Ode to the Smartphone… Sort of

The fourth post in our summer-intern blog series was authored by Samantha Hauser from Arizona State University. Posts by Forrest Hanson, Meaghan Davison and Kristen Marchus can be found here, here and here, respectively. Have at it, Samantha!

– Bri and Dave

My Blackberry and I have been together for about six months, and already I can’t imagine life without it. We do everything together: eat, sleep, work, watch TV, hang out with friends, you name it. When I’m lost, my smartphone is my compass. When I’m hungry, my phone finds the nearest restaurants and kindly sorts them by price, cuisine or customer ratings. My phone even helps me manage my workout routines and keep track of my calorie intake. But most of all, my smartphone has my back with social media. Nobody touches my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Skype or Gmail accounts without my phone finding out about it… And I mean nobody.

My phone works hard around the clock to keep me up-to-date with what’s going on in my little cyber universe, blinking, beeping and buzzing every time it sees some action. But lately I’ve been finding that I’m just as much a slave to my phone as it is to me. Each blink, beep and buzz is like a little teaser, begging for my attention. And the more it blinks, the more curious I become. Did my professor finally post the midterm grades? Did my boyfriend just text me? Maybe it was just my roommate responding to my wall post. It doesn’t take long for the uncertainty to overwhelm me, and I have to give in and pick up my phone.

Recently, I’ve had to consciously keep myself from rushing to check every notification my phone gives me. It’s not always appropriate to be staring at your phone, and I have to remind myself during these types of situations that I can check my phone as soon as a more appropriate opportunity presents itself. Otherwise, I end up responding to e-mails at the dinner table and checking Facebook in the shower.

But it’s not just my own internal pressure to stay connected that leads me into a state of mental anguish every time my phone’s little red light starts blinking. There’s an increasing pressure from the outside world to be connected and available 24/7. If I don’t answer a text message right away, I get another in five minutes that just says, “???” If I don’t respond to an e-mail within a few hours, I get a text asking, “Hey did you get my e-mail?”

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on corporate culture, but I know these concepts translate into the professional world as well. And with all of this pressure to stay connected coming from both work and home (often through the same laptops, phones and networks), I wonder if it will ever become too much.

The bottom line is that while being connected 24/7 is fun, it’s also exhausting. With every futuristic new tool my smartphone offers me, my life gets a little more complicated. At the moment, this constant flow of information into the palm of my hand is new and fun and exciting, but I sometimes wonder if — and when — the novelty will wear off.

What do you think? Will there ever come a day when we all throw in the towel and jump back on the Paleolithic bandwagon? Or will we always be slaves to the newest technological wonders that developers throw our way?

Related articles:

Ryan Seacrest is addicted to his Blackberry, too! Here he talks about it with Larry King:

– Samantha

Corny, Verging on Desperate

It’s intern season here at Burson-Marsteller. In sunny San Francisco, we’ve welcomed with open arms four bright, young stars. And if you’re assuming they’re social media pros, why, you’re correct! They’re Facebook fanatics, YouTube-using yahoos, Twittering tweeps and much, much more. We have a lot to learn from these Jedi warriors who hail from lands and universities far away (e.g. Arizona State University, Gonzaga University and University of California Berkeley).

As part of their program, we’ve asked the interns to pen blog entries for some summer-reading pleasure. So, we’d like to give a hearty hello to our first contributor: Forrest Hanson. Forrest joins us from University of California Berkeley, is very interested in politics and can dance like it’s nobody’s business. Take it away, Forrest!

– Bri and Dave

I have an irrational love of YouTube.

I think it’s personally reasonable to be honest. I mean, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to watch Charlie? Or Charlie? Or an incredibly awkward man singing pitch-perfect Whitney Houston? Or an endless loop of Powerthirst? But I’ve been told that the first step is admitting there’s a problem, so here we are.

