Facebook is rolling out a new version of Messenger aimed at kids. Normally kids under the age of 13 are not allowed to sign up for a Facebook account, this is managed by the really hard to fool, birthday picker.
Is this a good idea, to give access to a powerful messaging app with their own logins and passwords? Now parents will have to approve everyone that their child wants to communicate with, but this does open a couple other questions about safety and security.
According to Facebook, there is a high demand for kids who now are allowed by their parents to use tablets and smartphones to have access to Facebook Messenger. I have to wonder, do our children, who are growing up steeped in non-traditional communication methods really need another avenue to avoid actual human interaction. Nevermind the obvious safety and privacy concerns.
I feel that Facebook is rolling this out as a way to hook-em when they’re young. The under 25 demo is leaving Facebook in droves for other platforms like Twitter and SnapChat. Most kids don’t want to post their updates to a site that is shared with their grandparents. Facebook isn’t as cool and unique as it used to be.
If Facebook can succeed in getting kids as young as 6 using their services, they will be the first social media platform these kids interact with, hopefully creating a user for life. It’s the same strategy that Apple used in the 90’s by flooding the educational market with their computers. Thinking that if kids got used to using their devices at a young age, they would continue using them as adults.
You can argue the success/failure of that approach for Apple. Will this gamble work for Facebook, maybe, as long as they avoid any negative news that would be associated with this experiment going wrong. Any news showing a child be exploited or there being anything untoward happening in their service will kill it before it has a chance.
So why would we need to give 6-year-olds an Instant Messaging service? Why can’t they just us messenger on their parent’s device to have directly supervised conversations with grandparents, cousins, friends etc? Are they so totally connected that they need to be reached all the time? There is already so much research showing that the always-on connected life we lead now as adults is harmful, what will it do to our kids?
Kids need to have space to just be kids. They also need to learn skills like talking on the phone, speaking to someone face to face, or even writing an email/letter.
The tendency of social media drives us to only present our more edited selves. There is no space to be vulnerable or take a risk. That’s why texting has become the most popular way to communicate with a cellphone than actually calling someone. If you are speaking with someone you cannot take the time to craft the perfect responses or make sure you only come across a certain way.
This leads to a shallower level of communication. Starting our kids at 6 or 7 years old to start operating in this form is bad for their still-developing brains. Think I am crazy? Try having a conversation with a 15-year-old and get them to look you in the eye.
So is there room for a messenger app for 6-13 year olds? Maybe, I can’t think of one. My kids (7 and 4) don’t even have their own “smart” devices let alone a Facebook account. When my wife and I think they are ready we will have that discussion with them. Until then, if they want to contact the grandparents, they can do with our supervision.
What do you think? When is the right time to get your kid signed up for a Social Media/Messenger/Smart Device? Let me know in the comments.
Why, in the age of the smartphone, would someone voluntarily go back to a flip phone? I can hear you asking, “You run a Tech Blog, why would you do that!” Well, there are a few reasons why I have done it. I will try to lay out a couple of them here for you. Maybe it will convince you to give it a try, or make you clutch your smartphone that much tighter. Let’s get one thing straight to start with, I am not going all Luddite. This is just one area of my life I have chosen to take a simple approach too.
Can you even buy a flip phone anymore?
Turns out you can, you don’t even need to dig your old Motorola Razr out of the closet. I was able to purchase a brand new Cingular Flip 2 from AT&T. The phone is made by Alcatel and branded as a Cingular phone. Cingular doesn’t really exist as a company anymore, it’s a brand name owned by AT&T. This flip phone features a lot of not so backward features. It operates in full 4G LTE mode, has Bluetooth connectivity, WiFi, and a built-in MP3 player. For a “dumb phone” it’s pretty smart. I can still check my email on the go if I want to. Responding to the email, on the other hand, is a little more difficult. The phone also allows you to listen to over the air FM radio if you have a pair of wired headphones plugged in to act as the antenna. So not so bad and not your grandmother’s jitterbug either.
