Happy Friday! First off I wanted to again thank everyone for so many great comments across the entire ’10 Days of You’ series … it was really amazing to read, and the realization of how much of myself I exposed through these seemingly simple lists makes the comments even more meaningful.
The picture above is my Day 5 collage from Megan’s ‘Ab Challenge’ … and I am pretty pleased with my progress – I am up over a 2 minute plank along with the rest of the ab work and continuing to get in my runs of around 8 – 9 miles every day.
When I took a couple of weeks to ‘step back’ from blogging a few months ago, there were a number of frustrations and other things I needed to sort out … which have ended up in three different draft posts I am finally dealing with. One is on how people treat others, another is on honesty … and this one is about the inefficiency of blogging as a form of communication.
But just saying that by itself doesn’t really mean anything without context, so I wanted to explain WHY I find blogging to be such an inefficient time-soak, and compared to what. As I did that I was thinking about a bunch of other ways technology has become more time-intensive without necessarily delivering more value over the last couple of decades … oh, and before you jump to the comments immediately to tell me how wrong I am, I rebut pretty much every one of my points later in the post!
1. USENET vs. Forums vs. Blogging
Does anyone reading this remember the days before the web? When I got out of college and wanted to continue to be able to communicate with friends, there was email. Modems were mostly 1200 baud (bits per second … about twice as fast as you can type), and used a phone line. But there was also this thing called USENET.
USENET groups were discussion groups that were handled on a distributed network of servers that replicated the discussions worldwide. You would have a single USENET reader program that would load all of your discussion from your assigned server. Your program would track read and unread, and also discussions you ‘starred’, started or participated in.
So if you were interested in new running shoes, instead of writing on your blog ‘hey guys, what would you recommend for me for running shoes?’ you would post the question to the group rec. running, and a discussion would start … you would supply details, get questions, probably have a side thread or two about certain manufacturers being crap, and so on. Very often the discussions took on a life of their own.
And how would you find groups? Search your server. If you had just listened to music and wanted to see about others who liked that piece, you might go to rec. music.jazz. Or if you had a programming question you could go to comp.lang.c++ and people from all over the world would try to help.
USENET was a very democratic area, where anyone could start a discussion, and once it was out there … it was no longer ‘yours’. But with the rise of the web in the 90s, special interest websites popped up everywhere, gradually killing off USENET participation. An early site I helped out with and participated on was JediKnight.net, which came out after the game Dark Forces as fans waited for the first Jedi Knight game that eventually arrived in 1997. There was news, but mostly it was about the discussions.
What happened with web forums was that the discussions of USENET were decentralized – so you could find a running site which would have all sorts of discussion topics about technique, equipment, and so on. Most also had ‘off topic’ areas where you could talk about music, politics or whatever. Suddenly if you were a video game fan you needed to track a dozen forums to keep up with all of your discussions! But it remained democratic to an extent – all members were pretty much equal, with moderators and site owners having the final word.
Blogs are different – my blog begins and ends with what I want to talk about. If you find my subjects interesting you can comment and follow my posts. But what I found when I started tracking running blogs two years ago was that within the comments were always MORE blogs … and many of them were really cool. So you’d follow another and another and … suddenly you have an out of control subscription list, and this is just as a reader!
But what happens is you have a question you want to ask? Do you search for someone else asking and hope their answers work for you? Do you put your own question in someone else’s comments? No … you make your own blog. And suddenly you realize that there is a lot to blogging:
– Creating content that interests you and hopefully some others
– Reading all of the awesome blogs out there
– Commenting on those blogs
– Responding to comments on YOUR blog!
So suddenly we look back over the last 25 years and realize that we have gone from an in-depth discussion of the harmonic implications of the song ‘Circle’ from Miles Smiles, including several thousand comments in a group with tens of thousands of ‘members’ across dozens of countries … to, well, me introspectively writing a blog article complaining about blogging compared to ‘the good old days’.
2. PDAs and Dedicated MP3 Players compared to Smartphones
First – MP3 Players. We all know that distracted driving is incredibly dangerous, yet I cannot begin to count the number of people I see on their phones or ‘looking at their laps’ while driving. I know a number of people who use their smartphones as MP3 players. Here is a quick test – how many actions does it take you to stop the current song, change to a new artist, find a certain song on a certain album and play that? And how much ‘screen look’ time? Without doing the math, let em be blunt – it is MUCH less efficient, and MORE dangerous, than on a click-wheel iPod. Which is why I have one in my car.
How is something that takes more effort and distraction to complete a task more efficient? It isn’t! Smartphones are simply less efficient music players, and a bad choice for the car.
Similarly, our smartphones are amazingly powerful tools and the apps we now have are stunning in their depth and breadth. Yet if I had serious math to do on the go I would choose the 20-year old HP 200LX over any of them … in a heartbeat! With Lotus 1-2-3, a full HP scientific calculator, a hardware keyboard and dedicated numeric keypad … POWER! And that was one reason I held off on ‘smartphones’ until Android – ‘convergence’ devices were always inferior.
Look at the keyboard on the HP Jornada 728 from 2002, and you might realize how well it would have worked as something to carry to every meeting and type up notes, do (offline) email, and so on. Looking at the front you might realize it has dedicated hardware media controls – yes it was my MP3 player for quite a while!
It has taken a long time for these convergence devices to catch up – something like the iPad Mini in a Belkin keyboard case is a great replacement for the 728 in every way. But think about it – how great of an accomplishment is it to ‘finally surpass a 12 year old piece of hardware of similar price’ … and to need add-on accessories to do it?
