Tag Archives: smartphones

Pushing for lost attention

I no longer have email push email notifications turned on my phone.

Nor do I don’t have have my phone pull emails at set intervals. Why? Productivity and stress reduction.

The biggest problem with having your phone push email every time a new message comes in is that you feel compelled to check it. Making email work for us isn’t about checking email; it’s about processing email. Much of the email that I receive can’t be quickly processed on a mobile phone.

If I can’t process the email, what good does it do to check it and have it sitting on my mind? When we allow email to fester on our minds, it causes needless stress. We think about the contents of that email and a job we have to do, but we aren’t actually working on doing that job, so it steals our attention, even as we try to relax after a long workday.

Everything in our lives suffers from stolen attention. So why have email pushed to you when you don’t intend on actually processing those emails once and for all?

Many of us read and email but don’t act on that email, leaving us less apt to process the email later. We have only served to acquire that  brief satisfaction of checking an email, only to allow stress and lost attention overtake us during all the moments we don’t process that email.

People use the unread designation that emails have as a sort of productivity heuristic. If the email hasn’t been opened and read, it should be acted on. Once opened and read, it doesn’t need to be acted on. But that’s a lie.

This isn’t to say that push notifications don’t have their place. Rather, for most people, the decision to use push notifications should be done on a case by case, project by project, job by job basis. This week, push notifications come in handy, due to the nature of the work I’ll be doing.

I’m at The Intel International Science & Engineering Fair, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. I’m expected to responsive to email constantly and help run the event. It makes sense to use push or pull notifications this week.

I’ll be much less focused on producing something original and more focused on helping keep this science fair running well. This is a push email kind of week.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to email. When I’m back in the office next week, I don’t want my phone buzzing with email constantly. I’ll be back focused on Web work, social media and writing. Those activities are best done with some level of concentration.

In many situations, checking email is a good way to not get work done. I’m not checking email as I write this post, and I don’t have an email application open or push notifications on. I want to focus on writing this post, and at 9:30 on a Saturday night, there is no chance that I’ll receive an urgent email (usually I don’t write blog posts on Saturday nights, but I’m working this weekend and all of next week, and this is what I’m doing for some down time).

Part of making email work as part of a modern, usable workflow is taming it. Unless you’re a traffic manager or some other office job that has you managing the flow of projects or doing constant deals, you don’t need email open all the time.

I can’t get lost in programming if I’m being notified about emails. I can’t think clearly enough to write while I’m being bombarded by email. Multitasking is overrated, and constantly being connected to email is even more overrated.

Imagine if your email inbox was actually the mail you received in the post office. All day long there would be a knock at the door and a new letter. You’re sitting down to dive into a long work session and all of the sudden a new letter shows up. You check it and then try to go back to work again.

And then another letter shows up.

When Sparrow came out for the iPhone, I thought it was a great app that a had a fatal flaw — it doesn’t support push or pulling of email. Now I realize that as part of my workflow, this is an asset. I check Sparrow only when I have time to process email.

I do, however wish that Sparrow supported push emails, because there are times like this week that I do need to able to receive emails in real time. I hope Sparrow does eventually support push email, because it’s a feature that when used properl can come in handy.

But for most of the time, I’d have push turned off. Ideally checking email when I’m bored neither cures my boredom, nor makes me actually tackle my email.

In the end, what we really need are easier ways to turn push notifications on and off. There isn’t a global way to turn push notifications on and off in iOS. We’re left with a laborious process where we have to turn on and off notifications on a per app basis. This makes it very unlikely that people will actually turn push notifications off when they’re trying to focus.

Push notifications have a purpose. We cannot deny that. But we need better control on when they are interrupting us or not.

This is an issue that is still being worked out in mobile OSes, and something that has to be addressed. It also has to be easy to do, because this cannot just be the domain of power users.

A lesson in connectedness from solidarity

While I personally wouldn’t give up the Internet for a year (nor could I do my work or research), I am very intrigued by what Paul Miller is doing over at The Verge. He is trying his best to go a year without the Internet, and his dispatches from an Internetless world are a must read for any of us who study why people use the Internet or are just interested in why people use technology.

Ultimately, and clearly, I think that technology, computers and the Internet strongly benefit humanity. I would put the Internet right up there with the printing press for great technological advancements in human history. Still, we are in a weird period where we don’t know quite how to use this new technology; our social mores on mobile technology haven”t been written.

In many ways, we over these new technologies. We rely on them as a crutch, especially as one to excuse ourselves from interaction with human beings who are in the same room with us. Many people fear social occasions — parties, happy hours, conferences — and thus retreat into something that lets others know that we’re busy.

Many of us have become dependent on our phones like they are drugs. We feel phantom vibrations in our pockets where we think we have gotten a new message, email or push notifications. But we haven’t. We just don’t know what it is like to live in a world without that constant buzzing anymore, and when we don’t get that buzzing, our brains fake it for us.

We’re addicts. And for what?

Miller doesn’t even care a phone with him all the time, and the phone that he does own is really old and doesn’t support all those fancy things that buzz our pockets and keep us tethered to the online world at all times. Still, he feels the phantom buzzes:

You know when you think you feel your phone buzz, so you have to pull it out just to make sure? Most of the time it didn’t buzz, but it’ll bug you in the back of you mind, so you have to check. If you don’t, that phantom reminder will haunt you for hours. A phone alert, once sprung, is as physically tangible as the point of a gun in your back, or a chunk of Command-C’d text not pasted, still circulating in the veins of your hand. The only solution to this itch is to scratch it. And this fruitless scratching describes my entire week.

I kept on sensing text messages and phone calls, when there wasn’t even a phone on my person. I’d tell myself this, and yet I’d still pat around to be completely sure. At times my hand would even make it into my empty pocket before I recognized what was happening.

I find that utterly alarming, and I think it has nothing to do with Miller’s character. We are becoming addicted to technology, our phones in particular. Technology is here to help us, not enslave us, but when we go too long without or phones, we become restless, shaky, deprived.

What are we missing? Surely something important has happened since we last checked out phones.

To me, Miller’s year-long sabbatical from the Internet might help inform us on better ways to be connected. How do you do great work if you’re always being interrupted? I recently turned off push notifications and even pull noticiations for email on my phone. I am only bothered by email on my phone when I open up the Sparrow app.

If I don’t have time to actually process email, respond to it and make sure that it is all taken care of, I don’t view it. Merely viewing my email for the sake of viewing it makes me less productive. If I don’t have the time to act on my email, I have no business looking at it.

Unfortunately, I have to keep Outlook open constantly while I’m at work. Much to my dismay, the social mores of my workplace are that email can be used as an instant communication device. I’m expected to respond to urgent requests as they come in. Perhaps, I can begin to change this behavior, allowing myself and fellow workers to only check email a few times a day.

Ultimately, I use technology to get more done — to make my life better. When I feel phantom buzzing in my pocket and check my phone to find nothing has been sent to me, I’m not being more productive. I’m being a shaking, delusional addict. Where are my messages? Something must have happened in my world!

I’m becoming addicted to the dopemine hit of being noticied that something is happening, no matter how banal that thing is. I have to fight this. I cannot become addicted to banalities and trivialities, less my life become consumed by them, and I no longer create anything of substance.

I have a few times left my phone at relatives houses while visiting, and every time it’s a relief. During these brief respites, no one can call, text or harass me on the go. All communication has to be deliberate. I’m not anti-social, but constantly being bombarded with messages makes me less productive, and when I’m not productive, I’m not happy.

I’m hear to build things. To analyze things. To see life in its intricate details.

I cannot do that when I’m constantly being bombarded by texts, emails, phone calls and even push notifications about comments on a social network. I’ve been rolling back my notifications. I only want notifications on truly important information.

My phone works for me, not the other way around. This is why I’m so enthralled by what Miller is doing. What will he discover in this year?

Will he able to accomplish something that being hyperconnected is stealing from him? Like him, I’m working on a novel. But the thralls of the online world often keep me from working on it.

Will Miller actually finish his novel this year?

Going without the Internet for a year is certainly extreme, but we must find better ways of balancing technology with our lives. We’re here for the living. I doubt anyone on their deathbed says that they wish they checked more push notifications.

We’re learning how to make sense of this new technology, and this too shall pass. I imagine that much of the same issues arose when people started driving cars. Heck, there weren’t even traffic lights until 1920.

I’m sure the telephone overwhelmed some people at first. All of this will pass, and we’ll figure out ways to make this new technology work for us.

Five years ago the first modern smartphone — the iPhone — hadn’t even been released. Almost no one had 3G data. We’re learning, we’re adapting.

Some people will remain addicted. That’s life. But for the rest of us, we’ll figure out better ways to use this new technology.

Every time we’re bored, we don’t need to be staring face down in ours phones, poking at nothing. That’s the ultimate patheticness of it. We’re often just swiping around our screens, looking at older checked email. We’re not even experiencing anything new.

Who would have thought a man would need to seek solidarity from social technology in order to find connectedness? In the end, Miller will learn what works best for him.

We’ll evolve. We’ll advance. Enjoy the ride.

Together and yet apart

If this is what some offices are turning into, what’s the point of even coming into the office:

In today’s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the campus of a high-tech start-up, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. A senior partner at a Boston law firm describes a scene in his office. Young associates lay out their suite of technologies: laptops, iPods and multiple phones. And then they put their earphones on. “Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits.” With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken

I haven’t worked in an environment quite like this, but I do wear headphones a bit at work (usually just one so I can hear if someone is trying to talk to me). If people are going into the office to be alone, I think they’er missing the point of being in the office. Most offices are sterile places that do not inspire creativity. The whole purpose of showing up at a place with drab walls and corridors lit by subtly blinking, dingy flourscent lights is to be by coworkers and see what they are up.

Lord knows we don’t show up at most offices to be inspired to do great work. My home office is leagues better than my work cube. It’s a place that inspires me to push myself.

Perhaps these stories are really pointing to the fundamental illogic of coming into the office on a daily basis.

Some people really like being social at work. Others like to lose themselves in their work. Maybe it just has finally become socially acceptable to lose yourself in your work and try to seek solitude.

To me, this points to the need for employers to allow people to work remotely more often. Have employees come into the office for meetings and social events. Have those times where people are in the office be centered around social interaction.

For the other days, let people work at home or a coffee shop or a coworking space or even in the office. Our goal should be to make employees as happy as possible and get the best work out of them.

Some of this hang-wringing over people talking less while being hyperconnected is a bit of “The Kids These Days.” Technology changes. Times change.

People no longer go out and get drunk at lunch while at work. Social mores change. Work has largely become a place for work, and younger workers are spending less time socializing while at work.

That doesn’t mean what was before was right. It was just what was before.

We adapt, we change and we figure out new best practices. I have a feeling that are in the middle of a great work upheaval. People don’t know quite how to use a lot of these new technologies at work or at home. But we’ll figure it out.

The kids will be alright.

Nielsen: White people least likely to own smartphones by significant margin

Now this I find fascinating, utterly fascinating. From a new Nielsen report:

Asian-Americans far outstrip other ethnic categories when it comes to smartphone adoption, with 67.3 percent reporting that they own a smartphone, as compared to 44.7 percent of whites. Hispanics were next, with 57.3 percent saying they owned a smartphone; 54.4 percent of African-Americans said that they had taken the plunge.

Part of this can be explained by the fact that older people are less likely to own smartphones and older segments of the population are whiter. Nielsen reports that two-thirds of people surveyed between the ages of 25 and 34 said they used a smartphone. However, we usually see wealthier and more educated segments of the population adopting IT faster, and we’re not seeing that correlate that well with smartphones.

Older, white men in particular cling to their dumbphones. I’m proud of my Dad for owning an iPhone.

It’s becoming clear to me that owning a smartphone is becoming a must for Millennials. Owning a car? Not so much.

What an exciting time to live in for computing.

Source: Washington Post

Verizon CEO: Shared data plans coming next year

Engadget is reporting that Verizon will begin offering shared data plans in 2012, allowing families and devices to share one pool of data.

There are two big use cases that people want shared data for. First, families have been sharing minutes for years, so why not data? By allowing familes to share data, more people will get smartphones. A lot of people are reluctant to dabble in using data for $30 a month (Verizon’s monthly charge for 2 GB of 3G data and the only data plan they offer on smartphones). 2 GB of 3G data is more than the vast majority of people need on their smartphones, especially first-time smartphone owners. AT&T says that 65 percent of their smartphone customers use less than 200 MB of data a month.

The second use case is for sharing data between multiple devices. Instead of purchasing a data plan for each device — say a smartphone, tablet and mobile wifi device — users could purchase one pool of data and use it across all of their devices. I used to have a data plan on my iPad, but I got tired of managing two different data accounts — one for my iPad and another for my iPhone. It was getting really expensive, and I would often use up the data on my iPad and have plenty of data remaining on my iPhone. Now the iPhone offers the ability to tether data from the iPhone to the iPad, and I do use that from time to time, but it’s a great way to drain your phone’s battery and not as good of solution as sharing a pool of data between my iPhone and iPad.

If I could buy a giant pool of wireless data and use it across a bunch of devices, I would. Instead, I have cut down on my data usage because it was getting too expensive and too difficult to manage several different accounts with the same company, all while I was having too much data on one device and not enough on another.

Episode 18: Secondhand TV

Lonely: Abandoned TV

We are back to our normal episode style of talking about several topics, and this week’s episode is truly a potpourri.

We kick off by chatting about the Nest Learning Thermostat. It’s a really great idea, and could truly make an impact in people’s lives. This gets us thinking about what other common household appliances need a tech and design makeover. This leads us to discover that we have the same crappy Cuisnart coffee maker.

Political trickster James O’Keefe is at it again, this time targeting Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky. We discuss how O’Keefe is not a journalist, and then we discuss journalism bias. We have advice for O’Keefe.

