Two years ago, I wrote a Thanksgiving list acknowledging the tech I was grateful for in a pre-pandemic era while Trump was the president. I was a tech cynic, I said, but I could still make space for gratitude. Nice one, past simple, ignorant me.
Now — one presidential election and subsequent insurrection, one pandemic, and countless Facebook scandals later — the ways tech can simultaneously tear us apart and bring us closer together is in sharper relief than ever. The tech cynicism of a tech reporter has transformed into a sort of ubiquitous public foreboding about Big Tech. At the same time, the need to move, connect, laugh, or enable anything that brings us self care and joy has taken precedence in a way it didn’t in the work-focused before times.
This year, I asked my colleagues to submit some reflections about the apps, gadgets, and other devices they’ve come to love. What’s been their partner, their secret weapon, their solace, as they attempted to find their footing on a planet that’s constantly turning?
It turns out, the things we’re all grateful for are somehow smaller, more personal, and so significant. They are signposts for the ways each of us has found freedom or connection in our lives. They’re mostly made by deeply flawed companies, but they give us joy. Holding those two realities in our heads makes sense in this wild world. So, while we and our elected officials keep a steady eye on what’s really not working in tech, we might as well give thanks for what does, too.
Here’s the tech Mashable staff is grateful for. Happy holidays.
Bloodwork. Ultrasound. Starbucks.
That was my routine for 2021: dozens of doctor’s 7am appointments followed by a Starbucks run. Being thankful for the Starbucks app may sound frivolous and basic, but in an especially challenging year, little treats brought me small sips of joy.
By pre-ordering through the app, I also experienced the added delight of minimizing human interaction while in an already fragile state. On many mornings, the idea of shouting my order through a mask and plexiglass over the din of the store playlist after being poked by needles and probes was too much to deal with so early. So instead I’d pop my order in from the doctor’s office and swing by to grab my cold brew, no people skills needed.
Maybe in 2022, I’ll start ordering at the counter again. But probably not.
— Annie Colbert, executive editor
Watch parties enabled by streaming services and Google Chat
In March 2020, six of my friends, my husband, and I, began the epic journey of watching the best seasons of Survivor. We would watch on Hulu, Amazon, and ultimately, Paramount+ when the seasons became too recent. We would also use the service currently known as Google Chat, formerly branded Hangouts Chat, and forever in my head called G-Chat, to coordinate episode start times — “ok, at 6:17, press play” — and react in real time to the blindsides, strategy sessions, embarrassing fails, and delicious victories. Getting together multiple times a week on G-Chat also made us more aware of what was going on in each other’s lives, let us chew on the conundrums brought up in the show together, learn and enjoy each other’s sense of humor more, gave us space to be intense or silly or however we were feeling in the moment. Though we live in four different cities, watching Survivor together has helped the eight of us grow closer than ever.
As the world has opened up, it’s become harder and harder to make time for these viewing sessions. Finding a free hour on a night that works in three different timezones and doesn’t overlap with dinners, workouts, or the rest of life, has just become a taller order outside of the confines of a world-closing global pandemic. As difficult as the first year of the coronavirus was, having our Survivor sessions be fewer and farther between has made me grateful for the time my cross-country best friends and I got to spend together in the virtual world. There’s no question that streaming services and Gchat helped make that possible. For that tech — and mostly, for that time with my friends — I’m grateful.
— Rachel Kraus, tech reporter
I have owned several fitness trackers in my life, but never an Apple Watch. That changed during the pandemic. Now, it’s hard to imagine running without it. The always-on display on my Series 6 makes it easy to keep an eye on my progress and the time without slowing down. And the Nike Run Club app tells me out loud how quickly (or slowly) I finish each mile. Goodbye forever to awkwardly staring at my wrist.
— Keith Wagstaff, tech editor
This year, I reexamined my relationship to social media. I was becoming too consumed with likes and discourse. Every app was just another tool for professional development, a way to measure myself against my peers and ultimately feel bad about it. What I was longing for was a sense of community, a place to exist without the constant pressure to be perceived. I wanted to just enjoy things again. I found that on Weverse, a platform that connects some of the biggest stars in Korean entertainment (and, now, UMG artists) — including global hitmakers BTS — with their millions of fans from around the world.
