On becoming a digital native

(originally written November 14, 2009)

Well, ok, maybe I’m not all the way gone. But who knows?

I recently got a smartphone, and it has fundamentally changed the way I interact with the world. At this point, it is still a magic box, but from this point on it’s going to become normal. So, I’ve decided to document this transition on the basis that this will never happen to me again.

It’s a magic box – I have the internet in my pocket. I wake up in the morning and check my email while my brain wakes up; then I get out of bed. Sitting in class, I can Wikipedia a concept that the professor is talking about without having to get out my computer, boot it up, and be noticeably not paying attention. In fact, booting up my computer takes so much longer that I haven’t bothered to log into email on my computer more than a handful of times in the last half-week (I usually check email online every 2-3 hours at minimum). This really helps with dealing with all of the small I-don’t-need-to-read-this emails, but I’m slower at responding to “real” email because of the small screen and less efficient keyboard.

Having an Android phone has allowed me to install Google Voice on my phone, which has in turn led to free, infinite text messaging, and my willingness to text people has skyrocketed. SMS conversations no longer end with “I have limited texting” and “Oh, sorry :(“. I also have a hardware GPS chip and unlimited data – Google Maps on my phone, in my pocket. I found this particularly helpful last night, while trying to locate the Awesome Foundation party that I was going to. Alone, having never been to Microsoft NERD before, I was able to not only navigate there with phone-based GPS, but also double-check the specific building address once I arrived by navigating to the event’s Facebook page on the fly. This worked a lot better than trying to call my friend, who was already there but failed to answer his phone.

At the same time, it becomes an irresistible distraction. Pulling out the phone in a group of people is a guaranteed timesuck – I’m going to end up checking my email and Twitter updates, not just looking up X thing I got asked about. I may have to make personal table etiquette rules forbidding taking the phone out at the table unless calling someone. The notifications on email arrival are also a huge distraction. I don’t really need to know every time an email hits my inbox, but what if it’s an important one? (it never is)

Overall, this is a very strange experience. It’s completely changed the way I interact with the internet, and is starting to bleed over into my real life. It’s like I’ve stepped into the future – a device that used to call and maybe text people has become a 24/7 uplink that tells me where to go, what my friends are doing, whether or not anyone is trying to talk to me (in 3-4 different formats!), and knows where I am. The really crazy part is that this is becoming normal.

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