Archive for the ‘technology’ Category


The Fading Away of Voicemail

January 12, 2015

I am old enough to have seen the rise, and now the fall, of voicemail. In 1994 I was the technology specialist at a brand-new middle school in Chapel Hill, and part of my technology orientation for the faculty was teaching them how to set up voicemail on their phone extensions. This was a big deal for us–my previous school had no voicemail system and about four phones for the whole staff to share. I know that technologically, 1994 is eons ago–every student file in that entire school fit on three 1GB servers, and a fourth server ran both the media center catalog and our internal email. Yup, in 1994 we didn’t have Internet email. We could not send messages to another school, or to the central office. We also had to choose whether to buy teacher laptops with color screens or black and white, and whether to buy desktops with or without CD-ROM drives.

Today I read this article about Coca-Cola’s decision to shut down its voicemail system. I first noticed this trend about two years ago. While I was teaching a workshop at a Silicon Valley hard-drive company, a participant mentioned in passing that he got about one voicemail message a week. I asked others in the room if that resonated with their experience, and they all said yes. One manager said, “I’ve gone from 5-10 messages a day, to maybe one or two a week.” The drivers: email, text, and smartphones. By comparison, voicemail is inefficient.

Coke’s decision will probably accelerate this trend, which was impossible to imagine in 1994. The only catch I see is that, unless the company is providing the phone and data package, we’re moving the cost of voicemail accessibility from the company to the employee. But no one will have to figure out how to create and modify the dreaded voicemail message.


More use of electronics on planes?

December 11, 2012

According to this article, the FCC’s chair is encouraging more use of electronics on planes. While I say, “It’s about time,” I would welcome some changes more than others.

My thinking has really changed on this. I used to be a hard-core “power down everything, every take-off and landing” kind of guy. It was the rule, dammit, and there seemed to be some evidence suggesting that our phones and laptops might be messing with the plane’s electronics. Just last week my friend and colleague Kristin was reminding me of a flight when I watched a woman stash her Kindle next to her armrest, rather than shut it off. My comment to Kristin was something like, “Does she think it’s not portable? Not electronic? Or not a device?” I also remember ticking off a young woman on a flight out of Boston because I spoke to her when she refused to turn off her phone.

But in the last few months I’ve softened, for two reasons. First, I believe that if the airlines really thought a phone or tablet could disrupt the plane enough to endanger its performance, we would all have to prove our devices were turned off before  we could board. Instead, TSA currently considers our shoes more dangerous than our tablets, and I usually use my phone in lieu of a paper boarding pass. Second, reading my Kindle is not any less distracting than my current sub-10,000-feet paper periodical, the Economist. So in general I’m all for loosening the current limitations on our use of electronics.

I do have two concerns, however. I support the idea that, during takeoff and landing, passengers should be aware of their surrounding, and the flight crew should be able to give instructions quickly and directly. As a result, I am opposed to passengers using noise-canceling headphones at the start and end of a flight. I am even more strongly against the use of cell phones for conversations during flights. We sit among strangers in very tight quarters. I really do not want to hear half of anyone’s conversations for an entire flight–it’s painful enough to hear about urgent widget orders and how soccer practice went before takeoff and after landing. I use my noise-canceling earbuds on long flights–please, FAA, don’t make me have to use them all the time.


The End of Thinking Big?

July 25, 2011

The final space shuttle mission has launched some weeping and gnashing of teeth. Count me among the lamenters. I was six when Neil and Buzz walked on the moon; I remember my parents waking up my brother Matt and me to watch their first steps on the Sea of Tranquility. Growing up in Concord, NH, I got to see the Apollo 11 capsule as it toured the 50 state capitals. In elementary school I’d write to NASA and they’d send me large envelopes full of color photos of astronauts, launching rockets, and distant galaxies. As a student teacher in 1985-6 I was filled with pride as my brother Tom’s social studies teacher, Christa McAuliffe, was chosen to be the first teacher in space. On that awful January day I was working in the faculty room at Woodside High in California when someone wrote on the chalkboard that Challenger had exploded. “Space shuttles don’t explode,” I said to myself. Later in my teaching career I won a Christa McAuliffe fellowship for the state of North Carolina, and spent a year designing a web site that helped teachers and students assess the credibility of online sources. The site is gone now, though I found one teacher who still has a link to it.

But beyond the “reach for the stars” sentimentality I have a deeper concern. As our worship of the free market combines with the belief that any taxation is a direct threat to our way of life, we have stopped thinking of the public sphere as a place to do great things. I know the government has problems to be fixed (as do all our institutions, for they reflect our common limitations), but the manned space program showed we could think big and succeed, not only in the grand scope of human accomplishments, but also in the more practical matters of what NASA calls “spinoffs,” like these from the shuttle program that justify the agency’s contributions through the lens of “return on investment.” Manned flight will now be privatized, and while those who’ve benefited the most from 30 years of tax breaks may one day get to give some of their piles of disposable income to Richard Branson so that Virgin Space can show them the curvature of the Earth during a short weightless ride to space, I’d rather see scientists and explorers establishing a presence on the Moon or Mars in the name of all of us, for the benefit of all of us. I want to dream again.


Facebook Places … Will Proceed, with Caution

August 19, 2010

So Facebook has decided Foursquare and Gowalla and their friends were having all the fun in the location-broadcasting business, so it has launched Places. My first reaction is ambiguous.

On the one hand, I’ve been an enthusiastic Foursquare participant–I’ve checked in 568 times in the year or so since I read about 4sq in the NYT, I’ve got 17 badges, etc. It’s a way for friends to know where I am. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel like FB thinks all information is public information, and the more we broadcast the better, and that’s made me nervous. I used to let friends of friends see my updates, until people I did not know starting disagreeing with political comments I made. FB is a difficult place to have political discussion, and when it’s with people who don’t know me, it’s easy to get nasty quickly, which is not why I go to FB. I go to see what’s up with my friends.

But I’ve done some reading on both sides of the FB Places issue tonight–starting here at the WSJ and here on, which led me here, here and here–which took me from Not Gonna Use It to Will Only Let Vicki See Where I Am to Will Use on a Trial Basis. The idea of knowing where my friends are could be pretty fun, but I don’t want random people knowing where I am, so I’ll not let FB include me in Who’s Here Now–not when strangers will be able to see my name and picture.

This was my response to Google Buzz, too–initial rejection, followed by willingness to try. But that soon led back to rejection–once I read some of the crude stuff people near me were writing, the thrill was quickly gone, and let’s face it, there’s no there there now. I don’t know if FB Places will meet the same fate, but I doubt it. People use Google for search and email, but FB is how we connect to our friends. And now we’ve got a new way to connect. I’ll let you know how it works for me.

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