Smartphones and Productivity

Samsung Exhibit 2Against my will, I was forced to get a smartphone. My friend and partner Will wanted to get a new phone so he decided to give me his old phone. It is some kind of a Samsung unit, but of course, compared to what I’ve had, it is awesomely amazing. I think what I had before is 0.0001g or some version of SLIP. (That’s old hacker humor!) This thing seems to do all the things I see people doing with what must be much better smartphones. I’m on Twitter, getting updated about what drunken atheists are up to. And I can check my 15 different email accounts. But it makes me wonder about the people who tweet and email throughout their days.

How do they do it? I’m a really good typist. In fact, I’m so good that I’ve forgotten where the keys are. My fingers know, my eyes don’t. The little keyboard comes up and I’m thinking, “Now where is that H character?!” It does, however, have this little microphone gadget that does a surprisingly good job of converting my voice into text. It makes obvious mistake. It is hopeless with homophones. It puts numerals into sentences when I don’t want them. And most of all, it is hopeless with punctuation and doesn’t know how to capitalize the beginning of a sentence. Still, it’s pretty amazing. I can get a tweet completed a lot faster than I could type it in. Of course, it is nowhere near as fast as I type on a proper keyboard.

The way I used the internet on my old phone was that I would enter a website and then put the phone in my pocket. After a few minutes, I would check to see if it had loaded. Mostly it did. Sites like Wikipedia do an excellent job of spitting out bits of pages to phones like mine. But even after regular pages would load, it was a hassle. It was very much like the old days using the text-based browser Lynx. If there was a left sidebar, you would have to scroll all the way down it because the page didn’t do any formatting. And worst of all, the phone’s browser would only load so much of a page. So the Frankly Curious page (which is hardly long) would only make it upwards of half way down the page.

Still, the whole thing makes me wonder. How is it that the whole society is going toward tablet computing. Maybe I’m just biased because I’m a writer, but I find a traditional setup with a keyboard and mouse far easier to use to get work done. Even for reading, I would rather just hit page-down than zip my finger across the screen, which seems always to cause the screen to move more than I wanted. Admittedly, I will doubtless get much better at that. But I wonder: does anyone get actual work done with these devices?

Q*bertI’m afraid that the answer is no. My experience in corporate America is that very little work ever gets done. And I suspect that the hyper-connectivity in modern business is just a way for management to convince itself that it is accomplishing things. I don’t mean to suggest that these tools can’t or even don’t help people be productive. But I think at this point, it would take me about four times as long to create an article on my phone—and that’s assuming I could use the microphone function. I could use the phone to tweet as I go about my life, but that would likely turn me into one of those sad people who tweet things like, “Just bought a BBQ chicken at Whole Foods. Yum!” And I can’t imagine anything but the tersest of responses on email.

The way the phone helps me greatly is that it will allow me to read my standard websites while I’m out. And I assume it will also work as a book reader. Also: the microphone function on the text messages is great, although Andrea has already complained about typos in the three texts I’ve sent her. But there’s no doubt that this is a major advance. It is just that its a major advance in the ways that I was already using my phone. And I don’t think those were making me especially more productive. In fact, I think that computers generally have made me less useful to society. So I curse them generally.

Of course, now that I’ve downloaded Q*bert, all bets are off.

Sympathy but Not Disease for Rob Ford

Rob FordClare Malone has an interesting piece that I half agree with, Rob Ford’s Tragedy, Our Shame. At base, it is a call for a little understanding—not just for Ford but for all people who have allowed drugs to get out of control in their lives. And I’m totally on board with that. I wrote just that on Wednesday, Sympathy for Rob Ford. All of us have faced personal humiliations and, if we’ve thought about it, are grateful that they weren’t more public. I don’t know if I could deal with having animated gifs all over the world infinitely repeating even my most minor humiliations.

Where I differ with Malone is over her hand wringing about addiction as a disease. She even writes that addiction “is treated by doctors as a disease, classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” That’s true. And homosexuality was also once treated as a disease and classified in the DSM. I have no doubt that the inclusion of “addiction” as a mental disease will one day be as embarrassing as “homosexuality” is today.

Doing drugs is an extremely common human behavior. I know of no culture that does not have socially acceptable intoxicant use. Thus to take drug use out of its social context and label it as a dysfunction, much less a disease, makes no sense. Like any activity, drug use has good aspects and bad aspects. In moderation, the good aspects swamp the bad aspects.

But what of one who has seemingly lost all control, or at least a large part of it? That strikes me as an incredibly naive question that only occurs because our culture is so very screwed up about the use of intoxicants. It should be very clear that Rob Ford has problems. I don’t know what they are. I’d guess that he suffers from feelings of inferiority and self-hatred. But it hardly matters. There are reasons that a sitting mayor of a major city allowed himself to be publicly shitfaced and at least once commit felony drug possession. And none of those have anything to do with the psychoactive properties of alcohol or cocaine.

