Sunday, May 02, 2010

Perpetual connectivity

At a recent Uniforum after-meeting, one of the topics was platform independent, lightweight computing. I commented that since I got an Android phone (HTC Hero), I found myself using it increasingly more than my laptop for certain tasks. These "lightweight" tasks involved email, checking weather, managing to-do lists, taking notes, etc.

The discussion had moved onto other topics by this time, but I continued thinking about the ramifications of perpetually connected smart devices.

I noticed myself keeping my phone on my person more, even when at home. It's much more convenient than going to my laptop. It takes even longer to do something useful if my laptop is asleep or hibernating. I've recently become more connected via Facebook and Twitter and having web access from anywhere in the house is very convenient. There's no need to text me anymore as I can receive full email on the same device. If the reply is short, I found myself more likely replying from my phone. Likewise with Twitter comments, which are short by design. I thought I would find the onscreen keyboard on my phone extremely frustrating to use, but am surprised at how fast I can type now. Some of the credit does need to go to the predictive input software. Keyboard design and predictive input I'll discuss in a future post. Longer replies are still more practical typed on a full keyboard on my laptop.

I'm frequently thinking of ideas and with my phone handy, I can quickly jot a note. Having a perpetually connected device opens up all sorts of possibilities where the note goes afterward. I can keep the note locally or I can save it to the cloud. But where in the cloud? I'm currently trialing Snaptic as my note app, which lets me save and share my notes. I can email the note to my Gmail account. GDocs interfaces with Google Docs, which will let me apply formatting and other word processing elements. There are a whole host of other apps. More detailed notes are still more practically entered on my laptop.

Sometimes, I would see or hear something interesting which may prompt new ideas. I am now able to look up information about them on the spot, wherever I am. Being perpetually connected has helped me learn more. More detailed research is still more practically done on my laptop.

I stopped watching TV some time ago because I never knew what was on and surfing through all the channels to find nothing interesting was a time waster. I only get broadcast TV, don't have a DVR, and the onscreen guide does not show upcoming events. Now, being able to check listings lets me determine if I want to watch TV. Now, one could claim watching more TV isn't very productive, but I think knowing what's on lets me determine when the next interesting show is on so I can better schedule other things I need to do, or decide if I even want to watch anything. Perhaps my watching habits have become more efficient. I still only watch a few shows, but now I can schedule them better.

I don't use the CD deck in my car anymore, instead playing music from my phone, either music stored locally or streamed. I'm sure this is nothing new, as portable media players have been around for awhile now, but I haven't seen discussion about mobile streaming music as one's primary music source. Maybe I haven't checked the right places? Sure, early Palm Pre ads featured Pandora, but I'm talking Shoutcast streams. I find Shoutcast more diverse anyway.

These are just a few examples of how perpetual connectivity has helped improve my life. Have I become more dependent on my phone? Maybe. I see it instead as a new tool to interact with the ever increasing volume of available information. My response to the dependence question is similar to my philosophy about pagers and voice-only phones: I like being able to decide when I am reachable. I can turn off the devices when I don't. Not having the device guarantees my unreachability. For smart devices, I like being able to decide how connected I am. I don't answer all my email immediately.


  1. Try hulu and netflix and extricate yourself from the tyranny of the TV schedule as well.

  2. Thanks for the tips. I have a Netflix acct.

    I actually don't mind watching some shows as they're scheduled. I just want to know when certain shows are on and being able to check from my phone without waiting for my laptop to start is the point I was making. Lightweight computing.

    I'm also writing this reply on my phone. Didn't plan on writing so much or I would've used a full keyboard, but I suppose this reply could border on lightweight.