Sunday, September 05, 2010

SmartPhone Addict? Partner with Fellow Humans to Create Mini-Zones of 'Digital Free' Human Interaction

(c)2009 Copyright Scott Adams
Are you in love with your "phone" the way Dilbert is in the strip?

Fred Wilson posted on his AVC blog on Friday talking about mobile apps for smartphones. The premise of his post is his observation that a lot of new internet software companies start now by building a "smartphone app" before they have much in the way of a traditional website.

But the interesting thing that came out of the comments on the blog post was a thread started by "akharris" that started talking about how with all this "digital chocolate" for us to snack on we are ALL now becoming highly addicted to caressing our smartphones with a tenderness that used to be reserved for our sweethearts, and we're doing it multiple times per minute. Unlike other activities with this reputation this "luvin up my phone" behavior might actually contribute to people "going blind".

It used to just be we tech-savvy, business-people with our "crackberry habit" of checking work email who were lost in this addiction. But its gone way beyond that now into the broader population and into our private lives as well as business lives. So how do we fight this addiction? Lots of good suggestions in the thread if you read it but here's one that jumped to mind for me.

I realize that directly fighting the urge to check the smartphone is a losing battle. Instead I need to substitute new, additional behaviors into my routine that balance out my desire to constantly check it. The reason we check our smartphones is based in our desire to connect with other people and have social interactions.

What if we started partnering with other humans that we meet in person to create time-limited, digital-free "zones of human-only interaction"?

People would start asking the people they meet in person to "Check your six-shooter at the door of the saloon" you happen to be in when you meet. The 2 or more people who meet would all agree to "drop their weapons" into a non-ringing, non-buzzing, non-flashing "digital storage freezer" where the phones don't interrupt the in-person interaction. This social contract would have everyone be 100% totally present for the conversation until everyone agrees it's time to "re-arm" themselves with their "weapon of choice".

People would start to set meetings where in order to participate everyone would have to agree to this contract or be disinvited from the event. Peer pressure is one of the most powerful motivators of human behavior and if we create "digital storage freezer" apps that disable all the other apps on all the phones in a duly designated "Human Interaction Zone" I think we may be able to get the best of both worlds.

The app for this would be called "Digital Methadone". You're still an addict but you're at least trying to control it and dial back the addiction so it doesn't destroy your personal relationships because you can't look up from that damn device. :-)

The app would disable the phone in which it resides and then report to the other people's apps that your phone is "in the freezer" and when all phones have done the handshake you could start actually having a focused human conversation using that thing on the lower middle part of your face we call a mouth.

Now this might be scary for a lot of people who are deep in the throes of "digital chocolate" addiction. But don't worry. Your Methadone app will make sure you get enough interaction in a day so you don't start foaming at that mouth and shaking uncontrollably. ;-)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

iPad: The Logic Exits Your Left Earhole

I tend to be an "early adopter" of technologies but I've never been a lemming-like "first adopter". I was not among the first kids on my block to get cable TV(parents to blame here).I was not the first to get a "Pong" home game or an Atari video game system or a VHS player. I was not the among the first with a PC in the 80s or a cellphone in the early 90s.  I bought a second gen Motorola razor, 3rd Gen blackberry and a 3G iPhone but not the original iPhone. I held off on buying into DVD until the players were below $300 and I'm still resisting Blue-Ray(On-demand killing this quick anyway). 

I tend to try and jump on the bandwagon just as the technology looks to me to be mid-jump, and sailing safely, over the infamous "chasm" between "early-adopters and "early-majority". 

I guess I don't won't to be stuck "looking like a fool with my pants on the ground" with this year's version of the betamax player. So when I got the chance and I decided to go to the Apple store today on iPad release day it was very much out of character for me. Ostensibly, I had the logical excuse that my iPhone headset's left earphone had gone bad and they always give me a free replacement at the Apple store. Because they know me at the store as a business customer, who has dropped north of $5K at this store the last 12 months, they gave me my free headset and waved me through to go worship at the iPad trough with the first-adopter sycophants. 

My first inclination was to say, "No Thanks" and leave and come back sometime this fall when the hype had subsided and I could take a closer and more sober look. Also by then Apple may already be within 6 months of iPad v2. But since I decided I didn't have to wait in line I figured, "What the heck. I'll give it a look." Despite a packed crowd of people around a table with 6 iPad's tethered to it one freed up just as I walked up. I proceeded to mess with iPad V1 for 30 minutes. 

