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 19, 2013 at 9:00 AM
As more and more people move their money in the cloud, could cash become the outcast’s currency?
It’s a tough question, not the kind of thing you can easily analyze. Reader Sandi Kurtz shared a conversation she’s had with her family on the topic in response to my column about the uncertain future of wallets. I’ve bolded some provocative segments, and added links where appropriate.
At 57, I’m in the cohort that still uses cash regularly, and feels a bit odd if I don’t have some with me. I have a couple of credit cards, as well as the ubiquitous debit card, but use checks to pay most of my monthly bills. Online shopping has increased the number of transactions I make with a credit card.
My kid is almost 20, in his second year of college. He and his cohort have been dealing with money in the form of gift cards since they were quite small (the default birthday gift — a gift card to a bookstore). Growing up, he got allowance from us in cash, but many of his friends’ families did it all through their bank accounts. He got a credit card to go away to school (he’s in the U.K., and we wanted to make sure he could get home in an emergency) but most of his transactions now are with his debit card.
September 18, 2013 at 9:00 AM
How else could he have predicted with such eerie precision, in his 2001 Newsweek column Time To Do Everything But Think, how our devices would direct our minds?
Somewhere up in the canopy of society, way above where normal folks live, there will soon be people who live in a state of perfect wirelessness. They’ll have mobile phones that download the Internet, check scores and trade stocks. They’ll have Palm handhelds that play music, transfer photos and get Global Positioning System readouts. They’ll have laptops on which they watch movies, listen to baseball games and check inventory back at the plant. In other words, every gadget they own will perform all the functions of all the other gadgets they own, and they will be able to do it all anywhere, any time.
Keep in mind: Brooks, who has spent a decade writing columns for The New York Times, wrote this piece three years before Facebook, six years before the iPhone and two years after the introduction of a simple email pager known as the BlackBerry.
Further down in the essay, Brooks continues:
Never being out of touch means never being able to get away. But Wireless Man’s problem will be worse than that. His brain will have adapted to the tempo of wireless life. Every 15 seconds there is some new thing to respond to. Soon he has this little rhythm machine in his brain. He does everything fast. He answers e-mails fast and sloppily. He’s bought the fastest machines, and now the idea of waiting for something to download is a personal insult. His brain is operating at peak RPMs.
He sits amid nature’s grandeur and says, “It’s beautiful. But it’s not moving. I wonder if I got any new voice mails.” He’s addicted to the perpetual flux of the information networks. He craves his next data fix. He’s a speed freak, an info junkie. He wants to slow down, but can’t.
Big thanks to reader Mark Fussell, a technology writer who attached the essay in an email response to my recent column about digital disconnection. “I find it more than prescient,” Fussell said about the piece. “He underestimated the impact of technology.”
Brooks’ ending is kind of genius:
So here’s how I’m going to get rich. I’m going to design a placebo machine. It’ll be a little gadget with voice recognition and everything. Wireless People will be able to log on and it will tell them they have no messages. After a while, they’ll get used to having no messages. They’ll be able to experience life instead of in-formation. They’ll be able to reflect instead of react. My machine won’t even require batteries.
September 3, 2013 at 2:08 PM
In middle school in Bremerton, Will Little programmed a computer to play Fairview Junior High’s fight song just for fun. He didn’t use code much again until years later, when his wife was pregnant and he Googled the phrase “make money.”
Today, Little is a software engineer, an investor and a startup advisor, and the co-founder and CEO of CodeFellows, an organization so confident its coding bootcamps can help people find a $60,000-per-year job that it refunds their tuition if they don’t.
In this week’s column I looked at the case for coding, not for students or people looking for new jobs, but for everyone. Code makes up more and more of our world. To thrive in that world, we should understand its new, digital building blocks by knowing something about how to build with them ourselves.
August 21, 2013 at 12:06 PM
Disconnecting from the technology that’s burrowed deeper and deeper into our daily lives is for a few a habit, for some an intention, and for others a nice dream.
After I wrote about my weeklong disconnection while on a family trip to Colorado, many of you responded with some interesting reading material. Thing is, disconnection is not just about disconnection. It’s about everything that informs our evolving relationship with personal technology.
Here are a few books and links that dig a bit deeper:
“The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr
“It’s a pretty amazing read — a great tour of the history and advancement of language and literature and media, as well as the neuroscience behind it all — highly recommended.” — reader Larry Swanson This was also a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction.
Miller, 26, disconnected for a whole year and wrote about his experience for tech site The Verge. His essay is thoughtful and candid.
“The Age of Missing Information” by Bill McKibben
“Nice read, and still relevant.” — commenter Hank
“Hamlet’s BlackBerry” by William Powers
“Author William Powers (formerly of The Washington Post) writes about seven people (Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Franklin, Thoreau and McLuhan) who each found ways to disconnect from their era’s flow of information. He then talks about the balance he and his family have achieved — total connection Monday through Friday, off the grid on Saturdays and Sundays.” — reader Bill Boyd
“The Information Diet” by Clay Johnson
An eloquent case for being more mindful of our information intake.
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 3, 2013 at 1:48 PM
Driverless cars sound like a dream for a lot of people who just want to get from point A to point B.
But what if you just love to drive?
As head of the ProFormance Racing School in Kent, Don Kitch Jr. might get behind the wheel of anything from a Porsche to a BMW 535. He knows better than most why driving is about more than transportation. It’s about freedom, independence and fun.
That’s a big reason why commuting is a tough habit to break, no matter how efficient cities make other forms of transit.
While I was researching my column about how driverless cars would (and wouldn’t) kill congestion, I called Kitch up to chat. My husband, who learned to drive a manual transmission after watching seasons and seasons of British car show “Top Gear,” took a spin on the ProFormance track last year.
Are driverless cars the enemy?
May 7, 2013 at 11:13 AM
You know about showrooming, the practice of browsing brick and mortar stores for items you buy later online.
But have you heard of reverse showrooming?
Not one, not two, but three readers of my Sunday column on the rightness or wrongness of showrooming wrote in saying they did just the opposite. They browse online for things they like then go to local stores to pick up the items.
And they’re glad to put in the work.
May 6, 2013 at 3:32 PM
If you read my Sunday column this week on showrooming, browsing a physical store for items you buy online later, you may have noticed I didn’t come down one way or the other on the column’s central question — whether showrooming is right or wrong.
That’s because the answer, if there is one, is not that simple.
Consumer ethics is a tricky subject. On the one hand, we have and can be motivated by more than money. On the other hand, it’s difficult in a market=driven society to judge anyone for putting finances first.
Three readers told me they had showroomed, but didn’t know there was a word for it. Nor, they implied, had they thought of it as a habit with consequences.
If showrooming is nothing else, it’s that.