Part fan engagement, part e-commerce, Weverse reports over 4.5 million monthly active users and 19.2 million total subscribers. It’s a one-stop destination for fans to interact with one another, watch exclusive videos and original series, read exclusive content, and actually engage with their favorite artists. It’s not uncommon for artists to comment on fans’ posts or to get into “heated” discussions, like when the members of Tomorrow X Together argued over whether humans have one butt or two. On Weverse, I don’t feel any pressure to like or comment, or to check it all the time. I love going unnoticed. I’m just here for the content.
Thankful for the “alarmed” app. It’s a reminder and timer app where I can keep track of everything I need to do. You can make both recurring and ad hoc reminders. Additionally, you can see both present and past reminders to look back over the things you’ve done. It’s similar to a to-do list where you can feel accomplished about the things you check off. Adding notes can be good if you need to put in more information. It’s really simple to use and I’ve used it for two plus years without any issues.
— Gigi Wong, audience development & analytics
The Duolingo app became so much more than a language-learning game this year. For the Spanish courses, the app added more stories to work on comprehension, listening, and even speaking skills. There are now interactive listening classes that wait for you to say the correct response. And even better, the Duolingo podcast merged onto the app. It’s made it so much easier to practice Spanish daily and keep my 458-day streak going.
— Sasha Lekach, transportation reporter
In terms of tech, this year I must give a shoutout to voice messages. After a long day of typing for work I barely have the energy to flex my thumbs and leisurely type texts to friends. Thanks to voice messages, I don’t have to. I just speak into my phone using iMessage or WhatsApp (sometimes even Instagram) and conveniently send audio clips that help me stay in touch with my loved ones while mentally recharging my batteries. Voice messages offer the joy of hearing a person’s voice, and eliminate the stress of having to interact with someone in real time. A dream! They’re truly helping me recover from two years of text and video chat overload, and for that I’m thankful.
— Nicole Gallucci, assistant editor
Kids grow up fast, and when you’re an aunt who lives out of state, it can be hard to keep up with them — especially during a pandemic that complicates travel. However, the app Caribu made a big difference, allowing me not only to video chat with my imaginative nieces, but also to play with them online. At the swipe of a phone or tablet, Caribou offers a library of books, coloring books, activity pages, and games at their fingertips. The coolest part is you can play collaboratively, which can mean coloring at the same time, flipping the “page” of a book, or taking turns in puzzles. We got hooked, so we upgraded from the free trial to the year subscription, ensuring plenty of playtime no matter what.
— Kristy Puchko, deputy entertainment editor
Since the pandemic, I have been stuck at home living a sedentary lifestyle. Though I used to squeeze in a couple workouts or runs here and there during the week, there was no control on the unnecessary weight I put on and I quickly went out of shape. Things have since opened up, and I have been working out more frequently, but there was not enough change. Guess what? Then I started taking the “calories in and calories out” more seriously. I count calories consumed using Noom, and I count calories used using Fitbit. They also count how many calories I burned during my sleep, the quality of my sleep, which exercises burn the most calories in the short amount of time, etc.
— Vatsal Popat, business intelligence
A gaming PC
The tech I’m most thankful for is my new gaming PC that I bought a few weeks back from iBuyPower. My old computer was slowly dying, and going without a way to connect with friends was out of the question. I’m not a very big gamer per se, but playing video games with my friends online the past two years has been so helpful for my mental health. I’ve made new friends, connected with old friends, and spent countless hours talking about everything from life to a silly online game. It’s a great way to decompress after a long day, and it’s really going to come in handy this winter when I’m cooped up in the house.
— Brian Koerber, culture editor
A waterproof digital watch
I haven’t owned a watch for as long as I’ve owned a cellphone. Until this year, that is.
That’s because in 2021 I purchased a (relatively) cheap waterproof watch — and I couldn’t be happier. No Apple Watch, no BlueTooth connectivity, no touch screen. Just a regular, digital watch.
I live in San Francisco, and during the pandemic I started surfing before work. That means getting up at 5:15 a.m., packing up a car, driving to a break, putting on a wetsuit, and finally doing the actual surfing part — before doing that all in reverse, but with Bay Area rush-hour traffic to deal with.
Having a waterproof watch means I can squeeze in as much time as possible on the water and still be back at my desk and ready to go at 9am.
— Jack Morse, senior tech reporter