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Digital Savant: Juggling multiple gadgets a matter of choice

You could say that Will Staney is well-stocked.

Staney, a director of recruiting, strategic programs for software firm SAP, has an iPad, an iPad Mini, Google Glass eyewear and two cellphones — one of them an iPhone, the other an Android HTC One.

And those are just the digital devices he might be carrying around with him.

“I use them all for different things,” Staney explains. One phone is for work, the other is his personal cell. The iPads are generally for game playing or streaming TV. And the Google Glass, which he just got in June as part of Google’s limited Explorer program, has been used to capture photos and videos of his 6-month-old son. If he needs to get work done at home, he might use a lightweight Chromebook laptop.

This way lies madness, right? We’re awash in gadgets, so many that we physically couldn’t carry them around if we wanted to, without a large bag and a strong shoulder.

According to Pew Internet Research, as of May, 56 percent of American adults have smartphones, and 34 percent of Americans own a tablet computer. We also have quite a few e-book readers (26 percent of American adults), MP3 players (42 percent) and laptops (61 percent).

We should all be struggling with what to carry when and praying for the day that an all-in-one device frees us from all these extra carry-alongs. Isn’t that what smartphones have begun to do to GPS devices (get lost!) and digital cameras (point and shoot ya later!)?

Staney seems to have figured out the multiple-gadget juggling act. “It all goes to the cloud,” he explains. He uses the service Dropbox to back up every photo and video he takes and keeps about a terabyte of data online that can be accessed from any phone, tablets or whatever else he’s using as long as there’s an Internet connection.

“Everything is on all devices,” he said.

But the device that Staney says is really changing his life is Glass, the geeky glasses that Google has sold to a select few for $1,500. He says that since adopting Glass, he’s found it easier to be on the move. “The whole idea behind it is really freeing you from having to hold or look down at a device and allows you to be in the moment,” Staney said.

Staney finds them especially useful when he travels; Google Glass knows his flight schedule, can give him walking or transit information and allows him to capture whatever’s going on with simple voice commands, such as the time he was about to record video as his son said his first words, “Hi there.”

Is Staney the future? Will we be holding fewer handheld devices and relying more on wearable tools in another year or two? “I don’t know if Glass is going to be THE big wearable device. But I’ll probably be using my phone less,” he said.

For those of us who aren’t there yet, here are a few ways to deal with gadget overload.

The big sync: Staney’s strategy of keeping information in the cloud is one that’s becoming increasingly common as more services, from Dropbox to Microsoft’s SkyDrive to Google Drive, offer a big chunk of online data space for free. If you know you’ll be in Internet-connected places 90 percent of the time, it may make more sense to keep photos, music and personal files online rather than guessing which device has what file.

Of course, if you’re not always connected, you could have trouble getting to your data when you want it. For that problem, you may want to keep your most important photos, files and media on the devices you carry most or use “Offline” mode with these online sync services to keep copies on your device as well as the cloud.

Go minimalist: If you feel like you have too many gadgets and wish you could get rid of all but one, it’s not impossible. With the right apps, you’d be surprised how much you can get done with just a smartphone or a slim tablet. The biggest knock against devices like iPads is that they don’t have a full keyboard. You could add on a slim keyboard for $30-$70 and leave the laptop at home.

Cellphones still may not match the picture quality of a full-featured digital camera, but newer phones are surprisingly adept at taking photos that can match basic point-and-shoots.

And if you need a laptop but feel like yours is weighing you down, consider making your next upgrade a lighter, slimmer one such as a MacBook Air or a small ultrabook.

Carry it better: We’re not suggesting you get a fanny pack, but if you must carry more than two digital devices, take a look at a messenger bag, purse or laptop bag that won’t add a lot of bulk and will keep you organized.

I’ve been most impressed with Powerbag’s line of products, which include built-in charging. They’re great for travel and conferences with power-starved devices but may be overkill if you’re trying to keep things simple.

Maybe someday, when we’re carrying around less hardware, we’ll look back at ourselves and see clumsy, gadget-bound digital simpletons. But for now, at least, the juggling act continues. Cope well.

Omar L. Gallaga: ogallagastatesman.com

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