Daring Myself to Wait Another Version

The iPhone has never been a need. My wife needed a smart phone for her interior design work, and I’ve received her hand-me-downs as she’s upgraded to the newer models for better photo quality.

This left me with an iPhone 3GS, until it died and I had to revert to our previously dormant 3G model. I can’t upgrade to iOS 4.3, much less iOS 5. No iCloud, no wifi tethering, no notification centre. No performance, and constant expectation that I won’t be able to upgrade to the next version of my favourite apps.

I want more, but I don’t really need more. I need tethering as an Internet connection backup for my work, which I can already do over Bluetooth or USB. My battery life sucks, but a replacement battery is cheaper than a new phone. I need occasional voice calls, which work just fine. Everything else is gravy which I’d love but don’t need.

I am not an inferior human being because I don’t have the latest tech. I need to remind myself that it’s not only OK to use Last Year’s Model, but also smarter and more responsible. We’ll see how long I can keep the upgrade siren song at bay.

Notebooks & Pocket Computers

Picture it: a creative-type person named Alice pulls out her (paper) notebook to jot down an idea or make a quick sketch. She stopped in mid-conversation, saying “Just a minute Bob, I have a thought I need to save for later.” This move would be easy, short, and unobtrusive, taking place while Bob takes another sip of his coffee.

Now, instead, picture Alice making the same interruption, only she pulls pulls out her pocket computer (iPhone, Blackberry, etc). She has to navigate her OS, open her note-taking app of choice, and then proceed to peck away at her tiny keyboard or touch screen. Not only is it a laborious process, it seems more socially disruptive.

There are a few interesting things to explore in the contrast between the two modes of note-taking. The obvious thing to note is that pocket computers don’t yet have any consensus on socially-acceptable use, whereas notebooks are old, well-understood technology.[ref]We have always had to adapt social norms to new technology, but the current pace of innovation makes this nearly impossible.[/ref] A fair point, but right now I’m focused on the real differences between pocket computers and notebooks.

Let’s return to Alice the pocket computer-user as she records a thought. It will take her several moments merely to reach the point of being ready to record. As she does so, other things will vie for her attention (like email unread counts and voicemail indicators). Even if Alice doesn’t act on these notifications, not acting was itself an action that required her to momentarily forget about Bob, instead positioning herself mentally in relationship to whatever scenario these indicators may signify. She also might decide that one of these scenarios is urgent, further removing her from her conversation with Bob. Both he and the thought she set out to record in the first place are forgotten.

The other party—Bob, in our hypothetical example—is at this point much more likely to pull out his own cell phone or pocket computer during the conversational lull, getting caught up in email, SMS or the social network of the moment. Alice and Bob are at this point no longer present to each other, having been caught up in the tyranny of always being connected to the thrumming flow of the urgent and generally unimportant. The most precious gift we have to offer one another—particularly in an age of “virtual community”—is our physical presence, yet pocket computers routinely aid us in discarding and seizing back this gift.

The above is of course a worst case scenario. And yet, if you are a user of a pocket computer or have any friends with one, does something like the above happen with regularity? If it only happens one time out of five, is that acceptable?

I am now, as in many cases, reminded of Wendell Berry’s respect for the Amish in their insistence that all new technology must be evaluated through the question of “how will this impact our community?” Pocket computers, when used indiscriminately and outside of agreed-upon social norms[ref]As already mentioned, these social norms don’t exist and may never come to be, as pocket computers are obsoleted in the face of some other new technology.[/ref], can definitely be harmful to the possibility of being present to one another in community.

I began this essay because I’ve had many “I need to write about that”-type thoughts recently, but when I sat down today to write, I couldn’t recall any of them. I then thought, “I need to start recording those thoughts as they occur on my iPhone,” but picturing myself doing so made me look like a douchebag, as the kids say these days. I next asked myself “Why would I look that way?” and you’ve now read my essay to answer that question. Having done so, I’ve realised that I need a notebook.[ref]My wife bought me one after reading an early draft of this essay. I have yet to use it, hypocrite that I am.[/ref]

Better Web Reading

Better Web Reading:

It’s damn hard to read web content sometimes. Too-small text, articles split over multiple pages, gratuitous banner ads, design that steals you attention from the actual content: these all conspire to make reading on the web—especially long-form content—frustrating, painful and sometimes downright infuriating. 2010 saw two major approaches to this come to some degree of prominence, and both have made me so much happier.

This is the first time that I started a blog post here and wound up posting it on the Soma Design blog. If you’ve ever been frustrated at how difficult it is to read on the web, have I got some tools for you.

A New DanWilt.com

Once upon a time (almost a year ago), in a land far, far away (St. Stephen, NB), my friend Dan started talking to me about designing him a new look for his WordPress blog. After many battles with the evil NotEnoughTime and the scourge of BackBurner, we at last prevailed.

If my strange little story hasn’t made you run away screaming yet, go have a peek at the new DanWilt.com. Dan is on a mission to make the world and the church better through creativity and love of God, so we sorted out a look that doesn’t seem to be a blog at all. All brought to you by the fine folks at the design empire of Soma Design.

Help Firefox Set a World Record

As a web designer, I have a soft spot for Firefox, which has done so much to promote standards-based web development and made enough of a dent in Internet Explorer’s market share that Microsoft is slowly making it suck a bit less.

The Firefox team are about to release version 3 of their fantastic browser and want to celebrate by trying to set a Guinness World Record for most downloads in a single day. So, if you’re reading this on June 17, go over to the Spread Firefox site and get it!

I’ve been using Firefox 3 in beta form for the last couple of months, and I must say that it has many improvements over its predecessor, especially the so-called Awesomebar. Try typing into the location bar and you’ll see what I mean: part history, part search, and it learns what you use over time, making it more useful the more you use it. It also has better bookmark management, and hugely improved integration into Mac OS X (it actually feels like a Mac app now).

If you’re still reading this, stop now, and go get Firefox 3.