I Give Up: Electronic Etiquette is a Lost Cause

Over the last year or two I sometimes noticed individual colleagues sporadically checking their phones for texts and messages during meetings.* I found it puzzling since we insist that students unplug during class.

Then last week I went to a meeting of Washington State’s Education Deans. Suffice to say, between a third and half of everyone was working on their phones and/or laptops during all of our conversations. Thirty people around one large conference¬†table, a dean, state legislator, or school district superintendent talking, and 10-15 people unabashedly reading and sending texts and emails.

That’s a critical mass of distracted participants who’ve given in to the tyranny of the urgent.¬†They’re¬†partly sitting around the conference table and partly back in their offices. Half present at both or half absent?

That query¬†suggests what they’re doing is wrong, but it’s too late in the Information Revolution for that conclusion. It is what it is. Don’t look for me to put any of the toothpaste back in the tube. It’s up to Sherry Turkle. I’m waving a white flag.

*¬†A month ago I was in an hour long committee meeting with about eight¬†colleagues from across campus. We were sitting around a smallish conference table in Xavier (for those Lutes keeping score at home). I was distracted by an IT/Librarian colleague who wouldn’t take his eyes of his laptop screen. Fifty five of the sixty minutes. It was as impressive a feat of anti-social disconnectedness as I had¬†ever seen.

All-star Apps

Even late adapting tech skeptics like me dig an occasional app. My fav triumvirate these days: Waze, Evernote, and Wunderlist.

The Good Wife is a serial list writer, always has been, always will be, but she’s even later adapting than me meaning she puts “the old” in “school” meaning paper and pencil. If she dips her toes any¬†further into the digital waters, Wunderlist¬†might prove transformative.

My dearest sissy is the “Queen of Apps”, but she doesn’t dare post on her brother’s or anyone’s blog, so if we’re lucky, she’ll email me with her current favs.

What indispensable apps am I missing?

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The Best Apple Watch Review

All you need to know about the changing landscape of journalism is that this blogger’s review runs circles around all of those in the major papers, including the New York Times.

Gruber’s genius is he never wastes words. It’s¬†so lengthy because he¬†has so many insights. The best subsection is the last‚ÄĒDigital Touch, so hang in there. His high school classroom story is Gruber¬†at his very best. Just brilliant.

As an Apple investor I couldn’t be more excited about this launch. It’s going to exceed expectations and make me more than enough $ to buy a third or fourth generation one that’s waterproof. It’s ideally suited for American consumers who are slaves to status anxiety and routinely let wants trump needs.

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The iWeek Ahead

iMiss the days when everyone in and around Apple was afraid to death of Steve Jobs and what he would do if there was a leak. Far less was known prior to major pressers like this Tuesdays.

Predictions. More incremental improvements to the world’s best smart phone. Larger, sharper, more durable screens; faster processors; more memory, improved battery life.¬†iPhone 6 users will¬†soon be paying for all sorts of things by quickly swiping their phones.

An iWatch that keeps time more accurately than any previous watch ever. All of your social media on your wrist all of the time. Steadily declining marketshare for the top-selling personal fitness and health devices. Wireless charging.

Analysts will complain the products cost too much. On Friday, AAPL shareholders like me will have less money that we do right now.

People will find the money for both products. Fourth quarter 2014 and first quarter 2015 sales will set new records and exceed almost everyone’s expectations. The stock will recover and sometime soon the Good Wife and I will once again start eating at Vic’s on Saturday¬†nights.

I’ll buy everything Tim offers for sale¬†Tuesday.¬†Maybe even for myself. If I go against type and follow through on that this time,¬†my friends,¬†a resilient bunch, will quickly find new¬†things about me to¬†ridicule. Like the humble blog. Their favorite line, which they find endlessly entertaining, “You have a blog?!”

The products will not improve the quality of my life. I will not free up more time or experience more joy. I will not be more insightful. I will not write or teach any better. I will not listen more patiently or find more humor in things. I will not be more kind or generous. I will not display greater appreciation for my health or the natural world.

Take this prediction to the bank. No combination of sleek and shiny iProducts will make me a better person or improve the quality of my iLife. Make like Stuart Smalley and repeat that mantra in the mirror this week and let the iHype pass over you.

You STILL Have a Wired Doorbell?!