Played a few games, surfed, checked out book reader and NY-Times app, played guitar hero, typed on onscreen keyboard, listened to music, etc. Since I'm an iPhone user now for near 2 years the UI was familiar and only a short adjustment to get used to typing on the bigger form factor. Now I tend to deep down want to eventually own a lot of the Apple products, even if I do usually hold off a year or more before seriously considering a purchase. But in this case in reading and hearing about iPad I had decided I actually didn't want one. Between my iPhone 3G and my latest gen, top-of-the-line Macbook Pro my logical engineer's brain didn't see how iPad would fit in my life. My logical brain had calculated that iPad was way too "non-orthogonal" of a "device vector" to add significantly to my computing or inter-networked life. But then I made the mistake of picking one up. 

It was immediately clear this thing is smokin' fast on the UI experience compared to iPhone. Plus physically it feels in your hands like what you might imagine Captain Picard was used to when he used his "Star Trek TNG" handheld, touch tablet in that fantasy, future universe. Crap, I am now hooked. 

 The key to the "iPad hook" I've decided, is you have to already have and be comfortable with an iPhone. If you have an iPhone and you touch an iPad you will experience a mindless rush of hindbrain-generated device-lust within moments. You will feel this rush even if you are a sceptic and have read in detail about the well-documented "shortcomings". It's like the iPhone was just some kind of precursor preparation "pod" aimed at preparing it's users to be "body-snatched" by an eventual iPad-like device. 

If you have used an iPhone for more than 6 months and it's now an intrinsic part of your daily life you will touch an iPad and you won't be able to stop the logic in your head from exiting your left earhole. You WILL want one. You WILL crave it. I am craving it RIGHT NOW. 

It's a bit annoying actually. 

 Now I will NOT buy one today and I WILL hold out for the 3G version. But I WILL have a 3G iPad by June 1st at the latest. I didn't see this coming at all. I seriously was convinced that it would be 2 years minimum before I considered something like iPad to go along with my MacBook Pro, iPhone combo. I mean I'll still mainly be MacBook/iPhone for most of what I do. But now I realize I have to find a way to fit this thing in my life. "Why?" you ask? Because the thing was/is....FUN! 

iPhone and iTouch are like drinking the sweet nectar of mobile broadband access to the net and mobile gaming through one of those tiny swizel-stick straws you get in a mixed drink at the bar. The iPad feels like you are drinking the experience in through one of those a big, fat, 7-eleven slushie straws with the little spoon on the end.  


I rolled my eyes a bit when Steve Jobs said something to the effect of,"It's a whole new kind of device". He is right; once again. Hate or love him it's hard to argue with his results. So after I experienced this "iPad rush" I took a deep breath and started quietly walking around listening to comments in store from customers to see if it was just me. 

It was not just me. I saw a lot of glazed, wide eyes and was reminded of a quote from "Field of Dreams, "...and they will come to the entrance to your farm(Apple store) not knowing why for sure they are doing it...they will pass over their money without thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack...people will most definitely come." Yeah I know that's melodramatic...duh!

The thing is it's NOT a technology product that logically solves an unsolved problem. It's an experience. It's totally illogical, but it's true.

Now before you write me off thinking I'm a total fanboy here I want you to know that I'm of the opinion that there is no perfection in this world. So I'm not saying Apple, or the iPad, is anywhere near that. But the Apple technology experience is way more "human" than almost any other technology product or service you are likely to find. 

Technology built and used for it's own sake is a tedious death-march that drains the human soul. The future of technology must be about serving and enhancing the human experience instead of requiring humans to serve the technology. The person who has the most fun by the time they shuffle off this mortal coil...wins! 

The iPad, the iTouch and the iPhone are about the human experience we call "Fun".

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Somebody, EVERYBODY, is Tracking You!!

Just read a new blog post by Michael Ingram over at GigaOm titled "Will Facebook be the 'One Ring' for Location?".

Michael describes how Facebook is changing its privacy settings so it can start to implement location based services such as those offered by Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, Brightkite, Twitter, etc.  For me this brings up the disturbing question that has building for a while. Do you really want all these online services, and all their unnamed third party partners, constantly tracking you using your GPS-capable cellphone/smartphone? 

