Technology rocks, just don’t let it roll over you

20140617_111045_754_xA recent family vacation helped prove once again that modern technology rocks, but if you’re not careful, it can roll over you.

Aside from my Google Glass developing the dreaded foil bubble design flaw  during the trip, things went nearly without a hitch. Unfortunately, the one hitch I had could have been a major problem. To be fair, modern technology helped it from becoming one. OK, now I’m starting to write in circles, so let’s just get to it using the old format of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Jessi, the kids and I headed to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a week with four mobile phones and Google Glass in hand, plus a Kindle Touch, a Kindle Fire and a GoPro camera. We took no laptops or iPads, opting for the smaller screens and less chance for potential distractions. I knew cellular service on the island we were headed to would be spotty at best, but we did have WiFi in the house we rented.

20140619_080739_725_xThe Good

Google Glass — until it broke — worked great as a camera, video camera and travel aid.

The mobile phones (an iPhone 4S, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S and Motorola Droid Maxx) all performed admirably. They served as phones, messaging and email units, travel aids (via a Delta Airlines app and Google Maps) and cooking timers, as well as cameras, gaming devices, news readers and social media conduits. The ability to take pictures, including panoramas and photospheres (Google Camera on the Maxx) is becoming increasingly easy and impressive. The fact that the list above is as long as it is while talking about a single device you can hold in the palm of your hand or put in your pocket is still astounding to me.

The Delta app has proven more useful over time and if you fly with Delta, you should use their app. You can learn about your current flight’s status, check seating locations, carry a digital version of your boarding pass and even track your checked bags to make sure they’re headed to the same vacation spot you are.

The Kindle Touch served as Jessi’s book reader for the trip, from the plane to the beach — always ready due to it stellar battery life and always readable thanks to its e-ink technology and anti-glare screen. Its small size made it portable and easy no matter where she went.

The Kindle Fire served as my book reader, as well as video player so I could catch up on a TV show I’ve started streaming through Amazon Prime, as well as a magazine reader and a gaming device. (On a side note, did you know Prime members can download TV episodes to store on your device to watch when WiFi isn’t available? I didn’t — but I’m glad I learned about it before my 5 hours of flight time one way!) One of the fondest memories I think all four of us will have is the laughs we shared while playing The Game of Life on my Kindle Fire around the kitchen table for several nights.

20140620_100914_201The GoPro camera was a loaner from my brother-in-law and I’m glad we had it to capture some underwater pictures and videos to add to our collection of memories. Because he also has the WiFi attachment for his 2nd version GoPro, it meant we could watch the videos each night by streaming them to an app on my phone. Besides again causing me to stare in wonder at how technology has changed and improved, it also meant we could critique our video shoots before we headed out snorkeling again so we knew how to adjust our shooting techniques.

The Bad

There are not a lot of items to list in the bad category. Certainly, traveling with devices means having to take care of them, and we made sure everyone had solid cases protecting their mobile phones. Battery drain is always a concern, except on the Droid Maxx, but since we turned off the cellular and data services during the day, the phones all performed well as cameras without giving us much worry about battery life.

When traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands, you must be careful not to suddenly trigger a cell tower on the British Virgin Islands. The signal is better, but also a lot more expensive!

Of course, having technology with you means having the world with you, which in some ways is an unfortunate interference when you’re on vacation. But that’s not really the fault of the technology, but rather of our inability as human beings to let go of the daily rat race and just enjoy wandering the maze slowly while seeking the cheese.

The Ugly

For some reason, when you return to the U.S. mainland from the U.S. Virgin Islands, you need to go through U.S. Customs. This happens at the airport in St. Thomas, which means it’s more laid back than say the Customs unit in Atlanta. But it also means you are in a building where your cellular signal is weak at best.

While still at our rental house, I used the Delta app to check in all four passengers and load boarding passes onto my phone via the WiFi connection — or so I thought. Technically, you’re just loading the passes into the app, not downloading them to your phone. What this means is that you need a WiFi or cellular connection while opening the app to use it if you want to see your boarding passes. Unfortunately, this was not going to happen for me in the U.S. Customs area of the airport in St. Thomas!

The customs officer was extremely friendly and forgiving of the technology snafu. He let Jessi and the kids wait to the side with all of our luggage while I went back outside to try to find a signal and open our boarding passes. He even gave me permission to bypass the long line and come right back to him once I had our boarding passes.

IMG_20140624_070017477_HDROutside, the signal was still weak and the app refused to sign me in and grant me access to our boarding passes. So, after a couple of attempts, I went to find paper boarding passes. Ironically, it was technology that again made things easy even though it was technology that made things more difficult to begin with. Delta has self-serve kiosks at the St. Thomas airport. I just had to log into one of them and since I had already checked us in, it simply asked if I wanted to reprint our boarding passes. I did and within minutes we were through Customs and headed to the security checkpoints, paper boarding passes flapping in our hands. (Just one more reason you never wait until the last minute to try to catch your flight!)