A wonderfully quiet, calm, early morning. Just me and the iPad Air, on a stool, at the kitchen island. I’m George Foreman and my green tea latte, banana with peanut butter, and bowl of oatmeal are Frazier. I open ZITE and select one of my “Top Stories”, an article titled “Interior Design Tips & Furniture To Consider When Moving Into a New Home”. I want to be prepared in case I buy a new home today.

Scrolling, scrolling, some cool ideas like a pallet coffee table or a “murphy bed for the kids’ room”. Then the game changer. “Connect With Your Home Via Your Smartphone.”¬†Here’s the paragraph. Savor. Every. Word.

These days our smartphones can do almost anything. There’s an app for everything so why not take advantage of this? In your home, you can have things like a wireless doorbell. Whenever someone’s at the door your phone will ring so, even if you’re in the garden, you’ll hear the doorbell.

Our smartphones.¬†Never be lonely again. We’re a club and you’re in it.

There’s an app for everything. I have read there are a whole lot of apps, but I never knew there’s one for everything. Had I known about the one that heals calf muscles, I would’ve been running all January and February. And had I known about the app that enables you to peer into the near future, I would’ve avoided last weeks argument with the GalPal. And had I known about the ones that rake leaves, mow, and pick up doggie do, I would’ve spent all weekend inside learning more about interior design.

A wireless doorbell. Hot damn. Whenever someone’s at the door your phone will ring so, even if you’re in the garden, you’ll hear the doorbell.¬†Until now, I thought my most pressing hardships in life were health related‚ÄĒpersistent skin cancer, an enlarged prostate, worsening vision. Now that I think about it, I have long been tormented by a litany of missed house guests as a result of my feeble, wired door bell, and my gardening. Because thanks to technology, we have way more time on our hands than ever before and we’re spending a lot of that freed up time dropping in on one another.

Just the other day, three young women stopped by to give me a birthday present, an advanced copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. They emailed me later to say they rang the doorbell and waited as long as they could. I guess that’s why Marley was barking so excitedly. At the time I was knee deep in compost.

And then a few weeks ago, Jimmy Fallon stopped by to ask if I would be his first guest on the Tonight Show. He emailed me later to say he rang the doorbell and waited as long as he could. At the time I was planting seeds.

And then a few months ago, President Obama stopped by to see if I wanted to play golf and help troubleshoot the Affordable Care rollout. He emailed me later to say he rang the bell and waited as long as the Secret Service would let him. At the time I was stringing up some snap peas.

And then a year ago, Kate Middleton stopped by to ask for some parenting advice. She emailed me later to say she rang the bell and waited as long as MI6 would let her. At the time I was installing a drip water system into a raised garden bed.

And then two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI stopped by for some personal counseling. He emailed me later to say he rang the bell and waited as long as the Gendarmie Corps of Vatican City State would let him. At the time I was weeding.

Someday, I will gather my children’s children around and tell them exactly what it was like to live through the wired doorbell era. I won’t spare their feelings and I’ll use big words like “distressing”, “harrowing”, and “horrifying” because they’ll be sups smart.

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Of Breakfast Tables and Technological Change

One of my fondest childhood memories involves my older brother who loved making my life miserable. He routinely read the morning sports page and comics while eating toast weighted down by peanut butter and honey. Inevitably, a few drops of the honey would spill over onto the paper, so that when our dad read it, pages would stick together. Prompting dad to snap and drop a “g*d dammit” much to my delight.

Fast forward forty years to our Olympia, WA breakfast table. The GalPal and I grew up in newspaper reading families so we’re part of the diminishing newspaper reading minority. I read lots of local and national newspapers on my laptop and iPad. But as you know, the heavy hitters‚ÄĒled by the New York Times‚ÄĒhave started to charge for more than very minimal access.

We have a local paper weekend subscription which runs $13.33/month or $160/year. 52 weekends times three days equals 156 issues a year at a cost of $1.02/per. That’s a terrible value, but it’s a concession to marital peace. For some reason Betrothed has to hold the paper in her hands on the weekends. I hear divorce costs more than $160.

And we subscribe to the Wall Street Journal which runs $8.33/month or $100/year. That’s the educator’s discount price. The regular price is three times more at $26/month. 52 weeks times six days minus holidays equals about 305 issues/year at a cost of 32.7¬Ę/per for me and 98¬Ę for the masses. That’s for home delivery and complete digital access on any device.