In 1984 there was a song titled "Somebody's Watching Me!" that came out from an R&B artist named Rockwell with the chorus lyrics...

"I'm just an average man with an average life
I work from nine to five, hey, hell, I pay the price
All I want is to be left alone in my average home
But why do I always feel like I'm in the twilight zone?"

" I always feel like somebody's watching me
And I have no privacy
I always feel like somebody's watching me
Who's playin' tricks on me?"

I think, whether Facebook becomes the aggregation point for your location or not, there will shortly be a consumer backlash against location/tracking by all these online/mobile social networking services "playing tricks on you and watching you"

The core problem is there really isn’t any significant value for the consumer/individual in allowing corporations to track their location. On top of that lack of value for the individual, there are very disturbing privacy drawbacks if Location-Based-Services (LBS) go mainstream. Imagine hundreds of corporations you aren’t aware of, and all their partner corporations, knowing your location at all times.

Does that give you a warm fuzzy? I didn’t think so.

The value delivered by LBS is all for the business/corporation looking to track us. What's in it for us? A Free coffee here or there? Not worth it. I’m a Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter user so I’m not anything close to a privacy nut.

I’m just saying that I see where this trend eventually goes and if it continues it’s not a happy place. There’s no way the bulk of the population, at least in countries that value freedom, is going to stand still for unfettered and constant GPS tracking of their physical location by dozens or hundreds of companies trying to sell you something.

But there is a win/win approach to this problem that will allow consumers to allow a handful of businesses they know, trust and patronize regularly to have a conversation with them about products and services those consumers want to hear about. And this approach will allow consumers to retain 100% control of the privacy of their identity and location.

My company is going to be delivering a solution this year that takes this approach. It will preserve 100% privacy for consumers but still allow businesses to engage with consumers in a way that works for everyone; consumers and businesses.

How do you feel about the possibility of being electronically tracked all the time and having that information broadcast on social networks and "who knows where else"?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The US Economy "Tentpole" and the Global Economic "Big Tent"

Just finished reading the article "Intel Leads $3.5 Billion Effort to Advance U.S. Tech and Innovation" that talks extensively about the increasing problem of US college students not entering technology fields. In announcing this initiative Intel CEO Paul Otelli said... 

“Unfortunately, long-term investments in education, research, digital technology, and human capital have been steadily declining in the U.S. So, too, has the commitment to policies that made us such an entrepreneurial powerhouse for more than a century.”

Finally there is beginning to be a growing realization of something that in saying it seems obvious. The US Economy and workforce is, like it or not, the "tent-pole" of the global economic "tent". This may be politically incorrect to point out, from a standpoint of the US trying to be a friendlier and less arrogant global citizen, but the facts bear out the accuracy of this proposition.

So as we try and drag the US and the Global economy out of this recession it's time to be very pragmatic and less politically correct as we attempt to solve the problem. The most effective approach to getting out of this economic mess is to focus on raising the center pole of the Global economic "tent". As much as it may make us all get a warm fuzzy to work multiple individual initiatives with dozens of our foreign economic partners on international economic policies aimed at improving economic conditions, the sad truth is those uncoordinated efforts are unlikely to be highly effective in actually solving the problem.

The reality is we'll get much more bang for our buck, and by "our" I mean all nations, in creating "space" in the global economic "tent" by focusing resources in reformatting and rebooting the US economy. That means US jobs. 

That may sound US-centric. It is. 

But an non-emotional analysis of the last 75 years of the growth of the global economy bears out that this observation of "US as tent-pole" is a truth. What other nation of group of nations currently has all the required elements to be the world's economic "tent-pole" propping up the global economy? The sad truth, or happy truth, depending on your perspective, is it's pretty much still the US at the center of this "tent" propping up global growth and stability. Any "tent-pole envy" that may be experienced by other nations I think is misplaced. Frankly, it is a huge responsibility and pain for the US to have to shoulder this role. The only current alternative seems to be a collapsed tent.

It's time to start reinforcing the tent-pole that is the US economy and this effort by Intel is only one of many private AND government led initiatives that are necessary to get us back in a comfortable-sized tent.  I think we are all now tired of having to worry about our ceiling caving in every 15 minutes.

What steps do you think need to be taken to shore up this global "Big Tent" economy we all have benefitted from and hope to benefit from again?