Since this is a tech site, let’s bring out the phone’s stats:
- Size: 4.13in x 2.06in x 0.73in
- Weight: 4.16oz
- Color: Dark gray
- ROM/RAM: 4GB/512MB
- SD Support: Up to 32GB
- Processor: MSM8909 Quad Core CPU 1.1GHz
- Network: GSM 850/900/1800/1900
- UMTS B2/4/5 FDD B2/4/5/7/12 MFBI
- HD Voice: Yes
- Wifi Specs: 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth: 3.0
- FM Radio
- USB Type: Micro-USB
- SIM Type: Nano
- Others: A-GPS
- Size: 1350mAh
- Standby Time: 384 hours (16 days)
- Talk Time: 8 hours (3G)
- Main Megapixels: 2MP
- Focus: FF
- Angle: 60°
- Main Camera Video: 720P @ 30fps
- Music Player
- Supported Formats: PCM,MP3,AAC,AAC+,eAAC+
- HAC Rating: M4/T4
- Headset Jack Size: 3.5mm
- Speaker Size (In Watts): 1 x 0.7W
- Quick Start Guide
- Safety and Warranty Information
*HD Voice is not available in all areas. HD Voice Requirements: To experience HD Voice,both parties on the call must be located in an AT&T HD Voice coverage area and have anAT&T HD Voice-capable device and SIM with HD Voice set up on their account. Incompatible Services or Features: The following services and features are currently incompatible with HD Voice: prepaid service, Smart Limits, Ringback Tones, andOfficeDirect and OfficeReach (for business customers). HD Voice is available at no additional cost; standard voice rates apply and are charged according to your wireless rate plan.
All of this flippy goodness was bought for the low price of $60 US, that’s right $60 bucks. You can’t even get an iPhone’s screen repaired for that. Buy two to have one as a backup for when you accidentally lose one. These phones are not the bricks of old. I have been using this phone for a couple of months and I don’t even notice it in my pocket.
So why did I switch to a flip?
Simple, simplicity. A smartphone is designed to keep you engaged with it. Call it FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), boredom, the need to be doing something with our hands, the fact we have forgotten how to be bored, or whatever, a smartphone keeps it all within reach. Never before in human history has so much information been so easily available. Try and think about the last time you were having a real in-person conversation with someone and one of you didn’t pull out a smartphone to fact check something on Google. Does proving yourself instantly right or wrong bring anything better to the conversation? Probably not.
I personally sit a desk all day with a computer in front of me. A smartphone is an accessory to most of my day. Why would I access the internet on its small screen when I have an awesome 24-inch monitor and a keyboard in front of me. Same thing at home, I have a nice laptop and a tablet. I was finding more and more I was limited by the smartphones smallish screen. My smartphone was pretty awesome, it was no other than last years (2016) Google Pixel.
So it’s not like I had a crappy phone, I had a great one. But I felt myself being more interested in it than what my kids were doing, or other things going on around me. Sure a lot of it was my own self-discipline. I wanted to not have the distraction of a smartphone around. Just turning it off, of removing the apps, etc, wasn’t enough. It’s like when I first tried to quit smoking a long time ago, I would keep a pack hidden in the house, “just in case” and I would always go back to them, maybe a little less. The only way I was able to quit was just to remove them from my environment. Same thing with the smartphone. If I wanted to be better about not using it, I had to get rid of it.
These are just my reasons, if you are feeling the nagging that you need to do something about your smartphone use, or just want to have a good backup phone, the flip is the way to go.
What have I noticed?
Since I switched to the flip I find that I text people less. Since it’s hard. I never embraced T9 back when it was new, I was always the multi-button pusher. I got pretty quick at it, and was kind of amazed how fast the muscle memory came back. So now I call people. It’s interesting how many people don’t like taking phone calls anymore.
I miss maps. I have a horrible sense of direction (pull my man card now) and I used a smartphone and Google Maps as a crutch. The only time I have found it would have been really helpful was when my older daughter came out to visit me in Washington DC. We were wandering around seeing the sights, but we needed to find a Metro station. I “knew” one was nearby, but not sure where exactly. We had to *gasp* look at the many maps posted around the National Mall to figure out where to go. We also double checked by asking someone. Crisis averted.