I’ve used the electronic boarding passes before without any issues, but it has always been in areas with strong cellular service. This was the first time I had tried going sans paper, and on the way down, the system worked flawlessly. I’m nearly certain it will again when I travel next week, so I’ll try going all-digital again, especially since I know the Delta kiosks have my back in case of failure. (Also note the update I posted below!)

Sharing the memories

As I wrote earlier, I think technology rocks. Sure, there are flaws and there are times when it can be maddening, but most of the time it’s beneficial and it still makes me shake my head in wonder at how far things have come.

Just last night I used technology again to help share our memories. Using Google Plus, I created an event and then invited Jessi and the kids. We now can each upload our photos from the trip to this event, granting access to all four of us to see the trip from different perspectives. It also eliminates the need for, “Hey, remember that picture you took of X? Can you email it to me?” I could, but that’s sooo 2012.

IMG_20140618_145738124_HDR

 

UPDATE: Here’s an idea to address the issue of having a boarding pass on your phone but no cell phone signal to open the app and view the pass. When you first load the boarding pass after checking in (which means you had a signal at that point), take a screen shot on your phone. That way, you’ll have a usable facsimile of your boarding pass available in your phone’s camera roll whether you have a network signal or not!

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Mobile phones are doomed

OK, I admit it. That headline is all about link bait, but what tech journal or blog isn’t based on that most of the time these days? I jest, because I hate that kind of writing.

As a Google Glass Explorer, however, I have to endure my share of “they are doomed” types of blog posts, news articles and comments on social media networks.

The fact that the devices are only available to very early adopters (“Explorers”) should key everyone in that these aren’t yet ready for mainstream use. There is no surprise there, since a lot of new technology goes through the prototype, developer, alpha and beta stages before people can get their hands on it.

One of the biggest problems for Google Glass is that society has become so accustomed to instant gratification that allowing a concept to develop naturally is seen as a failure.

m_40052_1Too often, I see people wanting to compare Google Glass to modern-day mobile phones. But that is a ridiculous notion. When mobile phones first came out, they were bulky, expensive to buy and use, and seen initially as status symbols for elitists. I remember folks not understanding the need to have a phone with you all the time. I was a newspaper reporter in the early 1990s and the paper I worked at had one mobile phone. It was a bag phone that you slung over your shoulder on the way out the door after checking it out from the editor’s desk. These days, reporters are filing stories with audio, pictures and video straight from their mobile phones.

Later, when they became mainstream, mobile phones changed again, turning into computing devices that could allow us to get email on the go — a feature about which I heard people say, “Why would we want that?!” and “Those keyboards are so tiny, no one will ever use them for serious business work.” I do the majority of my work on my mobile phone and tablets these days, so put another chalk mark in the “Wrong!” column for those folks.

My headline on this post, while sensationalistic, does have a point. I believe mobile phones are doomed — in the long run. The landline phone is becoming a dinosaur as more and more people abandon them in their homes and stick with just their mobile phones. Eventually, as wearable computing devices like Glass and smart watches evolve, I suspect they will replace mobile phones. Imagine what will happen to the mobile phone industry when developers find a way to supply cell tower, WiFi and Internet connections directly to a watch or glasses instead of via a mobile phone connection. I can envision an era when people might say, “When I was young, we had to carry phones around in our hands. Kids today don’t know how good they have it.”

I have no idea how long it will take, but it will happen. The naysayers who think Google Glass is useless because it doesn’t have enough apps seem to forget that iPhones and Android phones didn’t have hundreds of thousands of apps available their first year. Those developed over time as smart, creative people found new ways to use mobile phones with an app that many others could not have initially imagined but that they now take for granted.

180px-IPhone_2G_PSD_Mock

iPhone 1

In 2007, Apple Computer launched the iPhone, the company’s first ever smartphone. When the device launched, the device did not provide any support for third-party software: Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs believed that web applications served over the internet could provide adequate functionality required for most users. (Wikipedia)

Haters are going to hate. The uniformed and uninitiated will fear that which they do not understand. But none of that should stop explorers (of all kinds, not just Google Glass Explorers) from boldly advancing. If we never had anyone say “There should be an app for that,” we would not find our mobile phones as powerful or useful as they are today.

I hope those people always keep dreaming.

And to the folks who insist on declaring something useless or doomed because it has not had time to develop properly, please accept that there are some extraordinary things going on with or without your support. But your noise is distracting the people who are going to make a difference in this world and they would really appreciate a little quiet from your corner of the Internet.

Oh yeah, and the Internet was never going to amount to anything either, remember?

800px-First_Web_Server

This NeXT workstation (a NeXTcube) was used by Tim Berners-Lee as the first Web server on the World Wide Web. It is shown here as displayed in 2005 at Microcosm, the public science museum at CERN (where Berners-Lee was working in 1991 when he invented the Web). (Wikipedia)