I really shouldn’t be surprised that YouTube has such a strong hold on me, it plays directly to my many weaknesses. My suave, polished exterior (humor me here) belies a rich, nougat-y interior of pure nerdyness that threatens to overwhelm me at almost any moment. Although I have dabbled in all manner of good and nerdy pursuits, my personal experience tends to concentrate in a few areas. First, I am a huge music nerd. I play a number of instruments and was a counselor at band camp for three years (insert joke here). My training is mostly classical, but I’m an equal opportunity kind of guy. An Itzhak Perlman master class? Right in my wheelhouse. Pachelbel’s Canon on the electric guitar? Sure. A guy complaining about Pachelbel’s Canon? Even better. The most ballin’ accordion player ever? In Soviet Russia, accordion plays you! Endless quantities of American Idol? Yo, dawg, that was da bomb! The “Hanukkah Song”? Please, sir, may I have another?

I hope you get the picture by now. Things are bad. Really, really bad. It’s entirely possible that I’m completely beyond help. At any moment the men in white coats might come to take me to a happy place.

But, as my YouTube favorites would be quick to point out, my music nerdyness quails in comparison to my current hobby of choice: dancing.

But before that, a brief interlude to watch people fall over:

Wasn’t that fun? Schadenfreude’s the best.

I’ve been dancing seriously since 2006 at a studio in downtown San Rafael. My primary training is in the ten ballroom dances, although I’ve found the time to mix in some West Coast Swing, Ballet and Blues amongst others. My training is competitive in nature, I have a partner and go to competitions where we compete against other couples in the five Standard dances: Waltz, Tango, Vienese Waltz, Foxtrot and Quickstep.

(Ballroom competitions are broken into many different divisions to place competitors of similar ages and skills against one another. I dance in the Adult Amateur Standard Championship division, which is open to all amateur competitors and allows any level of choreography. Amateurs are distinguished from professionals, who dance in a different division.)

The rise of YouTube and recent focus of the media on dancing has, in my opinion, completely changed the way it’s perceived by people who don’t dance. Rather than the vacant look and vague “Oh, that’s nice,” I used to get when I told people I did ballroom, I now get at least a “That’s the stuff on Dancing with the Stars, right?” frequently a “That’s interesting,” sometimes a “I have a friend that dances,” and every once in a while a “You’re so awesome, can I be your friend?”

Okay, I admit that the last one hasn’t happened yet.  Maybe someday…

Anyway, if someone does have the audacity to doubt how cool I am I can just jump on YouTube and whip out a video of someone doing something insane. I’m annoyed by much of Dancing with the Stars (So You Think You Can Dance, on the other hand, is amazingness in television form) but appreciate the way it has pushed dancing towards the mainstream. It can be occasionally frustrating when someone thinks that Jerry Rice is the pinnacle of ballroom dance (particularly when compared to champions like these guys or these guys), but I’m normally willing to smile and nod.

The ability to watch amazing things whenever I want has certainly had an adverse effect on my sleep cycle, although it has undoubtedly made me a happier person in general. Ultimately, I fear I am powerless against YouTube’s siren call.

– Forrest

TEDTalk: SixthSense Technology

The below TEDTalk video of Pattie Maes demonstrating new SixthSense technology still amazes me. There’s not much I can add that the video doesn’t capture. It will be very interesting to see how our future is shaped by technology and devices that are capable of pulling digital information directly from the physical world we live in.

Follow @tedtalks on Twitter.

– Dave

Give up technology?!!! The horror!

Ive seen this article floating around in a number of places for the past few days and made a mental note to post it to the team blog when I had a free moment.  For those not familiar with some Catholic (or perhaps Christian?) religious traditions, it is customary to give up something important to you for the 40 days leading up to Easter (ala Josh Hartnett giving up sex in the San Francisco set movie “40 days and 40 nights.”)

Aaaanyway, this year, according to the article, the Church formally recommended its members give up technology, such as not texting on Fridays, listening to ipods all the time, etc. And I have to say, I actually find this interesting and a pretty good idea. It seems to me that cutting out some of the clutter that technology introduces to our lives could actually free the mind to focus more on religious beliefs, if one so chooses to use the freed brainpower in that way. I particularly like this quote “It’s a small way to remember the importance of concrete and not virtual relationships.”

