A New Personal Best

This morning I got up a little before 7 a.m. and got right to work on a long list of chores. I was so busy cleaning, organizing, assembling, and rearranging that I didn’t check my email, internet news sites, or any social media until 11:49 a.m. — nearly five hours later. In fact, I didn’t even touch my iPhone during that dead zone.

It’s got to be a personal best for me, at least in the years since the advent of smartphones and immediate access to email and the World Wide Web with a few taps of my thumbs. And you know what? The world didn’t end while I was in social media silent mode. I’m confident no one noticed my absence. And focusing exclusively on completing simple, somewhat mindless chores, without trying to “multitask,” was pretty darned enjoyable.

With my vacation underway, I might just try to establish a new personal best tomorrow.

Keeping It Semi-Stupid

With people raving about the capabilities of the new iPhone X, with its facial recognition security and “all-screen” design and other capabilities, and new apps flooding the market every day, other people have decided they want to move in the opposite direction.

hoggatt6Rather than trying to get the smartest smartphone out there, they’ve decided to dumb it down.  They don’t want to micromanage their lives through their phones and be totally wired in to every known and developing form of social media at every moment of the day.  They don’t want to get little dings and buzzes and snatches of music when a text arrives or a check clears in their bank account or they hit their step goal for the day.  In short, they are tired of their phones being a key focus of their lives.

Some manufacturers are responding to this apparent impulse on the part of some people by producing consciously dumb phones.  One “new” product only takes and makes calls, and it sells for only a fraction of the cost of the brainiac smart phones.  Imagine!  A cell phone that simply functions as . . . a phone!  Another option, slightly more expensive, lets you talk, text, set alarms, and use a calendar.  Other manufacturers are offering “back to basics” options that promise longer battery life.

Or, you can do what I’ve done, which is never add many apps to your cell phone in the first place.  My phone functions as a phone, an email and text repository, a camera, a clock, and a place to play Spider Solitaire when I’m waiting for an appointment.  As smartphones go, it’s about at third-grade level.  In the modern world of business, where being accessible at all times is taken for granted, you really can’t get by without being quickly reachable by phone or email or text, and the other features come in handy.  But I don’t want to spend my life staring and tapping away at a phone, or being distracted by prompts, or feeling like everything I do is being monitored and measured.

I’d like to think there is life outside of my cell phone.  Is that so dumb?

The Cold Front Cometh

There’s a turning point each winter.  For weeks the trend has been gradual cooling, to the point where you’re acclimated to temperatures that are about 40 degrees.  Then, suddenly, the mercury plummets, and you’re dealing with the first significant snowfall, or the first truly frigid day where the temperature falls below 20.

img_3220This used to be a surprise.  Unless you were someone who actually watched the local news — and who under the age of 90 watches the local news these days? — you had no idea what the weather was going to be.  There’s a reason why the nuns in The Sound of Music sang about Maria being as “unpredictable as weather.”  The weather was a constant surprise.

But that was in the days before weather apps on smartphones became ubiquitous.  Now, when you tap your weather app to see if it’s supposed to rain today, you’re automatically exposed to a solid week’s worth of forecasts — and you can’t help but look at it.  And when I checked the app this morning, I saw that we’re supposed to get a steady diet of lows in the teens, then two days of snow, and finally a day where the low is three degrees.  Three degrees!  I like the song When Will I See You Again? as much as the next R&B fan, but “three degrees” isn’t a word combination I want to hear right now.  It means that the turning point is here, and winter is about to strike with all of its brutal iciness, and it’s time to rotate to the heavier coats and clothing and to start eating hot food at every meal.

I liked it better when the turning point caught me by surprise, and I spent the last few days of pre-winter unaware of what was to come right around the corner, rather than bracing myself for the onslaught.

The Charging Issue

Should you charge your smartphone overnight, or not?  It’s one of those choices that wasn’t an issue years ago but that is now complicating our modern lives.

20150911171157-iphone-charging-apple-batteryThis article on MSN says:  it depends.  The act of charging is bad for the battery on your phone, even though my iPhone, and Android phones, have chips that prevent them from being overcharged.  That’s because one of the recent smartphone advances is the incorporation of technology that allows phones to accept more current, faster.  As a result, we no longer have to groan because it takes freaking forever! for our phones to charge.  But, that quick-charging technology also causes lithium-ion batteries to corrode more quickly than they would otherwise.  So, if you are charging your phone overnight, you are promoting battery corrosion.

