Wednesday, May 11, 2011

can i have a [less]smart phone please?

a few months ago, i experienced my first thrill of a phone app!

while i have a lot of interest in new technology, and like to explore new applications that i can put technology to use – i have resisted a few things, such as email on the phone – or even the smart phones.. for fear that my life would be controlled more by these multi functional devices, rather than my spontaneous will..

it was an activity tracker – on my non-smart nokia phone, that i was using to track my daily morning walk. looking at the statistics, walk route etc and comparing my performance across days was some trivial thrill.

i was very excited when i got my first ‘smart’ phone.. that too on windows phone 7 operating system.

when everyone i knew had an iPhone, Blackberry, Android or a Nokia, i felt unique that i had a phone with an OS that has not yet been ‘officially’ launched in India.

what it meant was that i only had the web for help!

the first impression was good – in terms of how it powered up, got the initial settings and the basic phone was functional in minutes.

then, the ‘smartness’ took over! and i was totally lost.

it appeared as if i did not matter to the phone that had its own mind!

starting with the Wi-Fi settings – while it detected the network at home, it would not let me adjust any settings manually! that was a shame, because i have a non-standard setup at home, that requires a manual configuration of Wi-Fi settings. think of it as an additional layer of security..

the process of transferring my contacts from the old phone was also not easy. thanks to the web, found a few utilities that would : export my old contacts list, then convert them into a merged .csv file and then import it into my Gmail account and … and … and …

finally the contacts were set up.

i realized that – just like in the real world, we accumulate so much junk over time. i could see some very old phone numbers, addresses etc. and contacts that i have not been in touch with for ages..

thank you smart phone, for reminding me – but, no thanks – as you threaten to remove the contact details from the mail system also, if i want to delete them only from my phone.. they need to be in sync, you said!

then came the next challenge – of downloading any of my music collection. or games [free ones, of course!] and some other ‘enhancements’ that i saw ads of on various sites..

the designers assume that there should be only one way to do things [possibly to avoid calls to the help desk] and by not giving the users any choice, they can make it efficient..

thanks to the friends on the web again, i learnt how to do some of these.

all this, at a cost of a few days and many hours of time.. and i am probably about 30% set up on the phone.

i am yet to figure out how to set my favourite tune for the alarm, or to pick up or reject a call without the vertical swipe etc.

as i get used to it more, i am sure to find more situations when the phone makes me feel dumb!

not sure if i would like it.. maybe a dumb smart phone is what i need… a phone where i can see all the settings and decide what to use when and for the 10-15% of the functionality that i would use most frequently, have some defaults and shortcuts

Sunday, May 1, 2011

are we there yet?

Recently, I had an opportunity to accompany a seven year old from Bangalore to Chennai.

He was a very well mannered child who would normally not need constant supervision and find things to do to keep himself occupied.

but, transit was different.

while we were stuck in slow moving traffic or at lights, i could see some impatience surfacing.

after boarding the flight, we were waiting for about 10 minutes before the doors closed.

the impatience surfaced again.

as a question that has been made a classic in family vacation movies : are we there yet? or how much longer? how much farther?

and of course, i was blamed to be the cause of this boredom, which would not have been there, if we had travelled by train!

that set me thinking. how did i change to be resigned to the endless lines, traffic snarls and progressive delays – some times due to the weather, sometimes, ‘chumma’, as no reasonable reason was provided.

i was reminded of a very interesting description that i had read in a book recently.

that frequent travellers attain nirvana by developing techniques to deal with all the uncertainties and resultant induced stress.

some of them – reproduced very loosely:

  • consider yourself as ‘living cargo’. you are just like cargo, except that you do not move on the belt
  • spin yourself into a cocoon, ignore the world around you, plunge yourself into a book or the newspaper crossword , that you may never otherwise would
  • imagining – the wilder, the better – about what some of the other cocoons would have done before reaching the airport or what they would do first when they reach their destination

i like the last one – watching others, guessing and completing their halfalogs or make stories with characters inspired by the cocoons i see around me.

we see these everywhere – very rarely have i had a meaningful conversation that lasted more than a few initial exchanges around common frustrations of the flight delays or rude staff or the evergreens of traffic or the weather.

train journeys, possibly because the travel durations are longer and the arrangement of the seating, where the passengers face others, create at these more lasting ‘rail sneham’ – or train friendship.

even in the pre-Facebook days, updates about everybody’s friends and pets and their friends would be exchanged and discussed in detail. if you are in such a situation and want to make a lively conversation, talk of personal privacy in a train.. and watch the effect!

all will be forgotten the moment the passengers step out and go their own ways.

p.s – a bonus tip to handle a seven year old’s question of are we there yet, etc..

keep track of the time and distance you mentioned in your last response. decrement it – even if it is by just one [minute or kilometre] for the next one.. you can see the relief on the child’s face, knowing that we are getting closer to 'there’.