Monday, February 23, 2015

Smartphone "smart"-thoughts

The rumors are true: I've bitten the bullet. Taken the leap. Given in . . . and purchased my first smartphone.

I am now a true 21st century millennial. Or something like that.

The reason behind my big move is a little underwhelming. As a late adopter of pretty much every technology, I've determined that you can ask quite a bit of people. You can ask them for directions (because your phone doesn't have Google maps). You can ask ask them to email you pictures (because photos don't register visibly on your tiny phone screen). You can ask them not to send you emoticons (because they just show up as little squares).

Eventually, however, there will be one "ask" too much. And that "ask" came a few weeks ago, when my phone stopped receiving group messages. (Long story short, the "messages" all showed up blank.) I'd been asking for a lot of special treatment from my friends and family, and generally they'd complied, but this was one thing I simply could not ask: I could not ask to receive a special individual text every time they went to send a group message. I just couldn't.

After several days of feverishly reading online reviews and agonizing to my boyfriend over what phone to get (Apple or Android? Which version? Which size? I'd have to live with this decision!), I finally decided to go with the iPhone 5s. My reasoning was that it should sync nicely with my Macbook and iPad, and I already had some experience with the device, having borrowed an iPhone for my international business travels in Canada a few months ago. Also, the size was a big factor. I wanted something that would still fit into my pocket, and female pants are not made to accommodate electronics. Or wallets. Or anything, really.

Now that I've had the phone for a few weeks, I decided it was time to publicly evaluate my decision. Honestly, I'm not sure I made the right choice. In relation to my initial reasons for getting this particular phone, I did make the right choice. I was able start using it right away to do all of the things I wanted it to do: find directions, check my email, join Instagram (because yes, I was feeling left out.) I can fit the phone into (most of) my pants pockets. And it receives photos, emoticons, and group texts flawlessly.

However, the battery life is terrible. One of my reasons for staying off the smartphone bandwagon was their terribly short battery life. Several years ago, when Hurricane Sandy hit, all of the local smartphone owners were crawling around the floors of grocery stores and delis looking for outlets, and my little slide phone was going strong--its battery lasted 4 days without recharging! So I thought that if I waited long enough, limited battery life would no longer be an issue with smartphones.

I was wrong.

On a typical day, I probably text a handful of people a few times. I might check Facebook for a grand total of two minutes, and the weather for another thirty seconds. Once or twice a week, I might talk on the phone for an hour, max, or use the maps app to locate a street. No matter how little I use my phone, though, by the end of the day my battery is eighty percent drained.

Which leaves me with my four-year-old iPod to listen to podcasts on my mile-long walk between the subway station and my office, because I'm afraid that if I try to listen to them on my iPhone, the thing might die on me. How sad!

Instead of developing an electric car, Apple should direct its resources toward improving the battery life of mobile devices. Because now that gadgets can listen to you, talk to you, and give you advice, directions, updates, and reminders all around the world, the next real hurdle is eliminating consumer paranoia that their beloved device might run out of juice and leave them stranded, alone.

If we wanted to be alone, we wouldn't have a smartphone at all. We could go live in a cave. Or underwater.

And of course, if that's too extreme, there's always the Off button.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Thing About Picking Up the Phone

Here's the thing about picking up the phone: no one does it anymore. Everyone has smartphones that text and ichat and snapchat and email. And when we do pick up the phone to make a call, nine times out of ten we wind up talking to an automated system instead of a real person.

Therefore, when we are finally forced to talk to a real person--never mind a real person we don't know--on the phone, well . . . I for one find it terrifying!

I bring all of this up because for the first time in my life, I am forced to face this very task on an almost-daily basis. And I can't avoid it or put it off or write a letter instead. It's part of my job.

For anyone not in the know, after six-plus years of service at Wiley, I left last November and joined CenterForce, a five-person conference company based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Although I've been there for nearly three months already, I've put off writing anything about my new job because, honestly, I wasn't sure what to say.

Essentially, I didn't want to judge the experience prematurely. Change is hard, new jobs are hard, new coworkers all sitting five feet apart is hard . . . so I didn't want my emotions to cloud my judgement when I finally sat down to write about the experience. Even now I cannot really say that I'm writing emotion-free. When anyone asks "how I like my new job," all I can really say is, "Wait and ask me again in 6 months." Because maybe by then I'll feel like I know what I'm doing. Maybe.

But now I know I can at least say with confidence: my new job involves making phone calls. Lots of phone calls. To literal strangers.

And it. Is. Terrifying.

My job is to recruit high-level executives who handle intellectual property at companies to come and speak at our conferences. (Imagine Susie Q:  a corporate lawyer who deals with IBM technology patents--when they're filed, who's trying to use the technology illegally, etc. That's who we want.) Basically, I comb the internet for these people and then email them an invitation. If they don't respond, I might email them another invitation. And if they still don't respond, I start calling.

Every time I pick up the phone, my heart rate speeds up. Yet I know it's an irrational fear. My head tells me, "Allison, what's the worst that can happen? That you'll stutter and sound like an idiot? That they'll yell at you? Hang up on you? Who cares! You'll never see them again!" And based on my--albeit limited--experience, none of these things are likely to happen. Everyone I've spoken with so far has been very polite and oftentimes even nice. No one seems angry or annoyed.

So what am I so afraid of?

Honestly, I am not sure. What I do know is that I'm out of practice with talking to complete strangers (especially strangers who seem much more "important" than me), and I'm out of practice calling people who aren't my friends or family, and all this lack of practice makes me very very nervous when it comes time to dial a new number.

However, if nothing else, I'm getting lots of practice these days. So now it's just a matter of getting that heart rate down and banishing the feeling of dread that always climbs into my gut when I pick up the receiver. Fingers crossed that such a day comes soon. In the meantime, you'll have to excuse me, but I have a phone call to make.