Why is the MSN answer “it depends”?  Because the corrosion process is gradual, and batteries usually don’t start showing signs of wear for two years — which is about the period of time many people use a phone before upgrading to get their hands on the latest model.  So, if you’re the kind of person who plans on getting a new phone whenever your cell phone carrier allows you to do so, charge away, baby!

I’m not one of those people; I keep my cell phone until is goes toes up.  I also charge my phone overnight.  Rationally, I accept the conclusion that by doing so I am contributing to eventual battery performance problems, but emotionally it is hard for me to not start the day with a fully charged phone.  I’ve been caught with a dying phone too many times, and therefore my reflex approach is to charge up when I can — like overnight.  But I defer to science.  I’m going to try a new approach, not begin to charge until I get up, and then stop the process when I hit that 100% charged level.  We’ll see how it goes.  Old habits die hard.

A New Approach To Waiting

Recently I was at the dentist’s office.  It was one of those dreaded midday appointments, where the odds are that some emergency or other complication cropped up earlier in the day, meaning that the schedule is out of whack and you’ll likely be cooling your heels while the dentist and the hygienists work to catch up.

smartphoneusers-300x200Like every waiting room — literally, a room specifically designed to accommodate people who are waiting — the dentist’s office had a full spread of magazines and a TV tuned to one of those home redesign shows.  But as I looked around the room, none of the people waiting was restlessly flipping through a magazine, or watching the TV, or fidgeting and constantly glancing at their watches.  Instead, they were all on their smartphones, checking their email, playing a video game, or letting the expectant Facebook world know that they were at the dentist’s office.

This is one of the little changes in modern life that happens without being noticed until somebody calls it to your attention.  But now, thanks to smartphones, waiting time doesn’t necessarily suck.  Sure, you’d rather not be sitting in some generic space in the company of a bunch of strangers — especially if they’re coughing or sniffling — but at least you’ve got a handy gadget in your pocket or purse that lets you be productive or see what your friends are up to or have some fun while you’re sitting on an uncomfortable chair.  I’m told that some people actually look forward to waiting time for this very reason.  What could be a bigger change than that?

I have no way of knowing whether this is true, but I’d bet that state license bureaus and federal administrative agencies and doctor’s offices get a lot fewer complaints about excessive waiting time than used to be the case.  Every office administrator who works in a place with a waiting room should be grateful to the inventor of the smartphone.

Big Brother Barbie

Mattel has introduced a new Barbie called “Hello Barbie.” Implanted with voice recognition software and a microphone, Hello Barbie records children’s voices, sends them over the web to a server where they are reviewed and analyzed, and then uses that information to develop a response.  Eventually Hello Barbie is supposed to learn and remember names and chat away with kids.  The new doll is designed to get Barbie, which has been declining in popularity with digitally obsessed kids, back into the game.

Privacy advocates aren’t impressed. They call the new doll Eavesdropping Barbie and Creepy Barbie, and question why any parent would want their child’s conversations recorded and sent to a faraway server to be analyzed.  You could imagine how such recordings could be misused if they were intercepted, or the server was hacked, and they ended up in the hands of kidnappers or child molesters.  Privacy advocates also wonder if the doll’s chatter could be used to encourage kids to ask for other Mattel toys.  Mattel, for its part, says it is committed to safety and security.

I wouldn’t want to bring any device into my home that would intentionally record and analyze my children’s conversations — but I also think we have forgotten just how much information our existing electronic devices already collect and analyze information about us.  Our cellphones have apps that track our location and tell us about the nearest restaurants. Our home computers collect cookies that remember the websites we’ve visited and the searches we’ve done and then direct pop-up ads for products to our screens based on that information.  Our cars have satellite radios and GPS systems that follow our daily journeys.  Our home cable and wireless systems are tied into networks that are transparent to call center employees thousands of miles away.  A good rule of thumb is that any “smart” device — whether a phone, or a dishwasher, or a refrigerator, or a car — is collecting and recording information and sending it somewhere, where it probably is maintained on a computer server and being used or sold.

Hello Barbie?  It’s more like Hello Big Brother.  And Big Brother is already here.