"But Everyone's Doing it" – Smartphone Etiquette

No one loves their smartphone more than I do. I mean, I review mobile apps, for Pete’s sake. I love pretty much everything about the little devices that pack so much into such a portable form.

And yes, I do bring my smartphone with me almost everywhere. But I have to get on my soap box here, for a moment. My target is not really the smartphones, per se, but the users who have bonded so firmly with their devices that it might take a crowbar to dislodge them from their death grip.

It is a topic I have been thinking about for some time now. To sum it up: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  When I am engaging with friends, or when I am at dinner with companions, I pocket my phone and that is where it stays, until I am alone. There are people within my social group who find it perfectly o.k. to turn to the phone during a conversation, rather than the other human companions in the group. I have a problem with that.

Go ahead. Call me old fashioned. I recall reading a post several months back by one of those people, you know, the ones who find it perfectly acceptable to choose the virtual world over the very real social situation at hand. This person (I so wish I could find that article) actually made the argument that the prolific use of smartphones during social gatherings actually improved his social experience, enhanced his connections with other people rather than diminished them, by making the event more exciting. If I recall correctly, the examples proffered by the author included the ability to look up data to settle an argument. Well, now, where is the fun in that? There goes the entire sport of social argument in one fell Google-an or Wikipedian swoop. Exciting, my foot. More like a buzz kill.

But seriously, much of what is going on during these flights from reality are forays into the virtual social world. Perusing Facebook while sitting at a table with real friends. Checking messages sent by others while real people next to you wait for you to finish. Attending to questionably pressing work during those rare off hours spent in the company of your real family. This exercise is simply missing the entire point.

Social networking via the Web is indeed a marvelous trick. Our ability to connect and share has increased exponentially with the advent and acceptance of tools like Facebook and Twitter. But these tools were built on the presumption that we are social animals, interested in making connections and sharing experiences. Experiences. Not virtual status updates or digital media. If given the opportunity to experience a real world connection, does it make any sense to eschew that opportunity for a chance to play the next round of Words with Friends? Not in my book. My take on our brave new world may seem quaint, but to me social networking is meant to enhance and not usurp the real world experience with friends, family, colleagues and potential clients.

David Carr has a great semi-tongue in cheek list of etiquette rules for smartphone use over at the NYT, and I have to say I agree with most, if not all, of them. Maybe he is old-fashioned too. But maybe David and I will have our heads up when something exciting happens in our real world environment. I doubt either one of us will say “Damn! That siting of President Obama made me lose my chance to tend my Farmville garden!” 

As Aesop once wisely said “Beware that you do not lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.”

Cool Odds & Ends: OnSwipe, Free FB Page Tool, Desktop Cloud Drive

I have a few cool tools to share that have little in common except the useful factor. Rather than clutter the feed with multiple posts, I thought I would report on them all in one spot. My involvement with them ranges from “in the process of using”, “about to try” or simply “just interested in the application.”

The first, OnSwipe, I began using yesterday. While I am still working out some bugs with it, it holds a great deal of promise for Web publishers in this tablet-crazy age. OnSwipe is a plug-in available automatically to all WordPress.com users and by choice to all self-hosted WordPress users to give your blog that iPad-esque, Flipboard-y, Pulse-able sort of look. It takes full advantage of the swiping gestures available to touch screen users and even uses some slick animation on the front page of your blog, which is generally composed of whatever image you have loaded in your latest post. It offers accelerometer aware content (vertical or horizontal positioning), a cool dedicated homescreen icon for your blog, the ability to use a selected loading screen, integrated WordPress comments and built-in sharing tools. My issue is digging past the second page of most recent posts – I can’t scroll to earlier posts or bring a single post to full-screen. But I am working on it by turning off various plug-ins that might be in conflict. I think it is worth the effort – the end result on your iPad, or any other touchscreen device, is fabulous.

The second came to me via email in response to my Facebook Business Pages for Dummies post a few weeks back from developer Wilco de Kriej, an affiliate marketer in the Netherlands looking for a free way to improve the experience of creating Facebook Pages in the new iFrames format. As Studio readers may recall, I used my WordPress blog editor to create code to embed in the iFrames application. Doable, but somewhat unwieldy and definitely limited. Mr. de Kriej has created a WordPress template that you can use to create an iFrame friendly page, complete with fan-gate (fan only and non-fan only content). He calls it WP4FB, (WordPress for Facebook, perhaps?) and you can download it yourself for free and/or watch his demo here. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think I am going to give it a shot because, well, I am just that way.

Finally, if you have managed to get yourself past the Vader-ian terms of service for the new Amazon Cloud Drive, you might want to check out this cool hack from the fine peeps at Make Use Of – a desktop tool to easily access and work with the heretofore web-only Cloud Drive interface.  Hit the jump above for the complete instructions, but for the reader’s digest version, it involves using an application called Gladinet Cloud Desktop, a longstanding cloud-storage access application. It handles more than just Cloud Drive, but is especially useful for Cloud Drive, which doesn’t have a companion desktop application. Easy set up and very cool result.