I am more focused at work mostly in meetings, I usually only need small pieces of the overall meeting I am attending. So it was easy to just pull out the smartphone and find something to distract myself till my part came up. Now I am finding that being more present in the whole meeting has made me more productive since I am gathering more the contexted of the information I am collecting.
I also really notice other people on their phones. Resturants are the biggest one, whole families sitting around staring at their phones and not talking to each other, or their conversations revolve around showing each other things they have found on their phones. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. I just don’t want a part of that right now. My little kids tell great stories if I just really listen.
Will I ever go back to a Smartphone?
I won’t say I never will, the convenience of a smartphone does tend, to me, to outweigh the drawbacks. Our culture is becoming more smartphone-centric, which is good and bad at the same time. Since all the things that people use their phones for, don’t work once the power goes out. Smartphones are great when they are working and have a good connection to the internet, not so much when they don’t. It’s always a good idea to have a “back-up” communication system.
For now, I am enjoying the mental clarity that comes from not being constantly distracted. Is it for everyone? I don’t know, it works for me, but I am not everyone. If you think you might be too involved with your smartphone, try turning it off, go to a flip phone for a couple of weeks, or months. See how you feel. Also, the lower data plans tend to be much cheaper. As of this writing (late-2017), it looks like the unlimited plans are coming back, so it might not matter.
What do you think about giving up your smartphone? Something you think you might try, or will they pry your iPhone from your cold dead hands?
It is not a secret that I am a huge fan of the Chromebook. When it comes to a day-to-day laptop it is the best device for my needs. The low cost and low power requirements of the ChromeOS means I can get high dollar like performance from a laptop with stats that would choke when trying to run Windows 10.
As we move more and more online the need for high horsepower laptops and desktop machines are dwindling. Is there a market for those computers, yes, very much so. I would say that for 99% of computer users a Chromebook would be a perfect fit. I am talking about people who normally use their smartphone as their primary computing device, to do things like email, social media, and online shopping. I am not talking about those who need to run applications like Photoshop or Microsoft Access. If you need to run those kinds of applications, then you probably have a computer that can do that.
If you are the kind of person who likes to wander down to the local coffee shop or library and want to have the ease of creation that comes from a laptop form factor, then look to the Chromebooks. They have come a long way from the “ugly” cheap looking plastic clamshells that they started as.
Major manufacturers, that you have actually heard of, are starting to put some serious design behind the Chromebook platform. Samsung currently has two very good looking laptops, the Chromebook Plus and the Chromebook Pro. There are not cheap machines in the original Chromebook sense of the word. These are premium devices with aluminum construction and touchscreens. The Pro even comes with a Pen interface so you can use the tablet function like a piece of paper. Something the Galaxy Note users would be right at home with.
I personally use an HP Chromebook 13 G1. I actually use it as my go to, day to day laptop, over my 13 inch MacBook Pro. The Chromebook is lighter, faster and handles all the tasks I can currently think to use it for. It has two USB-C ports, a USB 3.0 and MicroSD card reader. While it only has 32gb of storage on board, the seamless connection to my 100gb Google Drive storage means I never run out of space.
Running Android apps on my Chromebook is something that adds another layer of usefulness. I can take pictures with my Canon SLR and transfer them to my Chromebook, then edit the pictures in Adobe Lightroom and then upload them to my Instagram. All from the same device. Can’t do that with my Mac.
While the heft of my Mac makes it seem more substantial and the retina 5k screen is gorgeous, the HP I run has a 4k resolution that looks almost as good, if not quite as bright, but then, I paid $350 for my HP, not $1,300 for the Mac. So some compromises are made, but nothing that is a deal breaker.
With the announcement of the Google Pixelbook last week, we are seeing a new page in the Chromebook evolution. This Chromebook will be the first purpose-built laptop to take advantage of the Chromebook/Android Apps ecosystem. The inclusion of the dedicated Google Assistant button also is a sign that Google is committed to continuing to improve the Chromebook experience.
The Pixelbook comes in at an eye-watering $999 for the basic model. Is this price crazy? Not really, when you compare it to most peoples other main computing devices, their phones. The iPhone X is going to base retail for $999 and the iPad Pro with a keyboard comes in pretty close to the $1,000 mark also. This should put the Pixelbook in the running for a lot of people looking for a powerful/futureproof laptop that can handle the day-to-day tasks they expect. And the Pixelbook looks great also.