The WSJ subscription is about to expire and I’m thinking about switching to the New York Times digital/tablet edition. No home delivery. Unlimited access on any computer and tablet. Smart phone access is a little more. Educator’s discount price, $10/month; regular price, $20/month. That’s $120/year for 365 issues meaning about 32.9¬Ę/per for me and 66¬Ę for the masses.

Another option is PressReader, the best choice for serious news junkies. It’s like a cocaine addict buying a personal cocoa field. For $30/month subscribers gain access to 2,300 newspapers from 95 countries, representing 54 languages. Here’s a 4+ minute video introduction. They’ve provided me with a sample subscription which I’ve been trying out. It’s a promising application, but it may not have your local paper. Also, it takes 10-15 seconds for papers to download and moving around within papers takes some getting used to. If it was my only option, I’d adjust quickly and like it, but I’m going to pass on paying three times more for way more content than it’s possible to process.

As if the newspaper subscription water isn’t muddy enough, two more options include the online news aggregator¬†Zite¬†which I’ve reviewed before (here) and Pulse¬†another news aggregator which I really like and highly recommend (both available at iTunes). Pulse works especially well for skimmers. In fact, I dare you to find a rival.

For the love of all things digital, someone please convince the GalPal the answer is obvious. Read the local paper online, use $120 of that $160 in savings to subscribe to the New York Times, and use the remaining $40 to buy more dried mangos.

Light a Candle or Curse the Darkness?

Is quality of life improving? Depends on the person or people and the place right? What about your quality of life, your family’s, your friends’, the majority of people who live in your community?

I’m conflicted. I believe the U.S. is in decline. And because both political parties¬†approach government as a zero-sum game making bipartisanship a relic of previous centuries, I have no confidence that government will slow or reverse the decline. Health insurance and higher education inflation are major negatives.

Also,¬†Edward Conrad¬†aside (short rebuttal), growing inequality is a definite negative and there are still serious cracks in the global economy. Social security funds are supposed to dry up in 2033, right when yours truly will be 71. Wars and security threats abound and our military spending is unsustainable. And if Romney pulls off the upset, he promises to increase it in the short-term, inevitably adding to our unprecedented debt. And finally, my hair continues to recede like the world’s rain forests and UCLA hasn’t beaten USC in football since 2006.

But there are lots of positives for the other side of the ledger, the “light the candle” side. Medical research continues to march on, extending our lives and improving quality of life. Life for many in the poorest countries is gradually improving. Baby apps and my late-adaptor skepticism aside, personal technology has made life better. Writing on this laptop is a marked improvement on the typewriters of my college years. Watching t.v. without commercials, reading electronic newspapers on my iPad without getting ink-stained hands, the value of these things can’t be overstated. Cars keep getting safer, more efficient, and relatively more affordable. Appliances and homes are more energy efficient. Alternative energy technologies make energy independence and reduced military spending a possibility.

Related to that, wise consumers, in many sectors of the economy, are getting more value for their dollar than ever before.¬†A personal example of that. Everyone is complaining about the cost of gas and related things like summer air fares. I just bought a plane ticket to visit Mother Dear mid-summer. I put the time in to get a great fare, $391, Seattle to Tampa. Let’s add in $80 for airport parking and $15 for in-air groceries (to and from) for a total cost of $486.¬†Translating that to time spent working, at $50/hour, that’s 1.2 work days, at $12.50/hour, 5 work days.

What if I drove the 3,200 or 6,400 miles roundtrip? Let’s assume 32mpg for 200 gallons at $4/per for a subtotal of $800 in gasoline. Plus four long days means, 12 meals (@ $10/per) and 3 hotels (@ 90/per) x 2 (for the return)=$780 for a total of $1,580. And let’s add in $120 for an oil change, depreciation, and tire wear and tear. So I could spend eight days on the road at a cost of $1,700 or fly for $486. So I get to spend seven extra days with MD for $1,214 less.

The older most people get the more they succumb to selective perception. They get nostalgic for a Golden Age when young people had shorter hair, fewer tats, read more, and life in general was better. I don’t buy it. I’m not sure there’s ever been a Golden Age of anything. My goal is to light candles more and curse the darkness less.

