Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How a Smart Phone Made Me Less Smart

I recently got a smart phone. It is a Droid and I love it.  The phone calls are clear. We bought a data package so I have internet service and other advantages.  It was quite a change from my previous phone. In fact, both my business and personal phones were mainly for telephone conversations, but both had internet/email service.   

My Droid opened up a world that I knew existed, but not experienced in real time and 24/7.  Before that I relied on my laptop or business computer.  You see my old phone required me to log in and access all my accounts, in other words I to take the initiative. It was not touch screen so maneuvering various sites was cumbersome and time consuming at best.  My smart phone brings all my accounts to me 24/7.  I received constant notifications, and posting updates and Tweets are simple.

Before I go too much further, some background. The phone I am writing about is for personal use. I have three Twitter accounts (an economic development account, a business account and a personal account).  The business and personal accounts are more like news feeds.  I track my favorite companies, think tanks, writers, and columnists.  In fact, Twitter reminds me of the old stock ticker tape machines.  For those of you unfamiliar with a ticker tape, it was a machine that communicated changes in stock prices via the telephone lines.  I tried to include a photo of a ticker tape, but ran into "user error". My apologies.

I follow 1,318 people, columnists, economic  development professionals, companies, organizations, and authors.  It is an invaluable tool that allows me to catch up on headlines and breaking news.  Now please understand, I do not read every post, but do take a brief glance from my computer via TweetDeck or on my smart phone. Incidentally a new app came out that puts TweetDeck on my smart phone.

In addition to all three Twitter accounts, I have a LinkedIn account for professional purposes, a Facebook account for personal use, a Plaxo account for professional purposes, and texting.  My phone does not have any games, but I do have numerous news outlets I access like Bloomberg, the New York Times, Fox Business, CNBC, BBC, the Politico, and The Hill.  For a news/political junkie like me, this is nirvana. 

As I alluded to earlier, with a smart phone, I can manage all social network accounts, keep track of updates, and post relevant comments.  All email accounts go into a universal inbox so account switching is unnecessary.  Many news organizations are formatting stories for a smart phone. 

My family thinks I am addicted, and I agree with them.  I used to laugh at Crackberry addicts, now I experience the same thrill.  When standing in a line, I will check my phone. When I am at a stop sign in my car and my phone buzzes, I will take a look at it (not while driving).  My battery would last one day and that includes power consumed for phone calls. You feel you may miss something so you keep checking it or glancing at notifications.   It just reminds me of what my response when I was asked about the internet. It is a big library without Dewey decimal system. Every day more and more information becomes available and formatted for a smart phone.  Trying to track, add, read and organize is a monumental task.  By the way, if you do not know what the Dewey decimal system is, google it.  Better yet, visit your local library.

The result? On Sunday I decided not to use my smart phone, except for phone calls. I accessed only LinkedIn and Facebook once during the day from my laptop, did not access TweetDeck.  In addition, I greatly curtailed my smart phone use on Monday, a holiday. What a difference it made. First, I my smart phone went 2 days, 10 hours, and 58 minutes before it needed a charge.  I usually set my battery for maximum savings.  Second, I really enjoyed time with my family. Third, I enjoyed really reading a book and magazines. 

As I stated earlier, I am convinced my wife and kids are right, for a while I could not let it go.  It is hard to concentrate when the phone goes off or you think you may miss an interesting post. A more valuable lesson for me, my smart phone affected my reading habit and ability to concentrate. I know and always knew , at least for me, that a smart phone does not replace a book or magazine article. If you are not careful you can just read the highlights and not the entire article.  My smart phone beckons and teases me.  I think I relied on my smart phone to keep me entertained and stimulated.  It also means I can avoid human interaction by “checking my phone.”  Upon reflection, that is a really weak crutch.  In one respect, we are more connected than ever before and in another sense we are less connected on a face-to-face level.  

A side note. My previous personal phone had the best ring I ever had. It was a one beep. If someone was in my office and my personal phone beeped once, I knew it was family contacting me about something and I would call them as soon as I could.  Even the vibrating mode is distracting, it just keeps going.  The single beep is my choice for a personal phone.

So what is the answer to my growing addiction? Put my smart phone down for a reasonable length of time (yes, a couple of hours) and silence most of the notifications, which I have done.  Twitter has taught me that if a truly interesting post or article goes up, it will be retweeted, again and again. My social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, and Plaxo) let you check updates going back several days.  These are important, but not critical.  Smart phones are a technological marvel, but like with new technology, I must discipline my use and remember I do have a whole world that does not require technology to communicate.

Finally, something for you and me to consider.  Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana schedules an hour a day to read, write and concentrate. I think this is something we should all consider. No phones, TVs, or anything else.  Just classical or jazz music and my Kindle.  I will try it. 

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