Nice little basket of toys for your web-and-desktop pleasure. Hey, who said there was no such thing as the Easter Bunny?

Let IBM Handle Your Commute, Intelligently

First you have Watson taking over our game shows and now IBM’s Smarter Traveler has your commute covered. This new system is better than your average GPS’ traffic alerts – it learns your routes and then analyzes data from various sources to actually predict how bad it is going to be before you even leave the comfort of your home or office. 

The system is the product of IBM, Caltrans and a team at UCal Berkeley. It combines predictive analysis software with an existing network of road sensors, toll booths, and data from GPS equipped cell phones to learn travel habits, routes and areas of congestion. Alerts are then automatically delivered via email or text message with the status of the driver’s typical commute before the trip begins, eliminating potential driver distraction during the trip. What I really like is the app’s ability to suggest alternative routes before the traffic gets gridlocked – I cannot tell you how many times I get the traffic alert just as I am pulling up to the back of the wall of stopped traffic. It is anticipated that suggested alternative routes may include trips to the nearby public transportation along with current schedules for buses and trains. Useful and eco-friendly!

You can check out IBM’s press release here. Right now, it is being tested in the Bay area, but hopefully soon in an urban area near you. In anticipation, I already signed up. You can too here. Maybe, just maybe, we can all kiss traffic hell goodbye in the near future.

Legal Opinion Letter as Poetry. Really.

Hard to believe but maybe, in fact, true. I happened on this link over at the Legal Writing Profs Blog and followed it to the New York Times Opinion pages to find an analysis of literary devices inconspicuously hanging out in our everyday writing. David Brooks considers our extensive of metaphors in our communications, noting that we communicators drop a metaphor every 10 to 25 words.

Equally interesting are the types of metaphors we use for different subject matter. Brooks reveals the pairings described by researchers George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, e.g.: food metaphors for ideas; health metaphors for relationships; war metaphors for arguments; money metaphors for time; and, liquid metaphors for money (hit the jump above for the examples).

Brooks opines that metaphorical thinking obscures our perception and  understanding of reality by fitting our communication with lenses that alter the view. Pop quiz: how many metaphors did I bury in that sentence? (Answer: at least four and maybe five if you are being generous). In essence, Brooks equates metaphorical thinking with lazy thinking.

I am not convinced this “pedestrian poetry” is all wrong. As a writer, I seek to invoke visuals as well as impart concepts. Metaphors are an effective means of doing so. For creative writing, I consciously use  unusual metaphors to force a new concept or pairing. For business writing, I am more conservative but still use them to encourage a visceral response to my attempted persuasion. Go back and read a brief you crafted or an opinion letter you drafted and count how many metaphors you used. Then ask yourself: did those metaphors promote or obscure my intentions? Was the net result my design or wide of the mark? As long as you understand your message and feel your words convey that message, then all is well.

Metaphors are an important communications tool and even tie our present thinking to historical understandings, as explained by Brooks in his piece. Even unintended metaphors may subconsciously serve to italicize your point. As long as you are aware of their import, what is the harm in lighting your pen on fire with a few poetic devices? Metaphorically speaking, of course. 🙂

The Current State of Social Networks (Visual)

The demands of my professional day job have left me insufficient time to post anything with weight and depth (well, the weight and depth I usually post, anyway). So I thought I would share a little infographic on the current state of social networks. The graphic shows participation, growth and decline in some of our favorite online haunts. Kudos to BeholdingEye photography for the slick visual design.

Hitpad – iPad News With Personalization

Fast and personal – not a bad way to get your news. And when you are reading it on the Number One Consumption Tool available today, it doesn’t get much better. Hitpad is another news reading app for the iPad, yes. But the slick app offers “bite-sized” news nuggets of the top stories, that get better and more personalized to your tastes the more you use and interact with the app. Hitpad culls from many major news sources, so you are getting a broader feed. And the app distinguishes itself from the burgeoning pack by (in its own words) offering the following:

  • Hitpad is a rich visual dashboard that tells you what are the most important things you should know today in your areas of interest
  • Hitpad is instrumentation by measuring, analyzing and determining what is important to consume in order to minimize reverb and improve discovery
  • Hitpad is agnostic to the publishers that are providing the data
  • Hitpad is tuned and personalized based on your interests

Hitpad is very visual (a big plus for me) and looks a bit like a Tweetdeck for news. But it does it one better by curating based on your uses and interests. And it is fast – the first layer shows a single sentence that gets to the heart of the story so you can skim a wide field, but you can still drill down to get more if a particular blurb piques your interest.

And, best of all, its free.

If you are looking for a cool newsy add for your cool new iPad, this might be a winner. Slice and dice through your news with Hitpad.