While putting together a pile to take to e-recycling earlier, I was reminded of how many gadgets I've ended up with that ended up being wrong turns on the information highway. Many of them were expensive, and a few of them were just downright misguided. Could I have avoided those unnecessary technology trips in the first place?
Everything in tech becomes obsolete eventually. But if you follow some basic rules of thumb, your next investment in home technology won't become a regret:
Never buy "version 1.0". The hazard of being a technology "early adopter" is that you get to be the guinea pig for tech companies at your own expense. Let people with more experience and greater tolerance for things breaking be the trailbreakers for you, and wait until at least the first major "bug fix" comes out. Most companies don't take chances on brand new versions of Windows, for example, until the first "service pack" comes out.
Make sure it can be upgraded. The failure of a lot of Internet "appliances" is that their hardware and software were frozen in time when they were manufactured. Make sure your gadget can get software patches. It also helps if there's a way to easily upgrade memory, storage, and replace the battery (all things that the iPhone doesn't let you do).
Look for openness. If you're buying into a new software package, web service, or gadget that holds your data, look for one that lets you move your digital "stuff" around to other devices. Does that phone sync with your e-mail contacts? Can you easily get to the data from someplace else if the gadget fails?
Think like a business about your tech. It's easy to get caught up in the emotional appeal of a new gadget. To avoid being swept off into a life of tech misery, analyze how the piece of technology is going to benefit you, and what its long-term costs are: maintenance, cost of replacement if it fails, and the "cost of exit" (what it will take for you to move to something else that does the same job if it doesn't live up to its marketing). Look at the strength of the company behind the product, and how well it's supported its products in the past. Will they be around to fix problems, or just evaporate when the tech winds change?
Be prepared for the inevitable. Sooner—probably much sooner—than you expect, the tech world will change and the shine will be off the new gadget. Standards evolve, the state of the art changes, and how we use tech moves along with it. But don't let yourself be lured into abandoning what you have now just because something new has come along. That way, you'll be able to wait until the price of what's next has dropped, and the early adopters have suffered for you.