Saturday, July 31, 2010

DrS Gets a Smartphone: Droid Day Three

Janus Strikes Back

I can just hear Janus now, "Call me an obscure god, mortal?  Think you can keep me in my place?  We'll see about that!"

Alright, so I shouldn't have said that.  Day three and Janus took off the gloves.  Remember when I said the Google email accounts downloaded rather effortlessly?  Perhaps I misspoke.  There was a seemingly small problem. The gmail email addresses and my old phone contacts came down in two separate batches so that when I clicked on "contacts" I got both lists combined, with one card for an email address and another for phone numbers.  But when I clicked on "Favorites" I got everyone for whom I had a phone number.  All I wanted to do was blend both lists and remove most folks from the "Favorites" list - since you can't speed dial, the favorites list is your phone call shortcut.  The understanding of the problem is not terribly important - the lesson lies in the route to the solution.

The first level of Verizon tech support figured out how to "join" the cards for the duplicate contacts but couldn't figure out how to "de-Favorite" anyone.  So I was passed along to Verizon Tech support level 2. There I met Dr. Kevorkian.  "We can fix this," he said. "But we must erase all your settings."

"Are you sure?"

"I am sure."


"Then we are jumping in it."

And we jumped in it, losing all my apps, settings, gmail accounts, etc.  But soon we were back to the exact same situation as before vis-a-vis the contacts.  I just had no settings, apps, etc.

"Hmmmm." said Dr. Kevorkian, "Now we are going to Motorola Tech Support."

So we did that for an hour or so until we ended up with a specialist who sounded like she was about 13.

"Hello Robert, I'm Janey!  My screen says you are trying to remove contacts from your favorites list.  Is that correct?"

"Yes, it is."

"Okey dokey Robert.  Do you have your contacts on your screen?"

"Yes, I do."

"Okey dokey Robert.  Please touch a contact and hold your finger on the screen."

"All right."

"Okey dokey Robert.  In a second a menu should pop up.  Did it?"


"Okey dokey Robert.  Is one of the choices 'Remove from favorites"?

"Yes, it is."

"Okey dokey Robert, can you touch that selection for me?"

"Yes."  And I did so.  The favorites star disappeared.

"Okey dokey Robert.  Did that resolve your issue?"

"Yes, it did."

"Okey dokey Robert.  Can I help you with anything else?"

"No, Janey, that was all I needed."

"Okey dokey Robert.  Please call if there is ever anything else we can help you with."

"Okey dokey, Janey.  Thank you very much.  You've been most helpful.

"Okey dokey Robert."

And we hung up.  Elapsed time to solve problem: 2 hours and 35 minutes.

I concede this round to Janus.  But remain amazed by the incredible paradox in the situation.  All of the tech support people I talked with were determined to make sure my problem was solved.  But there was an obvious disconnect between that laudable intention and their ability to access the information - the very simple information - needed to solve my problem.

The first level tech support person actually solved 80% of the problem - describing the process to merge the two cards for each contact.  However, Dr. K. at level two, decided that we had to "rip the guts out of the system" to fix whatever was wrong.  He was wrong, and I eventually realized that he was simply using the old Windows strategy.  Turn it off, reboot, start all over.  Yet, Okey Dokey Janey was able to solve the primary issue in about 45 seconds.

I was struck again by the two faces of Janus.  It is a tool that is sweet, simple and wonderfully effectively when it works.  But when it does not work, it swiftly reveals layers of complexity and confusion that belie the seamless facade of its responsive screen.  It becomes a paperweight with integrated circuitry.

Janus may be an obscure god, but he is by no means simple.

Friday, July 30, 2010

DrS Gets a Smartphone: Droid Day Two

Actually did very little with Janus today.  [Janus is what I am thinking of naming my Droid.  Janus is an ancient Roman god, the god of transitions, usually depicted as having two faces, one looking to the future, one looking to the past.]

Played a little bit with editing contacts - which was an interesting exercise.  I have had the same phone "contacts" for 15 or 20 years.  I was a it taken aback by how many people had faded from my life.  Caught myself saying "Wonder what ever happened to him/her?" a lot.   Even stranger were the strangers, the "Who the heck is that?" contacts.  But I did not leap to Facebook to look for them.  Janus is a two-headed god.

That was about it.  Janus is an obscure god.  I felt as though I kept him in his place today.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

DrS Gets a Smartphone: Droid Day One

When folks have occasion to look at the art that I create using digital tools, they often ask "How long did it take you to do that?"  The answer ranges from dozens to hundreds of hours - and there was the really complicated piece, well, I don't want to go there.  The point is that when it comes to learning about a digital tool - be it software or hardware - you often have to turn off the clock. 

Want to learn Photoshop?  Fine.  Pick a project you want to accomplish and keep plugging at it until you figure out how to make the tool do that. Don't count the hours - it will just depress you.  It is, I admit, an attitude at variance with our 24/7 world that wants everything done "right now!"  Still, it is an attitude I will try to maintain for at least a while as I explore this new tool.  There are a lot of issues to keep in mind.

As I said in the last post, one major concern is that I don't become - well, a Droid, a person who is merely an extension of a piece of technology that I carry around with me.  Second, and oppositional to the point just made, I do not want my intuitive "droid-reluctance" to prevent me from adding to my communicative skill set.

So, at least initially, I will try to turn off the clock, and learn my way around this tool. . .

My first major objective is to make sure that I can do everything on the Droid that I did with my old dumbphone: make calls and do minor texting.  I discovered that my old phone was just barely new enough to import my contacts from my old phone. Did that, but remain a touch confused because - being a Google phone - it also imported all my gmail contacts.  So now I have several dozen "contacts" with two cards, one for their phone numbers and another for their email addresses.  But there is no such thing as speed dial.  Various discussion groups define "really easy" work arounds - like, "get a dialer app and make a short cut and drag the icon to the main page."  Ah, yes.  "Can you grab the pebble, grasshopper?"  Think I'll come back to that later.