So, where are we in the state of Chromebooks? Bright. Chromebooks are starting to shake off the perception as cheap, throwaway devices, and are starting to be taken seriously as a viable alternative to Windows or Apple based laptops. Now there are some cheap Chromebooks out there, and they are a value especially when compared to an Android tablet at the same price point. I think the sweet spot for a Chromebook is around $400. At that range, you can usually get one that is either a standard laptop or a 2-in-1 (you can fold it over to use like a tablet). Touchscreens are becoming more the standard than the exception. Backlit keyboards are also becoming more common also.
When shopping for a Chromebook I would say, as a baseline, look for at least 4gb of RAM and a 32gb Hard Drive, which will be in the form of eMMC or SSD. The processors should be the latest in Intel Mobile chips Core m5 or Core m7, the 7 will drive the price up a little more, but if you tend to have a lot of tabs open or want to do some Photoshop type work, the faster processor will come in handy.
No matter what you are looking for in a laptop, there is sure to be a Chromebook out there to fit your need. I use a laptop every day and I do not ever find myself really needing one of the “mainstream” operating systems. The Chromebook fits perfectly into my life, and I think the ChromeOS system will only get better from here.
Get the latest Chromebooks from Amazon
In the current world, we live in, there are several avenues in which to get your message out to the audiences you hope to address. With that, there are several challenges that are created in order to elevate your message above the noise. The old models and metrics of market share and audience reach do not really work anymore. New metrics are needed to really bring to light how effective a media channel is. This paper will cover some of what shortcomings are in the market space around metrics to judge how a specific media channel is doing.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Blogs, Traditional News Outlets, Face-to-Face, and other personal interactions. Each of these channels and their various offshoots present their own challenges are require a tailored media/message approach. It is the basics of knowing your audience and how to reach them. A long post on Facebook does not translate to Twitter, which is limited to 140 characters. Instagram is visual where a blog can have more words and ideas than a picture can convey. Traditional News Outlets are restricted to what they can say or what stories they will run based on how the message will be received by their viewers and advertisers. Face-to-Face is expensive and time consuming. So how do we manage each of these channels?
Let us look at social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al) each service tries to do basically the same thing in a different way. Never before in human history can a group or even lone person have access to such a large audience, relativity unfettered. No longer is the story controlled by those who own the network. Facebook alone has almost 4.8 billion pieces of content posted daily, according to Zephoria.com. That makes it that much harder for the message you are trying to put out has to compete with billions of other pictures, news stories, videos, status updates, and ads. Instagram sees 95 million photos and videos per day according to Hootsuite.com again, saturation will cause your message to get lost in the noise.
So how do you measure a successful social media post? Is it the number of likes or views? I don’t think so. The goal of a social media post should be user interaction. It really shows engagement beyond just a click. Some users click like on everything that pops up in their newsfeed, whether they read it or not. To counter that, someone who takes the time to share a social media post, to their own followers, curating if you will, something they felt was important is a much better gauge on the success of a post. Even better is the number of times a post caused a user to click a link through to the source material. If you can convert a social media user over to interact with your website, you have them and can almost guarantee that they are truly interested in the content you are providing. Conversion is the goal in social media.
Blogs, on the other hand, provide a way for an organization to present more long form news and information articles. The goal of a blog is beyond simple page views, again you are looking for interaction. You want someone who is reading your blog to continue beyond the article that was linked from the viewer’s original source, usually social media, and then you want them to share the article to their friends. One of the worst statistics you can see on a blog is a high bounce rate. This would mean people are coming to your article, reading it and leaving. Or not even reading the article, due to any number of reason, normally slow page loading. The goal for a blog is to also create engagement, page views are not enough. The metric to check is comments and shares. It shows that your articles connected with readers in a way that caused them to want to be part of the conversation, not just a consumer.