The reason this is important is that our society’s current approach to drug problems is mostly useless and often harmful. Many years ago, I read Pathways from Heroin Addiction: Recovery Without Treatment. It was on the leading edge of work that showed that the vast majority of people get off even the mother of all addictions without any help from anyone. And the key for pretty much everyone was changing their self-images. There was no disease and there needn’t be.

So sympathy for Rob Ford, of course! The man clearly needs help. But what he doesn’t need is to be taught that he has an alcoholic gene and that he’s powerless against the demon brew. His life is out of control, but that could have manifested in any number of ways. In fact, it did! What kind of reasonable person goes into politics? I think that’s a red flag for any number of behaviors that do belong in the DSM. And we should show sympathy for all the mental baggage that each of us carries around.

Huge Black Vote In Virginia a Trend?

Vote Baby Vote!Ed Kilgore has been following an interesting bit of demographics from Tuesday’s election, More on VA and the African-American Vote That Saved Terry McAuliffe. In comparing the 2009 election where the Republicans in the top spots won big, the 2013 electorate looks the same. Except: the turn out of African American voters was very high: more like the 2012 election. And this is the only reason that Terry McAuliffe will be the next governor of Virginia. Both Asians and Latinos voted at their 2009 levels.

The question is why this is and the truth is that no one knows. But Kilgore mentions a tantalizing possibility, “I’ve heard a few random folk cite the pre-election voter purge executed by Virginia as a provocation to black voters.” Ah yes. I talked about this a few months back with regard to Ross Douthat’s idea that Voter ID laws will, in the end, hurt Republicans. Given the southern history of voter suppression, African Americans especially will push back hard. It is one thing to not vote in an election where all the candidates are losers. It is quite another thing when people are actively trying to stop you from voting for those losers. And guess who they’ll vote for? The Democratic loser!

Or it could be that African Americans are just really pissed off. After all, this recession has hurt them far more than it has whites. As usual. That is a cheery thought: the poor might be coming to terms with the fact that we may not have money or individual power, but together through the profound act of voting we are the most powerful entity in the nation. The interesting thing is that as a group, African Americans don’t want that much—mostly just a reasonable chance at a decent life. Meanwhile, conservatives are obsessed by the thought that the government will have to pay reparations for slavery. That is how big a gulf there is between the thinking of the poor and the rich. Clearly, being rich does not generate clarity of thought.

Throughout American history, there has been a balance between the direct power of the rich and the electoral power of the poor. It has moved one way and then the other. But for the last 35 years, we have seen the pendulum swing toward the rich. Now we are at a point where income inequality is as bad as it has ever been. The time for the pendulum to swing back the other direction is long overdue.

Regardless of the reason that African Americans voted in large numbers in this off-off-year election, it is a good thing. And I hope that it is part of a trend. This nation has long been held back by conservative gains in off-year elections. The American people are center-left. The Democratic Party is center. The American voter is slightly center-right. And the Republican Party far right. Anything that makes the voting public more like the actual public is a very good thing.

Dracula and Three Music Women

Bram StokerIt’s another one of those crappy days with very few good birthdays. But at least we’ll get a few good songs.

On this day in 1710, the writer Sarah Fielding was born. I’ve never read her. I never even knew she existed. She was the great novelist Henry Fielding’s younger sister. But she is important in her own right. She wrote the first children’s novel, The Governess, or The Little Female Academy. If you read it, let me know how it was.

Singer-songwriter Bonnie Bramlett is 69 today. Here she is with then husband Delaney Bramlett and a couple of other people you might recognize, doing a tribute to Robert Johnson, “Poor Elijah.” It is joyous music like all of Delaney & Bonnie:

Singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt is 64. I was going to put up her beautiful version of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” but I thought I might get complaints. “Not that song again!” So here is her breakthrough cover of Del Shannon & Max Crook’s great “Runaway”:

Rickie Lee Jones is 59. It’s really hard to find any decent video of her other than “Chuck E’s In Love.” But here is a nice version of “The Horses” (which she wrote with Walter Becker):

Other birthdays: Milton Bradley (1836); psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach (1884); novelist Margaret Mitchell (1900); and the evil NRA head Wayne LaPierre (64).

The day, however, belongs to the great novelist Bram Stoker who was born on this day in 1847. At 50, he published the novel Dracula. The history of the novel is quite interesting. When it was first published, it received good reviews. And it sold modestly well. It didn’t stop Stoker from dying in poverty in 1912. It was only ten years later that the novel started to achieve its iconic status. In 1922, F W Murnau made the film Nosferatu based upon the novel without permission. Stoker’s widow was not please and she sued. As a result of that lawsuit and the movie, the book became very popular. Then came the stage play. And then came Bela Lugosi.

Happy birthday Bram Stoker!