Deborah and I were driving to campus today; we noticed someone texting which started us talking about the driving-while-texting problem. From my POV texting isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom. So what’s the problem then?
Lets start by remembering PDAs. Bill Gates had a vision of the ‘personal web’ circa Comdex 1999 that’s very similar to how Personal Digital Assistants evolved:
The modern PDA [smartphone] should know that you’re driving a car and thus would not let you text message [or anything else that distracted you from driving]. The PDA should also know when you are at home, trying to have family time, say having dinner or helping your child with homework. Thus the PDA would prevent you from checking email or doing something other than being present with your family.
Today we don’t have the discipline to unplug, stop looking at a screen. We need something to help us remember what’s really important, in the moment. Let’s assume the modern version of the PDA is a smartphone; then let’s further assume the smartphone – with all the capabilities for contextual awareness – should be able to help us get focused on what’s important at the moment, or to not let us use the smartphone when the moment is inappropriate.
There was a great article written during/about social networking at Burning Man that ties into the importance of being present with what’s around you:
What caught me about the article was how odd it seemed to be at an event like Burning Man and not be present to what’s around you. It’s almost a walking-while-texting scenario on a grand scale in that Burning Man is a timed event: it starts, gets built up, reaches the apex, then it all goes away. Why waste any time messing with a smartphone when you need to be experiencing the event?
A smartphone should be that little assistant – YOUR assistant serving YOUR needs – that checks in once in a while; helps you make smart [why is it called a smartphone?] decisions. It shouldn’t distract you.
David Pogue wrote a related app distractions post on his blog: