Tag Archives: Smart-phones

Tools of the Trade

My mom was talking to me this weekend about a commercial she’d seen for a new car. It involved a group of people tossing their smart phones into a wood chipper, then being asked how they felt about it. One girl’s reply was that she felt a bit sick.

Personally I think I’d be looking for a bigger, cooler object to shred, like maybe an old desktop that’s given me trouble. And I would want back the $600 I paid for the phone (in the hypothetical world where I own a smartphone in the first place).

My relationship to technology is a lot like a carpenter and his tools. I work with all sorts of gadgets, and I do buy things so that I can have some specialized new functionality. Just recently I bought a $6 bluetooth keyboard for my tablet (after looking through literally 1000’s of options). But I don’t live on my gear (all appearances to the contrary), they’re just tools in my toolbox.

One of the first things I do when starting a new writing project is to put together my “go bag.” Typically this involves going to the thrift store to find something cool with all the right compartments I need (I have probably as many laptop/computer bags as some people have purses). My latest is an orange sport bag with a nice thin profile, lots of pockets, and a total cost of $3.

For my current writing projects, I’m trying to work without always carrying around a laptop. I have a couple of good on-the-go computers, but the boot-up time and battery life can hamper opportunities to write in odd locations. The kind of projects I’m working on now benefit from the ability to whip out a keyboard, type for fifteen minutes, then pack up. My tablet can carry large amounts of reading material, music, and media, everything I need to be productive in small bursts.

But as much as I work on computers or tablets, there are still tasks that call for old fashioned pencil and paper. I think a lot of authors romanticize fancy journals, leather-bound notebooks with wrap-around ties, something that looks like an ancient scribe that will lead you to the ark of the covenant. I’m susceptible to this as much as the next person, though I’ve divested myself somewhat of the notion that I’m going to fill these books with wonderfully profound short-stories or thoughts. Usually I just use them for taking notes.

This still can require specialized equipment. Because I have a small bag I want something small, sturdy, with a lot of pages, and a little cool looking. Since I’m taking math notation, I need a gridded notebook that meets these parameters (bought my first Moleskine brand notebook this week). I’ve heard that notation on paper can aid in retention of information, though truthfully it’s just as much about speed and not having to flip back and forth between what I’m reading on my tablet and my notes.

My point is, I carry around abilities, not gadgets.

Some of those abilities are purely entertainment based, and some are more practical, but the tools are not part of me. Short of worries about losing notes, having to replace items, or being worried about credit card information, these devices are just gear. It’s gear I trade in and out based on the needs of the moment. I make some effort to be connected, to check-in on social media, to tweet an appropriate number of times, and to write these posts, but it’s not the primary function of anything I carry. It’s the nail-file on my Leatherman. Occasionally useful, but not primarily why I have the device.

Maybe part of it is that I spread out my gear. No one device has all my contacts, music, pictures, writing, etc. I try to keep things roughly interchangeable, to allow for my cycling of moods between trying to carry the minimum possible, and the whole kitchen sink. And I like specialized devices rather than multi-purpose ones. I actually think there’s a benefit to something that can only do one thing, my eReader is still the device on which I do the most reading, not my tablet, because there are fewer distractions.

I worry as I write this that I sound anachronistic, out of touch with modern culture and devices. My refusal to own a smartphone already puts me dangerously close to the Grandpa class. Heck, my Dad has a smartphone, and loves it. But I think skepticism is healthy. Then again, you are reading the opinions of a bearded man whose dream is to live in a cabin in the woods. So take that for what it’s worth.

I think at the very least we should examine our relationship to devices from time to time. And if the thought of losing them makes us sick, maybe it’s time to pull back a little.

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Put That Damn Thing Away!

I like writing in coffee shops. There’s little expectation of being forced to interact with others except in the brief period of ordering the drink that permits me to sit here for hours on end. If I pick up one of the cold mochas, I don’t even have to wait for it to be brewed. This is a room full of people in their own little world. I’m sitting here listening to the Ink soundtrack working on The Sky Below and blog posts, while someone else is studying for exams, and still someone else is watching How I Met Your Mother. In my immediate line of sight in front and in back of me there are maybe eight people, all of whom have laptops, tablets and notebooks where they are thoroughly engrossed in whatever it was they came here to do.

And that’s fine, coffee shops are a place for work. Maybe occasionally a place for discussion with friends, but keep that stuff to the comfy chairs in the corner, and don’t be too loud so I don’t hear you through my headphones.

I’m all about appropriate places for technology. But I equally think there are times we need to turn the devices off and be focused on the world around us.

Take my commute Friday morning. On my way out I spotted a woman going out for a run. She didn’t have headphones in as far as I could see, but she did have both thumbs firmly planted on a smart phone, and was obviously texting or doing some other social media task while she was taking shuffle steps forward. She made no particular effort not to be too far out into the road, and if her purpose was exercise I don’t think she was getting much out of it except for her fingers.

If you’re going to run, put the headphones in, hit play, put the player around your arm, then eyes up people!

My wife dinged me the other week when we were leaving a hotel on our way back to Columbus. Now this was a six hour drive, and I pass six hour drives by sleeping and/or reading, usually one leading into the other. And she’s fine with that. But we’d maybe been in the car for two minutes before I whipped out a tablet. I mean, there’s not a lot to see in a parking garage, but I could have at least made an attempt at conversation, or so I’m told.

All of us have moments when we think technology is appropriate and ones where we don’t. Personally I hate having smart phone people around when I’m trying to remember a piece of trivia, because they feel the need to deprive me of the ability to think of the answer for myself. Then again, I’m the kind of guy who got a kick out a geek card game that asked me to name 30 SNL cast members from memory.

I think a lot of us think texting at the dinner table is rude, but I did grow up in a family where breakfast and often lunch were accompanied by reading. The fact that these were paper books was only a matter of the eReader not being cheap and available. Now it would be my tablet.

I know I’m not engaged when I’m reading, when I’m futzing on the computer, even when I claim to be. I’ve almost always missed the last thing you’ve said, and the old husband ploy of responding to everything with an “I love you” only gets you so far. There are times to work, there are times to play, and there are times to pay attention to each other.

Because that’s what this really is about in a way. Even a guy like me, who isn’t so much into the social world is still saying that the thing I want to do on my computer, whether it’s recompressing comic books, or organizing my files, is more interesting or at least more necessary than paying full attention to you. I claim it’s multi-tasking, or that I don’t like to just watch shows, and these things are true. And sometimes they’re okay. But sometimes you need to make time to be engaged. Admittedly in my case engagement looks more like just having the tablet as opposed to two laptops, a tablet and the TV, but you gotta start somewhere.

Do you feel ridiculous standing in a line just staring and thinking, when everyone else has a tablet or a smart phone? What’s the one place you think technology should never intrude?

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