That’s me in the second row excited to see Mother Dear

21st Century Reading

When flying, I’m often impressed by the percentage of people reading.¬†Mid-flight, on the return from FL, I walked up and down the center aisle. Interesting to survey people’s reading formats of choice. Like fish that don’t notice the water (Margaret Mead), it’s easy to forget we’re living in the midst of an Information Revolution that will alter nearly every aspect of our lives.

Among the readers, old school hard copy books held a slight advantage over Kindle and Nook-based electronic books. I only saw one other iPadder.

The transformation to reading electronic books will probably take a decade. Sometime relatively soon I’ll tell young people, “When I used to fly, the airlines provided every passenger warm meals on trays.” And “Before and after those meals, we read hard copy books, some that weighed a couple of pounds each.”

I’m a periodical junkie, so to this point, I’ve been using the Pad to read newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Yesterday, I purchased and began reading my first electronic book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life, by Francine Jay.

Today, while reading The Joy of Less through the Kindle app, I came upon an underlined sentence which I of course tapped. Up popped this message, “Five readers highlighted this passage.” Had you been in the Toyota dealership at the time, you would have seen a look on my face that was equal parts shock and horror.

Stunned and creeped out by biblio big brother.

I could not care less about the passages other readers highlighted. A cardiac arrest was averted by the remainder of the message which said I could adjust the settings so that I couldn’t see others’ recommended highlights and also so that my own annotations would not be factored into the recommendations.

Done and done.

I suppose I should go along to get along with respect to the increasing popularity of social networking technologies, but for me, reading is intensely personal. My choice of material, my pace, my interpretations and internal dialogue. Don’t tell, but I sometimes get irked when the galpal reads outloud from the paper.

Are there really readers who want help figuring out what parts of a book are most noteworthy? Or is this feature a technological point of diminishing returns? Just because we have the technology to do something doesn’t mean it adds value. But again, since readers are free to decide whether to opt in, (awful cliche alert) it’s all good.

A lot has been written lately about the impact of electronic readers and the changing nature of book publishing. Traditional book publishers are understandably nervous. The digitization of music provides some clues as to what is likely to happen, like ever shrinking profit margins and the option of purchasing portions of books, but it’s still challenging to accurately extrapolate and identify clear winners and losers.

I’m optimistic that distinctive, clear, creative, insightful, engaging writing will still be rewarded with large, appreciative audiences.

iPad Review

In the Steve Ballmer-desk-top computers will continue to thrive v. Steve Jobs-desk-tops will become like a truck that you use sporadically for a few specific tasks, I’m putting ALL my money on Jobs.

And I will be in the vanguard. I have been blown away by my Pad and am frustrated I haven’t had more time to set it up and learn the ins and outs. Two things are conspiring against Pad-time, a heavy June teaching schedule and a light fourteen year old.

Just how great a handheld computer is it? Eventually women will find an alternative word for their feminine product. At the store, “Do you have any pads?” “Wi-fi or 3G?” The first night I went to bed at 10 p.m. and by 6 a.m. the next morning five new apps appeared out of thin air including the bible and an especially riveting one where you poke plastic bubble wrap. The highlight so far has been showing fourteen how to lock it in either horizontal or vertical mode.

Let’s get my least favorite feature out of the way so I can return to positive product pimping. The homepage photograph is a beautiful coastline at dusk with white wisps across the sky, remnants of shooting stars maybe? The problem is they look exactly like ruinous scratches. They still give me heart palpitations six days later. Don’t know that I’ll ever get used to them.

As every other reviewer has explained, typing on the screen keyboard is okay for a few sentences at a time. I bought a separate keyboard and mouse so that I can go long on it. Lack of printing is an issue, but no doubt a temporary one.

Here’s one way it’s changed my life already. Yes, that was tongue in check. My wife is of the anti-television persuasion. I wear the pants in the family nearly all the time (I should confirm that with her), but I have not mustered the courage to defy her “no television in the bedroom” edict. With this bad boy, I mean pad boy, what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Case in point, the other night I¬†surreptitiously watched an episode of Scrubs on ABC’s app. I know what you’re thinking. Let’s just say it will be ON if she even suggests a “no Pad in the bedroom” policy.

Admittedly, this may be the most incomplete, least technical, least insightful, least helpful iPad review written to this point. But how many of those other fanboys can do this?

Palming the Pad