October 19, 2013 at 9:22 PM
Are apps hurting us?
It wouldn’t seem to make much sense. Apps are designed to help; that’s the whole point. The best of these portable programs solve daily problems and promise routes to solutions so direct that they sometimes seem extensions of our minds. What’s the fastest way to my house? What’s happening around me right now? What do I do with this free moment?
Use apps long enough and “Is there an app for that?” is less curiosity than expectation. Couldn’t all of life be a series of apps — every question mapped, every path to an answer charted? You start to wonder how we’d get along without apps, and why we’d ever want to.
October 5, 2013 at 8:52 PM
Clothing stores that know what you like. Self-driving cars that know where you’re going. Sensors that warn you’ll have a heart attack days before you have it. Bars that serve your favorite drink minutes before you sit down.
This isn’t fantasy. It’s the future.
It’s described in “The Age of Context,” the second book by tech enthusiast and former Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble and business journalist Shel Israel. The book is a parade of newborn technologies and an analysis of trends in mobile, social media, data, sensors and location technology that all lead to one compelling conclusion: The world we’re headed to is a world that knows us. One where commerce, transportation, health care, service and learning are transformed by technologies smart enough to not just meet our needs but anticipate them. It’s a world where we are safer, stronger and more powerful than we ever dreamed.
But there’s a cost: For the world to open up to you, you have to open up to the world. You have to share more and more of all those trackable, quantifiable behaviors we’ve come to call your personal data.
October 1, 2013 at 9:00 AM
I got this email last week from George Hickey, who told me he’s a recently retired bus driver. Hickey read my column calling for a more honest conversation about texting and driving.
Hickey’s message opened with a link to comedian Louis C.K.’s takedown of the practice on a recent episode of “Conan.” C.K. has a way of digging down to sticky truths in his jokes. This is no exception:
“Pretty much 100 percent of people who are driving are texting,” Hickey quoted C.K. in his email. “People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want be alone for a second.”
I can second that. As a Metro bus driver looking down into the laps of car drivers, I’ve observed that most are clutching a smartphone, and that at traffic lights, afraid to be alone with their thoughts for 90 seconds they immediately start using the phone and continue to use it as they drive away.
I still don’t see any indication that the politicians and media understand the importance of preventing these drivers from using their phones while operating a vehicle. These people threaten your life and the lives of your loved ones every time you leave the house. Why treat them with kid gloves as you did in your recent article? They are contemptible.
September 14, 2013 at 7:36 PM
They weren’t police, but when Beth Ebel and her team of investigators walked up and down intersections in six major counties this year, peering into car windows to count how many drivers were using their phones, some drivers dropped them. Hid them. Pretended they’d never held them.
“We in public health have this fallacy that if we tell people why they shouldn’t do things, they won’t do them,” said Ebel, a trauma doctor and director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Harborview Medical Center. “We’ve got to stop that.”
Today, 97.5 percent of the state’s drivers wear seat belts. When Ebel began doing research on seat-belt use in 2001, 83 percent did. One lesson from that hard-won battle: Statistics about risk and death are why we care about a problem. They’re not how we’re going to fix it.
August 17, 2013 at 8:48 PM
In Estes Park, Colo., next to mini-golf and bumper boats, there is a big, theme-park-sized slide. You pay $1 per ride and line up on the stairs. Last week I saw a teenage boy climb four stories up and send a text all the way down.
My phone was sitting untouched in a drawer at the house where we were staying, along with my laptop and associated chargers. It was the fifth day of my weeklong separation from my personal devices, timed with a family trip to the Centennial State, and this kid summed up why I had to do it in five wasted seconds.
It’s a culture shock, disconnection, if you’re as tied to your devices as I am. It slows time, amplifies your senses and actually changes how the world feels. If that sounds dramatic, try it, if you still can. I was surprised, too. Last week’s disconnection is the closest I’ve come to living in another dimension. When I came back, I knew I’d have to make some changes.
June 29, 2013 at 8:08 PM
Remember when grocery store self-checkout was the future?
The bulky talking machines have been around for more than a decade, and I’ve used them maybe four times. I finally noticed the 12 that are huddled in the University Village QFC when my husband went straight for them a few months ago. On the day of the Fremont Solstice Parade, I found myself lined up behind them at the Fremont PCC. But only because there was no other way with that crowd that I was going to pay for my sandwich in time for the naked bike ride.