Anyway, I wasn’t planning on giving up anything for Lent this year (and am late to the game anyway), but if I were to do so I’d consider the technology thing. I feel like it could potentially serve much more of a religious purpose than my traditional act of giving up soda.

Cures for the common tech woes

 

The old plastic bag trick!

The old plastic bag trick!

A bit off-topic from the typical new media post…but the New York Times’ Paul Boutin wrote a great article last week about low-tech solutions to high-tech problems. There are some very cool tricks! His opening solution:

If a credit card doesn’t register when you slide it in a grocery store machine, wrap it in a plastic bag and run it again.

I’m proud to say that I already knew this one, but I was completely unaware of many of Boutin’s similarly wacky tricks. The Japanese term for clever lifestyle tips and tricks is “urawaza.” The article contests that these urawazas begin to surface more and more in a weak economy, because people start to think out of the box to solve their problems.

Even if you don’t use these tricks, I think we all know that you could make a slew of geeky friends at your next Silicon Valley happy hour by busting out these tech urawazas! Maybe they’ll work, and maybe they won’t…but won’t it be fun to try?

Here we go, directly from the NYT…thanks Paul Boutin!:

Cellphone Losing Charge

If your cellphone loses its battery charge too quickly while idle in your pocket, part of the problem may be that your pocket is too warm.

“Cellphone batteries do indeed last a bit longer if kept cool,” says Isidor Buchanan, editor of the Battery University Web site. The 98.6-degree body heat of a human, transmitted through a cloth pocket to a cellphone inside, is enough to speed up chemical processes inside the phone’s battery. That makes it run down faster. To keep the phone cooler, carry it in your purse or on your belt.

This same method can be used to preserve your battery should you find yourself away from home without your charger. Turn off the phone and put it in the hotel refrigerator overnight to slow the battery’s natural tendency to lose its charge.

Remote Car Key

Suppose your remote car door opener does not have the range to reach your car across the parking lot. Hold the metal key part of your key fob against your chin, then push the unlock button. The trick turns your head into an antenna, says Tim Pozar, a Silicon Valley radio engineer.

Mr. Pozar explains, “You are capacitively coupling the fob to your head. With all the fluids in your head it ends up being a nice conductor. Not a great one, but it works.” Using your head can extend the key’s wireless range by a few car lengths.

Dry Ink Cartridge

If your printer’s ink cartridge runs dry near the end of an important print job, remove the cartridge and run a hair dryer on it for two to three minutes. Then place the cartridge back into the printer and try again while it is still warm.

“The heat from the hair dryer heats the thick ink, and helps it to flow through the tiny nozzles in the cartridge,” says Alex Cox, a software engineer in Seattle. “When the cartridge is almost dead, those nozzles are often nearly clogged with dried ink, so helping the ink to flow will let more ink out of the nozzles.” The hair dryer trick can squeeze a few more pages out of a cartridge after the printer declares it is empty.

Cellphone in the Toilet

It could happen to anyone: you dropped your cellphone in the toilet. Take the battery out immediately, to prevent electrical short circuits from frying your phone’s fragile internals. Then, wipe the phone gently with a towel, and shove it into a jar full of uncooked rice.

It works for the same reason you may keep few grains of rice in your salt shaker to keep the salt dry. Rice has a high chemical affinity for water — that means the molecules in the rice have a nearly magnetic attraction for water molecules, which will be soaked up into the rice rather than beading up inside the phone.

It is a low-tech version of the “Do Not Eat” desiccant packets that may have been packed in the box the phone came in, to keep moisture away from the circuitry during shipping and storage.

Longer Wi-Fi Reach

If your home Wi-Fi router doesn’t reach the other end of the house, don’t rush out to buy more wireless gear to stretch your network. Instead, build a six-inch-high passive radio wave reflector from kitchen items, like an aluminum cookie sheet.

