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When Android Ate My Best Friends

 Everyone has a cell phone these days. Out here in my little corner of the world, in a county that competes with the neighboring county for the poorest in the state, everyone can somehow afford smartphones with generous data plans. I have no idea what people's eye colors are anymore, or if they even have eyes, because all I see are the tops of their headshorse-carriage-phone as they are bent over their tiny screens. This stuff is not cheap-- I don't know anyone whose monthly bite is under a hundred dollars. Which is why I have a cheapo TracFone, because I refuse to pay that much. Plus I like hoarding minutes, so I turn it off. I don't have to be in constant contact with my eleventeen bestest friends at all times.

Michelle, Ma Bell

American telecoms are special beasts. Back in the olden days we had a single giant regulated monopoly, AT&T. Technological progress was non-existent, and stuck at a level barely above Alexander Graham Bell's original prototype. We could not own our telephones, but had to lease them from the phone company, which made those old phones some of the most valuable hardware in existence because we kept paying for them year after year after year. We could not add extensions, or attach any other equipment. The one upside was rock-solid service, which set American telephone service apart from most other countries, where unreliability was the norm.

File:Candlestick phone.JPGWestern Electric candlestick phone.

Then Ma Bell was broken up and we got competition, sort of. We never got a choice of carriers for local service, but long distance became competitive. Though again only sort-of, because in-state calls cost more than cross-country calls, and other oddities. Now with mobile phones everywhere a lot of people don't even bother with land lines, and they'e all happy at getting free long distance, even though it's not really free and they're paying a lot more. But even though mobile service costs more, it includes more, like worse call quality and no-service areas. I estimate that 40% of all cell traffic is "What? Are you there? Hello? What?"

When We Dialed Telephones

Where was I going with all this? Oh yeah, ubiquity. My grandmother had a single black dial telephone, and it sat on a special table next to a chair in her entry hall. A phone call was a bit of an event-- she couldn't Web surf while half-listening, or watch TV, or go shopping, or put people on hold and juggle multiple calls. She had conversations, one at a time. She couldn't just pick up and call someone when she felt like it because she was on a party line. That is a shared phone line, which meant everyone who shared the line could eavesdrop on your calls. When I grew up the other giant time- and attention-pit-of-suck, television, was not yet everywhere, and a lot of our friends did not have TVs. So when we got together we talked to each other. With eye contact and everything.

Now we're all proud that Android dominates mobile phones, rah rah Linux. Little kids have their own phones, and again I marvel at how much people are willing to pay for their mobile fix. Sure, for some it's a necessity, but in my somewhat humble opinion most of the time it's more akin to an addiction. It's like the rats that push the button that stimulates the pleasure centers of their brains, and then starve to death because they won't push the food button. Humans just plain love to push buttons, and are willing to pay top dollar for the privilege-- vending machines, video poker, serial channel-surfing on the TV, mobile phones; give them buttons to push and they're happy for hours.

Woa, you might be thinking, get off the grumpy train, because mobile phones are useful tools! And you are right. But I'm still going to be grumpy at people who won't turn them off when we're visiting or doing an activity together. You File:Androids.svgknow those people who have to answer the phone no matter what they're doing? Showering, sleeping, birthing babies? They're a thousand times worse with mobile phones. In the olden days it was considered rude to leave the TV on when people came to visit. Unless they came to watch a program, of course. Remember when call waiting was all new and special? And an insult, like whoever you were talking to was hoping someone better than you would interrupt your call. Now the phone is the TV, along with a million other interruptions, distractions, delights, and portability. We can't escape the things.

Thinking. No Really.

One of the things I love about computer nerds is most of them understand the need for long stretches of uninterrupted time to think, and to concentrate deeply on a task. It is impossible to master a new skill or solve a problem when you're skittering randomly from one activity to the next, never engaging more than the bare surface of your consciousness. It's unsatisfying, because you never accomplish anything. Multi-tasking is a myth. It is the very rare human who can perform two or more tasks at once. A "multi-tasker" is someone who juggles image of a live brainmultiple chores and does a poor job at all of them. I prefer total immersion: full attention and no distractions.

Magic happens in your brain when you achieve that state of total focus. It's almost a meditative state. Obstacles fall away and your path become wide and clear. It's as though you're forging new neural pathways and amping up your brainpower. Single-tasking has superpowers.

When Television Ate My Best Friend

The more things change, the more they stay the same, so please enjoy Linda Ellerbee's classic When Television Ate My Best Friend:   

"At last I knew what had happened to Lucy. The television ate her.  It must have been a terrible thing to see. Now my parents were thinking of getting one. I was scared. They didn’t understand what television could do."

