Spring Forward: Techno Thoughts

This morning I wandered around the house setting various clocks and appliances to Daylight Savings Time. There are two types of electronics in the house: those that reset themselves (clock Clockradio, computer, cable box, cell phone, Kindle) and those that don’t (microwave, wall clocks, older clock radios). I even have one clock that’s programmed to reset itself on the wrong dates (manufactured shortly before the cycle changed a few years ago). I’m one of those people who actually like DST, because it means several months of driving home from work in daylight, but I’m always surprised by how many timepieces a person who does not wear a watch has scattered around her house.

I took a step—make that a leap—into the twenty-first century about a month ago, when I finally bought myself a smart phone. I’d carried simple little talk/text phones, powered by an annual payment to Tracfone, in my purse for years, on the theory that I spend too much time driving to be without one. Last fall when my car stalled at an intersection at twilight I discovered just how much trouble it was to call AAA on that little phone (and even more when my car started ten minutes later and I had to call them back and cancel). There must be an app for that, I thought.

So last month, with my annual renewal with Tracfone drawing near, I made up my mind to buy a new phone. I don’t make a lot of calls or send a lot of texts; I had App Envy. I wanted one of those marvelous little computers my friends (and seemingly everyone on the planet) carry around in their purses and pockets. After considerable time spent researching on line and bothering my friends (What phone do you have? What carrier? Show me how the darn thing works), I walked into the Verizon store a few blocks from my house expecting to come away with a great big iPhone.

Two hours later I walked out with a great big LG V10 android phone (I have now been sucked into the Googleverse, with a new Gmail account and Chrome replacing the faltering Internet Explorer on my PC), and a very vague idea of how to use it. A month later, I’ve only scratched the surface, but I’m really enjoying it. Last night I even took it in the bedroom with me and answered a couple of emails. I know that sounds perfectly normal to many people, but it’s a real change of pace for me.

The phone is clearly smarter (or at least more technically adept) than I am, and it keeps old phone 2surprising me. After a week or ten days, it started sending me (not terribly accurate) notifications of how long it would take me to get to work. I’ve just discovered the Timeline in Google maps that shows me exactly where I’ve been every day since I bought the phone, which, at this point at least, is entertaining. When the battery usage shot up, I discovered that it’s important not to leave the Chrome app running. I don’t know what it was looking for out there in cyberspace, but it was sure using a lot of battery power to do it.

Being one of those people who actually do read the instructions, I found the user’s manual for the V10 on line and downloaded the PDF file to my computer. It’s over 200 pages long (30 pages fall under the title “Safety”—that’s worse than the side effects on pharmaceutical ads, and I have not read them), and parts of it have actually been quite helpful. I’ve been back to see the (extremely helpful) Verizon salesman twice. (”You’re doing great,” he says, politely refraining from adding “for an old lady.”)

I’ve learned how to download apps (for my bank, my auto insurance, and of course AAA), how to use (some) widgets, and even how to dictate text messages and emails (now I know where all those hilarious auto-correct jokes come from). I’ve made a few calls and exchanged text messages with a friend (heaven help me, I even read one at a stop light—I’m turning into one of those people). I’ve received two spam calls, neither of which I answered. I’ve learned that I have to charge the phone every morning.

Next step, the calendar and memo functions. One of these days, I’ll be as dependent on my phone as everyone else.

How Smart Should My Phone Be?

Do I need a Smart Phone, or will I only be embarrassed when the gadget turns out to be smarter than I am?

I resisted getting a cell phone for years, back in the day when people still thought of them as “car phones.” Back then, my car was very nearly the only place where I could get away from the phone. There were rare occasions when it might have been handy to have a phone in my purse, but I didn’t give it much thought.

When I started commuting to work, thirty miles each way, in 2003, I thought about it more seriously, and after I had car trouble on the Gulf Freeway one evening in early 2005, I gave in and bought a TracFone, a simple little device that could make calls and not much else. I rarely used it. In fact I rarely turned it on, and I didn’t give the number to anyone but Jo Anne, the friend I work with.

old phone 2A couple of years later, TracFone sent me an upgrade. Apparently there was some change in the — heck, I don’t know what changed, but I needed a different type of phone, and they sent me one. Every year I pay a minimal amount, about $100, for service, and they give me more minutes, of which I use very few.

Two years ago I upgraded on my own to a much nicer TracFone model. One might even call it a moderately intelligent phone. It has a larger screen, with colors and icons. I can leave it on and it only rarely makes calls on its own. It supposedly can access the Internet and my email, but I have yet to figure out how. The instructions it came with are utterly worthless, and those available on line not notably better. But I can make and receive calls and text messages, although I rarely do. I have more than 6000 minutes on my account. If I have to call AAA for help, I can. As far as phone service goes, what more do I need?

But I’m being tempted by Apps, and all those things people do with their phones these days. My phone has a calendar, and notes, and probably a lot of other not very useful built-in functions, but not enough memory to download Apps. It has a camera, but no way to get the pictures off the phone, at least not that I can find. (I have an actual camera for that.) I don’t want to send pictures of my lunch to Twitter anyway. I don’t want to read books on my phone (my Kindle is small enough!), but sometimes it might be handy to hop on the Internet and look something up, or read my email when I’m away from home and computer.

I have many friends, most of them younger than I am, who seem to carry their whole lives on their phones, even some who never take the Bluetooth gadget out of their ear (apparently because any incoming phone call would be more important than the live human beings in the same room). I don’t want that.

On the other hand, tonight I got an email from my car insurance company offering an App that might be genuinely useful. It wasn’t the first time I’ve wondered if I’m really missing something. I’m frequently surrounded by people my age and older who seem to find their smart phones genuinely useful.

Smart phone? IPad? Kindle Fire? I don’t know what the heck I need. No, I know I don’t actually need any of them. I’m trying to decide what I want. Maybe I should make up my mind before I’m the last person alive without a “mobile device.” Maybe I just have a growing case of gadget envy.

What works for you? Advice and suggestions welcome!

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