Follow the instructions at freeantennas.com/projects/template. Place the completed reflector — a small, curved piece of metal that reflects radio waves just like a satellite TV dish — behind your Wi-Fi router. It focuses the router’s energy in one direction — toward the other end of the house — rather than letting it dissipate its strength in a full circle. No cables, no batteries, no technical knowledge required. Yet it can easily double the range of your network.

Dirty Discs

You need to clean a skipping DVD or CD, but as a bachelor you don’t have any sissy cleaning fluids? Soak a washcloth with vodka or mouthwash.

Alcohol is a powerful solvent, perfectly capable of dissolving fingerprints and grime on the surface of a disc. A $5 bottle of Listerine in your medicine cabinet may do the job as effectively as a $75 bottle of DVD cleaning fluid. Also, swabbing your copy of “Lost Weekend” with Stoli instead of fussing with a Discwasher kit is a lot more manly.

Too Much Flash

If your cellphone’s built-in camera flash is much too bright, washing out photos, tape a small piece of paper over the flash. Experiment with different colors and thicknesses of paper to tone down the flash from superbright white to a more pleasing glow for evening photos.

Crashed Hard Drive

If — no, make that when — your PC’s hard drive crashes and can’t be read, don’t be too quick to throw it out. Stick it in the freezer overnight.

“The trick is a real and proven, albeit last resort, recovery technique for some kinds of otherwise-fatal hard-drive problems,” writes Fred Langa on his Windows Secrets Web site. Many hard drive failures are caused by worn parts that no longer align properly, making it impossible to read data from the drive. Lowering the drive’s temperature causes its metal and plastic internals to contract ever so slightly. Taking the drive out of the freezer, and returning it to room temperature can cause those parts to expand again.

That may help free up binding parts, Mr. Langa explains, or at least let a failing electrical component remain within specs long enough for you to recover your essential data.

 

Do you have any cool tricks? Post them here in the comments so we can all benefit from your resourcefulness.

 

-Sharon

Sweet cellphone tech from Japan, finally?

According to a recent Associated Press article, Japan’s mobile phone companies will finally begin to push their cellphone technology to other countries. Don’t know about you, but I’ve always had phone-envy for those cool multi-tasking gadgets from across the sea. From the article, 3G phones make up 90% of the Japanese cellphone market – remarkable when you keep in mind that the 3G phones are expected to grow to just 31% of the US cellphone market by 2012.

In addition to your typical cellphone functions, here’s a mini list of other cool Japanese features that go above and beyond the average mobile device.

Assuming all this technology gets localized, imagine how different the US cellphone culture could be in a few years time. Fingers crossed we’ll also inherit some quirky cellphone designs, like the Japanese phone that transforms into a mini-robot.

Japanese phone transforms into robot

Robot phone is simultaneously cute AND creepy (Photo cred: Akihabaranews.com)

Posted by Cristina on Tuesday, August 19.

Wi-Fi-enabled digi cameras, for chrissakes!

OK, so many of you heard my tirade for wi-fi-enabled digital cameras. I did some searching after our meeting and found a David Pogue article as far back as Sept 2005 hammering on about the “obvious” pairing of wi-fi sharing and digital cameras. Duh! What’s taking so long, I wonder (as did Pogue, then).

WELL. You will be happy to know that a few cameras do exist with wifi – Kodak, for one. I have a Kodak EasyShare camera that I absolutely LOVE though I had no idea they offered cameras with wifi! (OK, so it was a gift, so I didn’t have much choice in the matter, but still!) I noticed they only offer 4 and 6 MP varieties, so I wonder if that has something to do with the price-point with Wi-Fi, etc. (keeping low enough to still generate demand, perhaps)

I can’t wait to see what comes out of this category. And if you find anything else cool in the category of wi-fi-enabled digital cameras, please let me know!

Like this – completely utilitarian – wi-fi camera UMBRELLA. Ah, the Japanese consumer electronics industry is awesome.

This is totally impractical, but AWESOME

This is totally impractical, but AWESOME