Traditional Media presents several new challenges that have been created by social media. The pressure is on to provide worthwhile content that delivers ears/eyeballs to the advertisers. In this case, the content is not the commodity but the consumer is. Your message will not be carried if the media outlet doesn’t think it will bring enough value to their advertisers that are paying for the airtime your story occupies. With so many avenues open to the message generator the future of traditional media is quickly becoming outmoded, just no one has told them yet. It is expensive and does not create a ton of ROI.
Face-to-Face is a great way to get your message out on a more personal level. Humans still enjoy and connect more with a face to face conversation, in whatever format, then they do an online interaction. Forums like TEDTalks and South-by-Southwest that bring several experts together for short talks are very popular and easy for a large audience to digest. Long form lectures and presentations attract a very narrow scope of people who are generally in a core group of people who are truly interested in the content. It is hard to attract the casual observer into something like this.
Today people expect to receive their news and information in small digestible quick bites. Media consumption has gone to the buffet model and less the meal model. People today will read dozens of news stories and watch a couple of videos and gain more information on a subject in 30 minutes than someone would have reviewed in a whole day not 10 years ago. Without changing your model away from long form snippets to a quick bite format your message will be lost.
It’s a matter of chemistry
Lithium-ion batteries are in everything nowadays. Their lightweight and high capacity make them great for all kinds of mobile applications. They can be found in wireless headphones, laptops, cell phones, kids toys and portable speakers. If it needs a battery and has a large power draw, chances are the Lithium-ion battery is inside. These batteries can be safely charged over and over again without issues or developing a cell memory. Cell memory happens in older batteries when they are not charged and discharged properly. I have discussed it before in an article about keeping your batteries in top shape.
So what happens that can cause these batteries, or really any battery to explode? Let’s look at a couple of factors.
What is a Lithium-Ion Battery?
A lithium battery is a small cell that uses lithium compound that allows for the movement of electrons from one pole to the other. I am really oversimplifying it. Long story short, the Lithium is the medium used for power generation. If you want to read more, here is the Wikipedia article about it. It goes deeper into the chemistry than I can. These batteries, or more accurately, power cells, provide a lot of the characteristics of a power source that is great for small scale applications.
What goes wrong?
The simplest explanation is that the battery/cell contains a flammable material. Now, this is housed is a protective case that makes up the exterior of the battery. The problem comes from when the battery is either overcharged or allowed to drain completely. The chargers for these batteries and the batteries themselves are supposed to have circuits built in to prevent an overcharge/discharge situation. Without a charge in the cell, the lithium gets hot and the gasses expand and explode.
While most battery manufacturers follow strict quality control to ensure the cells they produce are safe, some cut corners to lower the cost of their cells, i.e. the batteries sold to Samsung for the Galaxy Note 7. These batteries were allowed to overcharge and that caused the explosion. This is also what was happening with the “hoverboards” cheap batteries in cheap toys, not the best mix.
What can you do?
First thing is to check the battery once in awhile, now this is harder with some of the newer smartphones that the battery is not removable. But for your easier to access devices, it’s a good idea to pull the battery out once in awhile and make sure it is not damaged in any way. If you see cracks or bulging stop using it right away. Don’t throw the battery away but take it to an electronics recycler.
If you are using something and it starts to smoke and get hot, the best thing to do is dump it in sand. Do not put water on it. If you do not have any sand, just throw the item far from you and allow it to explode. Then take care of the resulting fire. Once the gas escapes from the cell the fire should put itself out. If the fire catches other items on fire, that is a problem, and the fire you should fight if you can.
Also, make sure you check with the consumer safety groups in your country. They usually maintain a list of items with known issues. If there is a recall, make sure you stop using the item and return it as directed.
These batteries are safe but need to be respected, like anything else. They power our modern lives and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Some general awareness of the explosives you are carrying in your pocket or on your head is something to be aware of, but not afraid of.
We live in an always on, connected world
Well at least in the Western Countries that is, in the last 25 years we have seen a fundamental shift in how we interact with each other and the world around us. We are always available, always on, and can never shut down. We have welcomed this change into our lives with open hands and wallets. I am not saying that this progress is a bad thing. It would go against everything my site is about. I think there can be a balance and a chance to make a choice to unplug, go analog, once in awhile.