There was talk in the early 2000s that self-checkout lanes would soon handle all grocery-store transactions. Now we know better. Everyone likes control and convenience, but some of us (raises hand) don’t want to do more work. Supermarkets like Boise-based Albertsons cut back on self-checkout lanes when it became clear that the machines are an option, not a revolution.
June 18, 2013 at 1:01 PM
We know to put away our phones at the front of the line and keep public phone calls short and quiet.
But when it comes to checking our phone while we’re with family and friends, it’s complicated.
My Sunday column proposed nine points of tech etiquette that might have enough consensus to hold. From the completely unscientific polls I attached to each, many appear to. Eighty-five percent of you said you “always” keep public phone calls polite and 82 percent said you follow the Golden Rule of Facebook: Never post pictures of others you wouldn’t want posted of yourself.
But when it comes to using your phone while “engaged in an activity with friends or family” (notice it doesn’t say just hanging out with friends or family) only 55 percent of you said you “always” put it away or excuse yourself when you need to use it. Forty-one percent said you “sometimes” do that.
June 15, 2013 at 6:58 PM
Nobody likes the word “etiquette.”
It feels inflexible and draining, like a teacher whose only joy is pointing out mistakes. This is a time for breaking rules, not making them. Viral videos, Facebook revolutions, CEOs in hoodies. Anything goes.
Etiquette? We don’t need etiquette.
Except we really, really do.
Etiquette is about interacting with people. And with the rise of always-with-us devices and always-connected media we’re interacting with more people more often than ever. We had centuries to figure out if elbows go on the table. Do smartphones go there, too?
Welcome to the evolving, tough-love world of tech etiquette.
“Tech is miraculous. It’s wonderful. But we shouldn’t be using it to make excuses for ourselves,” said Mary Mitchell, Seattle-based consultant and author of the new book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Modern Manners.”
What guidelines have enough consensus to last? With the help of Mitchell and the many of you who shared your thoughts last week, I submit the following:
June 10, 2013 at 6:11 PM
Nothing is truly foolproof when it comes to securing your phone.
But device manufacturers are working on it.
Apple today announced a new feature in its iOS mobile software at its Worldwide Developers Conference that appears to represent a big step toward law enforcement’s dream — a remote “kill switch” on smartphones. The feature, called Activation Lock, requires an Apple ID and password to reactivate a phone that’s been wiped, deactivated or had its homing beacon feature, Find My Phone, turned off. That would protect users’ data and render the device potentially worthless on the lucrative smartphone resale market.
It’s a victory for the two officials who’ve been pressuring device manufacturers to better secure smartphones, district attorney George Gascón of San Francisco and New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman.
“I would like to know what Apple is doing to combat this growing public safety problem,” Schneiderman wrote in a public letter to Apple in May. As I mentioned in my Sunday column, smartphone thefts account for a growing chunk of robberies and street crime in cities across the country. Apple smartphones are particularly tempting targets for phone thieves. Schneiderman’s press office refers to the crime trend as “Apple pickings.”
The Activation Lock announcement is sure to come up June 13 when Gascón and Schneiderman meet with representatives from Apple, Google’s Motorola Mobility, Samsung and Microsoft to talk about phone security.
Even if Apple’s new feature is not the theft deterrent officials have been waiting for (something tells me savvy device hackers already know 10 ways around this thing), it should give iPhone users some peace of mind. If their device is gone, the keys to their digital life might not go with it.
June 8, 2013 at 10:00 PM
Talking to a man named Hugh Lee last week convinced me to do something I never thought I would — password-protect my phone.
Lee, 33, had his phone stolen two weeks ago. He left his things in a courtside bundle while he shot hoops with friends at a North Seattle community center. When he came to collect them, his wallet and keys were there, but his phone — a Samsung Focus S — was gone. That night became a mad, anxiety-ridden dash to cancel accounts, change passwords and hope against hope the thief was after his device, not some exposed thread of his digital life.
Until Lee got home and opened his laptop, whoever took his phone had access to everything.
“How do I know this is you?” his wife asked him when he chatted with her on Facebook from work the following day. It was a good question.