Beginning Android Programming

Pushing buttons is fun, and building the buttons is a million times more fun. Try Juliet Kemp's excellent introduction to Android programming:

Android Programming for Beginners: Part 1

Android Programming for Beginners: Part 2

Image Credits

All images courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Horse, Carriage, Cell Phone, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Candlestick Phone, public domain

Drunken Androids, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

PET-image, public domain





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  • RamboTribble Said:

    Distraction is a drug that creates a false sense of well-being by obscuring the messy bits of on-the-ground reality. It has similar effects on the brain as a number of psychoactive chemicals and, like them, sapping the ability to reason.

  • Dave Mawdsley Said:

    Thanks Carla. You reminded me why I like my TracFone and the option to turn it off or be out of range of a cell tower. I'm not much into texting with a TracFone and I only do it with abbreviated words and will barely I respond to my wife's text messages. I once was driving back to Connecticut from Ohio when my wife sent a text message "Where are you?" I responded with "PA" because I was in the middle of Pennsylvania--not very useful but at least a way to indicate I was still breathing. I've always thought that phones really weren't meant for social groupings. Phones were supposed to be for mostly private communication between just two people. I like that limitation still and I don't plan to bother with a smart phone any time soon. Some people like the social thing with smart phones. Not me.

  • Ben DeCamp Said:

    Great article Carla. I use a TracFone for the very same reason, and I always run out of service days before I run out of minutes! The only reason I would have a smartphone for is so that I can create my own Android programs on it. (And maybe read my news-feeds.) I'd probably get an Android tablet before getting a smartphone.

  • Daniel Harvison Said:

    Are mobile phone plans really that expensive in the U.S? Here in Oz, I've got a $29 a month plan with Vodafone (or Vodafail if you prefer) with a very decent Android handset. And we've got this weird pricing thing where companies claim to offer $200-ish worth of calls, text, and data and all that for $40 a month or something, so I thought our system was a mess! Also, I can't be bothered much with all the mobile facebook and all that sort of thing on mobiles either, I just am not into it. The gaming bit gets old too, the screen is just too small, even on the biggest devices.

  • barnabyh Said:

    Well said Carla, I'm a bit of a traditionalist in that sense, too. Here on 3 I've got an unlimited data plan and 1000 mins per month for £29,- but I still turn Airplane mode on and am only available when it suits me. Back in the day we had a rule at home, no phone calls after 9pm, in or out. I try to keep it that way. One thing that wasn't mentioned is that it's often turned into a control mechanism nowadays, i.e. if you're not answering you must be up to no good. Insecure partners kicking up a fuss when you didn't answer because you were in a meeting and all that. Time for a technology break and back to a healthier life style.

  • Erik Said:

    And here I thought Andy Rooney had left us.

  • Phil Said:

    I like the rat analogy. I can't see how people justify spending $1000 on a smartphone. They might be smart but they are only phones. I do have a smartphone but it cost me $200. That's enough for me.

  • theoldfellow Said:

    I only got a dumbfone because, as the village computer geek, everyone assumed I knew all about them and could answer all their stupid questions. I got a cheap Huawei on PAYG, which I trust is amusing it's Chinese masters with the details of many calls of national importance. The Kindle app is nice, I have a good one for predicting the rainfall with pretty maps, and it's nice to get a beep when an email comes in to my real address. But apart from that I usually use the landline to make my three or so calls a week. If you can't be bothered to send me an email, why would I want to TALK to you?

  • Fabar Said:

    Infact the most powerful user mode in Linux is "single user" and nothing else. I'd dare add to the list of "distractions": crying baby, crying wife and crying mother-in-law... thanks! :-)

  • Christine Hall Said:

    Great article! People who know me are always surprised to learn that even though I'm a geek who lives and breaths tech, I don't have a smartphone and make do with a four year old, obsolete Tracfone that I rarely use. Neither do I have cable television. I'm too frugal to pay for either. My father, who was a broadcast engineer from the 40s through the 70s taught me that no matter how wonderful the technology, you don't need to keep it with you 24/7. Keep up the good work, Carla. And thanks again for the sad and funny article.

  • Carla Schroder Said:

    Yay, kindred spirits! Thanks for the great comments everyone.

  • Rishabh Said:

    Hi Carla, I am Rishabh and I'm on the marketing team (3m+ students and 200,000+ teachers and instructors in a LinkedIn meets Salesforce model for education, with one of the best virtual classrooms in the business). We’ve got a thriving learning marketplace with some of the best names in business. The demand for high quality self-paced and LIVE courses is growing and having seen your skills, we'd like to welcome you with a free premium membership of WizIQ. Creating a course is optional (but we'd love it and you keep 90% of the revenue). Quality courses across categories see rapid adoption on WizIQ (see this course ) for instance or many others. If you'd like to get started with your complimentary premium membership account (unlimited LIVE online classes, recordings, courses, discussions etc.), just buzz me at Best regards, Rishabh

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