What O’Keefe really needs is an editor. He needs someone to say, “this isn’t worth doing,” or “this isn’t worth running,” or “this will hurt your credibility.” A good editor, even one as biased as O’Keefe would have told him that his latest piece was stupid, boring and was going to cause people not to take him seriously.

We then discuss how the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that children under the age of two should not view glowing screens — TVs, computers, iPads, smartphones, etc. No Sesame Street. No Baby Einstein. Not even “secondhand TV.”

But this is isn’t so black and white. Jeremy wonders whether not allowing his children to use computers, tablets and smartphones until they are older may put his children at a disadvantage compared with other children who were allowed to experiment. And when you watch a video like this, you can’t help but think that using certain glowing devices is a much different experience than watching a TV.

Listen to this week’s show:


Download the MP3

Show notes:

  • Nest Learning Thermostat — This is the kind of device that helps make technology usable.
  • Rosen, Shirky targeted by O’Keefe — James O’Keefe tries to do another deceptively edited gotcha piece. This time, however, it comes off as really dull.
  • No TV for you (youngins) — The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no glowing boxes — TVs, iPads, laptops, smartphones, etc. — for children under the age of 2.

Episode 17: Episode 15S, enter the iPhone 4S

This is our review of the iPhone 4S, Siri and iCloud

Spoiler: We really like the iPhone 4S.

Jeremy is in love with Siri, but we discuss how Siri should be much better in a year. How will Siri improve? What does the future involve? Will there be an API that third party applications can tap into?

We also discuss what we like and don’t like about iCloud. We believe it will change quite a bit over the next year.

Listen to this week’s show:


Download the MP3

6% of 2- to 5-year-olds have their own smartphone

A new survey by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop has some very interesting findings:

  • 72 percent of the 100 top-selling education apps in Apple’s iTunes App store this year were aimed at preschoolers and those in elementary school.
  • 66 percent 4- to 7-year-olds have used an iPhone or iPod.

I wonder how this will affect these children’s development. I also wonder how this will impact education. Will children increasing expect smartphones and tablets as part of their educational experiences? Most of us grew up with computers in school, but many of today’s youth are growing up with a new computing paradigm that teacher’s may not be prepared for.

The future of journalism is linked to technology. Tell newspaper columnists this.

The future of journalism is inextricably linked with technology. There is no way around that. And journalists who don’t get that are actively holding journalism back.

Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson wrote a piece about Steve Jobs and technology that was so off base and so out of touch, one would almost have too assume that it’s satire. Maybe he is auditioning for The Onion:

Before reading this, you should know the following: I do not own an iPad, an iPhone, an iPod or a Mac. I abandoned my typewriter only recently. In short, I have not enlisted in the digital revolution and have kept my involvement to a desktop computer, e-mail and the Internet…

By history’s measure, Jobs’s achievements are tiny. Transforming the music industry is not the same as transforming society. There are many technological advances that had a far larger impact on society: antibiotics, air travel, air conditioning and television. By contrast, many of Apple’s products are gadgets, as commentators have noted. Their ultimate social impact may be less than Facebook’s.

The work that Steve Jobs did on personal computers, smartphones, tablets and general usability for technology far outweighs some of the “big” examples that Samuelson exposes. The television? Honestly, that’s nothing compared to computers.

Many tech savvy people of my generation are forgoing traditional televisions because Internet-connected devices are so much deeper and more powerful than a TV. Standalone TV is a blimp in history that will be replaced by Internet video (all video will eventually go over IP, and this transition is already underway).

Steve Jobs and his works are big because they brought computing to the masses. The Internet and personal computing — PCs, smartphones, tablets, etc. — are some of the biggest advances in human history.

Steve Jobs worked to take technology and make it usable for non-technologists. He helped democratize technology. That is huge.

For a journalist to not understand technology, when technology is disrupting journalism so greatly and allowing for journalism to do things that it could never do before, is somewhat mind blowing. Samuelson is not some Podunk journalist. He works for one of the best news organizations in America.

I expect more.

We become journalists because we’re addicted to learning and reading. We simply have to know more about our world around us. Samuelson, a good political reporter, would be a better journalist if he was more curious about technology.

Hat tip to Daring Fireball.

Cell phone charging kiosks can be unsafe and steal your data

“We’d been talking about how dangerous these charging stations could be. Most smartphones are configured to just connect and dump off data,” Markus said. “Anyone who had an inclination to could put a system inside of one of these kiosks that when someone connects their phone can suck down all of the photos and data, or write malware to the device.”

Brian Krebs outlines the security risk of using cellphone recharging kiosks. Smartphones have so much data on them, much of it personal. If you have to use a charging kiosk, powering it off first may be the safest route.

This is yet another reason that I consider battery life such an important factor in a smartphone.