3. Being ‘In The Moment’ vs. ‘Always On’
There is a joke that we are raising a generation that appears to have an unnatural and humorous fascination with their crotches … that is they think they are ‘sneaking’ cell phone use or somehow being more polite by keeping it under the table – but it doesn’t change the reality of the situation.
Think about it – when was the last time your were out to dinner with friends or family and you DIDN’T have to repeat something because someone’s attention was on their phone? The priority order is skewed – we are more worried about who is on our smartphone than who is across the table.
My point? It has been shown that for all of the ‘social’ aspects, our smartphones have made us much less socially engaged and worse at handling routine interactions. That is NOT progress.
4. Punctuality and Reliability
When I had my first job out of college, there were essentially no cell phones and pretty much all computers were desktops (and many people didn’t have external email addresses). If you wanted to have a meeting, you generally had to call someone – and if you needed to alter plans, you again needed to call them.
Just this afternoon I had a meeting to help someone with analyzing some data. At 5 minutes after the meeting was supposed to start at my desk, I got a text asking if they could have 10 more minutes and if we could meet at THEIR desk. I didn’t even think twice about it until I was walking to their office, but that sort of thing would never have happened even 10 years ago.
It all reminds me of this:
“In the US, where punctuality is usually seen as important, mobile phones make us later. We’re more likely to schedule things spontaneously, and then reschedule at the last minute via mobile phone.”
Oh – and THIS video pretty much sums it up.
5. Vacation and Off-Time
I remember going on vacation to Disney in 2001 when Blackberry was a new thing … and I had one of the models like in the picture (but they weren’t in color yet) and for the first day the constant buzzing bothered me and I felt ‘compelled’ to check. But the second morning as we were getting ready, I took one last look, shut it down and locked it in the hotel safe. I didn’t take it out again until we left.
When was the last time you took a cell-phone free vacation? Or brought your phone but actually limited it to taking pictures, keeping up basic communications and that was it? For more and more people it is like the actual number of vacationers has doubled – you have your family … and their phones!
Bonus. The Counter-Points
Of course, for every point I just made there is a counterpoint … and since they seemed obvious to me, I will make them!
– The Joy of Blogging – it isn’t SUPPOSED to Replace USENET/Forums – Blogging is all about the celebration of the individual voice and the building of community. We love hearing what our friends have to say – both in posts and in comments. We have something to add and are interested in the reply for the original poster.
It is that celebration of voices and community that makes blogging so great – and worth the challenge of the hard work and time required. I think about the amazing people I have met, the number of folks I genuinely consider friends at this point, and how much faster I have learned so much about them, and shared so much of myself, by blogging and reading blogs. There are people I have talked with on web forums for 20 years regularly I know less about than bloggers I have followed for 3 months. It is amazing.
Also, those discussion I mention STILL happen – in web forums. If you want to talk music theory, head to All About Jazz, where there are incredibly talented people ready to talk – and share annotated links, multimedia files, and other stuff not possible 25 years ago. Same for optimizing virtual instruments in Digital Performer (MOTUForums), and gaming frame rates (numerous forums). Point is – they’re out there.
Also, my USENET example comes from a time when the entire population of the internet was about 100 times SMALLER than the number of people who have viewed the #selfie video. Think about that for a minute … this is even before AOL came along, before ‘text speak’ existed, before most houses had a computer.
– Smartphones vs. MP3 and PDAs – When I use my iPhone for music in the car, I am not playing just from when I have remembered to load onto the device, but instead from my entire music library. Last week I wanted to hear ‘Black Radio’ from Robert Glasper (check it out) but on my iPod I only had the ‘Black Radio 2’ album. On my phone that is no problem.
Also, on my phone I have iTunes Radio, Slacker, Spotify, Rdio, Amazon Music, Google Music, and more to play music, Shazam to identify and buy anything I hear while out and about, as well as any number of musical instruments if I hear a tune and want to learn on the go.
Also, I have a full HP-15 calculator on my phone as well as full-featured statistical analysis programs on my iPad. I can go into the lab, grab data, analyze and graph, and report it out all from my tablet quite easily in a way I never could without a full laptop in the past.
– Smartphones Require Social Discipline – if you are on a early date and look like the couple above … smartphones are not your biggest issue. Communication requires … well, communication. There are times when you WILL look like that, and sometimes it can be fun – there are times Lisa and I are hearing from the kids, or have posted a picture of us on a date and are getting responses and sharing them together.
It is up to us – technology really CAN add to the social environment … we just need to use discipline and always remember to prioritize the people we are with.
– Smartphones Allow Flexibility – I remember getting crappy directions to a place in Cambridge way back in the late 80s, a part of the city I’d never been to, and struggling to find it. I finally found a pay phone, thankfully had change, and called the office to get better directions … which were only somewhat helpful as I had to call once again to notify them I’d be late.
With a smartphone and GPS none of that would have happened. Also, that scenario of the quickly changed meeting worked out fine (although notification BEFORE the start of a meeting would always be better). Social norms still need to apply – we need to be polite and respect other people’s time and feelings … but otherwise rapid communications allows unprecedented flexibility.
– Smartphones on Vacation – you know that commercial of the family trip where the daughter seems totally disengaged and into her cell phone, yet at some point produces something documenting everything they have done with ‘best vacation ever’ capturing so many great moments? That is closer to reality … sure our devices tag along – but they also help us grab moments, because as the saying goes the best camera is the one that is always with you and ready to go!
So What Do YOU Think? Do I have any points, Did I negate them all with my counter-points, or is this just my ‘Grumpy Old Man’ showing?!?