The meaning of going analog
What am I talking about when I mention the idea of going analog? Do I mean giving up all the modern conveniences that the last 60 or 70 years brought? Not really. You will probably never find me in a cabin in the woods, with no power or central air. That doesn’t even sound fun to me. If it is for you, then go for it. This concept is going to be different for everyone.
So, what does going analog mean for me? Well, I think at its core it would be removing the distractions, the constant vying for my attention. Our smartphone are built with this in mind, not only are they designed for us to interact with, they are designed for us to stay involved with the device. This leads to a lack of connection with those around us.
One only has to look up the ideas behind the heads-up rule common among youth today. It states in a group of 5 or more, as long as 2 people have their heads up and talking, everyone else is free to look at their phones. I don’t even really like calling them phones since we do so little calling on them anymore.
So what do we do? Give up our smartphones, our links to the world, the device that keeps us from being bored? No way, I hear you saying it right now. Trust me, I feel the same way also. Now that I have had a smartphone in my life for at least 10 years, I cannot imagine a day without it. I find it hard to function without it. Even when I spend my whole workday in front of a computer that can provide me with the same “information” as a smartphone can. Something about the comfort of the phone being in my pocket makes me feel better.
Like I have a lifeline to the world. I am okay being alone with my thoughts, but I don’t look forward to it like I used to. Being bored for me always meant a time to let my mind wander onto things I might not otherwise think about. The only difference is if I have a thought, I can start to research it right away. So it defeats the purpose before I even start.
It’s not just the phone that has become the ubiquitous device that has become everything for us, our TV, our movie theater, our music player, our books, our encyclopedia, our camera, and of yeah, we can talk to people on it also.
So what changes can you make?
I think just being aware of what’s happening around you and what that little device does to change the conversation. How many times have you sat down at a table with friends and family and the phones come out and are set on the table. Studies have shown that the presence of the phone in the midst of the conversation makes people less likely to really have deep conversation. The phone is a reminder that while I am present here with you, I am always ready to respond to someone/something else. It’s a subtle way of saying, “Yes, you are important, but not as important as what I might be missing”
If you want to still have the phone on you, just keep it in your pocket, turn off the notifications so the only thing that comes through is a phone call. It takes some getting used to, but it does feel a little better, being more connected and less distracted.
Try being alone with your thoughts once in awhile, rather than whipping out your phone everytime you are waiting in line, or have a free moment, just try to let your mind wander a little bit. You might be surprised to where it takes you.
Allow yourself to be bored also. It is a good thing for our minds to not be constantly stimulated. It needs a chance to rest and recoup. If you get to the end of the day and find yourself harried and tired, it might not be what you did, but what you didn’t do.
All this is just around the smartphone, there are other ways you can make small changes to unplug one in awhile, to give your mind and body a chance to relax. The constant stimulation our current connected world provides becomes an addiction. The brain can be trained to require the next text, update, news feed, or alert. It feels good to us to scratch that itch.
I get it, I write a tech blog about how to make your technology more approachable and easier to use or understand. I also try to be aware of what it is doing to us as people, and as a society. Never before have we had so much information available to us so easily. I don’t think we as a species are quite ready for what that means. I keep hearing it said that we are the most connected but most lonely we have ever been in years.
I for one am going to really purpose to follow what I have laid out here. One thing I have found is just keeping my phone in my pocket, not putting it on the table when I sit down to eat or on my desk at work. I am trying to teach myself that I don’t need the constant stimulus from the phone. That I can be present in the now and enjoy what’s happening around me.
The second thing I have rediscovered is photography. I have always been interested in it, and after picking up a couple of film, yes 35mm, film cameras I have found a way to slow down. I really have to think about the shot and not have the instant feedback on if I got it or not. There have been a few happy accidents so far, but it has been enjoyable. So I will be bringing a review of some of the film cameras I have collected in the last couple of weeks.
So I hope you will join me on this journey of reflection and maybe find some space in your life to slow down and unplug for a little bit.
There are two books that I have read that have helped me understand this concept a little bit better, one is “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age” by Sherry Turkle. The other book is “Radical: Reclaiming our faith from the American Dream” by David Platt
If you have any ideas as to ways you can unplug, leave them in the comments below.
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