Texting was one of the highlights.  It turned out to be relatively easy once I had my phone contacts.  The issue is that, even though I have tiny hands, the virtual keyboard too small for my fingers.  Fortunately, the Droid has this nifty slideout physical qwerty keyboard.  The keys are still too small, but I discovered that you can work it fairly easily with the eraser end of a pencil.  I'm looking for a neat app I read about several months ago called Swype that could make using the virtual keyboard feasible.  Again the message boards were of limited assistance:  "It's still in beta, not officially released - but if you go here, you can download an elephant.  Take the elephant, and a sewing needle with a really large eye.  Push the elephant through the eye of the needle, and there you go man! Rock and roll!"  I think I'll come back to that later too.

The keyboard does present interesting issues that I may expand on later, but briefly, the keyboard environment is not conducive to reflective composition.  It is fine for pragmatic exchanges, but I do not see pulling out my droid and beginning, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times .  .  ."

Setting up email was both incredibly simple and basically impossible.  Again, remember that the Droid runs on Android software, made by Google, designed to be an iPhone killer.  My gmail accounts all came down even with out being asked. However, my university email is an IMAP account.  There are instructions for getting an IMAP account onto your Droid.  But after several hours with Verizon tech support, university tech support, and a personal consult with my ultimate guru, we couldn't shove that elephant through the eye of the needle either.  I ended up creating a gmail account to which I forward all the mail that comes to my university account. "Hah! Come on through Dumbo!"

So that's about it for today - more time than I wanted, but remember, sometimes you have to just turn off the clock.

Notice: this was not sent from my mobile device :-)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fear of Phoning

I have always had a penchant for solitude.  As a child I delighted in “not being seen.”  I loved to hide among the bushes outside the house, or up in the branches of low hanging tree, observing the ebb and flow of the neighborhood.  I had no interest in eavesdropping or stealing secrets.  There was just something soothing in the notion that nobody knew where I was, that I could observe the world at my leisure and think unhurried thoughts.  It is an inclination that has remained with me throughout my life.  Even during high school and college, when I spent much of my time as an actor, there was a special peace to be found high up in the catwalks above the stage, seeing but not seen.

I am still drawn to solitude, to times when I am either unobserved or merely unnoticed.  Neither judging nor be judged.  Just quietly “being.”  I was struck by the notion strongly, yet somewhat paradoxically, yesterday during a visit to Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.  It isn’t the Valley of the Kings, but it is probably as close as we get here in America.  The rich and powerful of this city of broad shoulders - Pullman, McCormick, Fields, et. al. - lie beneath obelisks and mausoleums beside tranquil ponds.  It is a pool of solitude in the midst of a teeming metropolis.  You do not take notice of others strolling beneath the trees and they do not acknowledge you.  The dead themselves, it seems, could wander about without attracting much attention.  It is a graceful, peaceful, pasture of the dear departed.

This new attention to solitude may well be heightened by the fact that I have been without my laptop for more than a week, and my cellphone is of the old dumb variety - I use it to talk, and it occasionally surprises me with a text message from Verizon.   Hence, the distraction technologies of today’s world have been largely muted.  The silence brews a strange blend of calm and anxiety.  The calm, of course, is born of solitude.  My childhood friend wraps sweet and soothing arms around me, lulling me to soft reflection.  The anxiety springs from our digitally enhanced sense of self-importance: surely something is going on out there in the wide, wild, wired and wireless world that needs my input, my attention, my keystrokes.

I still choose to believe that participation in the digital mediascape is option not mandate.  But more and more I doubt it.  I could not do my job in a non-digital environment.  I would not sit down and put stamps on envelopes to share these reflections with you.  On this trip, Matilda, my GPS led us through the Appalachians down roads without names that are undoubtedly used as luge tracks come winter - and deposited us at the doorstep of our B&B in excellent time.  I worked through last week’ Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle with my daughter and son-in-law, and they only had to use their iPhone Google app a couple of times.  I would not choose a pre-Internet life.  Yet, I remain concerned.

The TV claimed a spot in the living room during the 1950s.  Today it has its own room.  The smart phone also now claims part of our personal space.  I was at a gathering awhile ago, peopled mostly by adults in their 30s and 40s, with kids ranging from single digits to late teens.  I was in the midst of a conversation with my hostess when another adult stepped between us to place her cellphone directly in the hostess’s line of sight. No one missed a beat.  No one, other than I, and I only in retrospect, seemed to notice, let alone find it incredibly rude.  Walk into any coffeeshop and most restaurants - certainly at lunchtime - and you will find most patrons partnered by their phones.  They are no longer nestled in pockets.  Tiny and unobtrusive phones are no longer cool.  The new largescreen varieties are positioned on the table next to their - hmm?  Which is the master?  No doubt better restaurants will soon have “phone rests” designed to match the chef’s preferred presentation.  You don’t want some clod to knock over the spun sugar sculpture because there is no space for their touchscreen sweetheart.  If you can’t beat them, guide them.

I do not wish to become one of “those people,” and yet, ironically, I must.  One cannot teach about digital culture from afar.  So, soon, I will move to a droid, having given up waiting for the iPhone to come to Verizon.  But I will seek to maintain perspective, to avoid having my phone become my new BFF.  I think I’ll be able to manage it, after all, “I’m just chipping. I can quit anytime I want.”  Who said that? Kerouac? Joplin? Jackson? I dunno .  .  .  .