a question, and I’ll do my best to answer it. See you next week, and in the mean time, let me know what you want to talk about!

1 – When I say “personal technology” I’m referring to technology people use on a regular basis. So this includes things you might carry with you (like phone or laptop) but also things you would use in your home (TV, air conditioner, Wi-fi router, Xbox, etc.)

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