In an effort to combat Black Friday, a day completely manufactured by retailers to get you to buy into the idea that spending money on stuff is the greatest gift of all, here are some suggestions for replacing this idea with some things more in line with what we believe in here:
The Season of Stuff — My first essay on this subject wherein I make some alternative suggestions of what to give in the season of giving that does not involve giving people more crap they don’t need.
Black Bag Friday — How about turing this season of giving into the season of giving away. Every family member gets a black garbage bag to fill with the over-abundance they could live without.
St Jude’s Marathon — Help my friend Thomas Brand raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital who give free care to children in dire need, like my friend Stephen’s son Josiah who was born with a brain tumor. St. Jude’s has given over two million dollars of care to Josiah alone — with not a single bill paid by his parents. Thomas is running in the Marathon to help raise money for St Jude’s mission. How about giving some of that Black Friday money to a far more worthy cause.
Make Something — Alex says, “Instead of buying something, make something. It’s so much more fulfilling to be a creator rather than a consumer.”
Take the Buy Nothing Challenge — Leo, of Zen Habits, challenges folks to join him in only buying the essentials in 2013. How about starting now? In fact, how about only giving the essentials this holiday season too?
I may add to this list as I find other sensible alternatives. Stay steadfast and vigilant my friends.
Seems like such a simple question, doesn’t it?
Yet, why do we so often fail to ask it?
Isn’t that the first question we should be asking?
Because, doesn’t being able to answer this question reveal so much about the journey and destination?
Should we even bother moving forward on any choice if we have yet to be able to answer this basic question?
Isn’t the answer to this question the whole point of doing something, anything, in the first place?
Yet, how often do we find ourselves far down a path, a choice, a decision, without knowing the reason why?
Is it more often than we should?
How often do we find ourselves with a new device, a new piece of software, a new way of working, without knowing why?
Is it too often to count?
If we stopped to consider this question more often, and faced it with introspection and honesty, wouldn’t it lead naturally to a life lived with purpose?
Doesn’t that sound nice?
Isn’t that the point?
With the release of the new iPad and iPad mini, the subsequent reviews mostly lauding each, and my own likely eventual purchase of a new one, I thought I would accept a challenge posed directly to me by my friend Garrick. Namely, he proposed that I should do a review of my current iPad – a first generation Wifi model with 64GB of storage. The thought being that my take on it, after less than a couple of years of ownership, might help me decide if it is ready for replacement or if it will continue to serve my needs.
When the first iPads came out, they were exciting. It was clear to anyone who used one in those early days that something groundbreaking had arrived. And, while the iPhone has certainly provided a glimpse of what was possible when touch, portability, and a robust application ecosystem were brought together, the iPad took this idea to a whole other level and a much wider audience. The iPad made obvious a present future where a device with all of those qualities, plus added screen size, could replace a PC.
I know I’m not alone when I tell you that, those of us that first bought iPads became quickly mindful of what would happen if we took them out in a public space. Such was the excitement and curiosity surrounding this device. Doing so meant a near constant stream of questions, comments, and interruptions by perfect strangers. They wanted to see it, touch it, try it out, ask a seemingly endless series of questions that, when distilled to a deeper meaning, largely centered around “Will this work for me?”. These folks wanted permission and validation in their desire to buy one for themselves and become part of this brave new post-PC world.
I admit to feeling a little bit smug about my choice to take the first leap. My stated mission, in fact, was to use the iPad as my “main machine” — mostly replacing my aging MacBook. For quite a few months I used my iPad for mostly everything. Even after replacing that MacBook with a MacBook Air, I continued to use my iPad as much as I used that more traditional machine. Heck, I even wrote a book on it. I’m using it to write this post. In times when I need to bring something more than my iPhone with me while leaving for a meeting or other appointment, the iPad remains my first choice.
In fact, every need I hoped the iPad would fulfill it still does — quite well in fact.
Sure, the screen is not as nice as those retina ones all the cool kids seem to rave about. And, the limited memory in this early device means that, with iOS 5, tabs in Mobile Safari sometimes have to refresh as opposed to maintaining the page. Sometimes, an app won’t keep up as quickly with my typing. Some newer apps I can’t run at all. And, of course, Apple is no longer supporting this device at the OS level either.
Yet, so good was this first iPad that the best thing I can say in a single word is this — It’s boring.
Yep. Boring. Which is exactly what a well made tool should, eventually, become.
What I mean is that the best tools should follow the same arc. They should initially be full of excitement. The kind of “OMG-I-Can’t-believe-I-even-deserve-to-own-this-aaarrggghhh!!!!” sort of thrill. The kind that makes strangers come like wise men baring gifts from miles away just to ask you if they can bow to it sort. But, then, as those strangers get such tools of their own and you start to see them everywhere and they become “the thing you use” and the novelty has worn off well… The mark of a great device is that it should just become sort of boring. A tool. One that is reliable. One that you just grab and use when you need it to perform the tasks for which it is built, and that you then put down satisfied that you have it even if you are no longer OMGing every time.
In fact, the less you think about such a device, the more it just is part of life, the better. I don’t think much about the iPad and it never gives me reason to good or bad. We shouldn’t have to think about our devices. We should just use them.
I’ll eventually replace it but, like my iPhone 4, the need is not a pressing one. I know that, for me, it will be like replacing a hammer whose handle has gotten a bit worn due to age and use but still can pound a nail pretty darn good all things considered. In this case, if the job is writing or surfing the web or checking the social network du jour or email or any number of other computing tasks, this iPad is still that kind of tool for me.
I recently installed the new Google Search app on my (still great) iPhone 4. I have decided to wait as long as possible on upgrading to an iPhone 5 (no immediate compelling need) and, therefore, still have no devices that have Siri. I saw many on the Internets raving about how good and fast the speech recognition was in Google Search. In fact, everyone was saying it was better than Siri. For me, the fact that I could at least get a sense of the usefulness of such a feature on my aging-too-soon iPhone 4 was all I really needed to give it a shot.
What can I say other than that fact that it is fast? Like, really fast. Much faster than Siri. In fact, I would describe it in a way that I have yet to see Siri described: Useably fast.
Now, to be fair, Google had a big head start over Apple on the sort of data mining that is required to execute such amazing results in voice recognition. I mean, after all, that is Siri’s promise — That the more people that use it the more data Apple can capture on the server side and the better both the recognition and the results will get. But, Google has been doing the same thing for years — though not in such an obvious way.
Remember Google 411? I do. Before Siri or even smartphones as we have come to know them today, it was the best way to get sports scores, restaurant info, weather, and all sorts of other smart data all by calling a number and asking the question.
How about Google Voice? Do you use it? I do. Been using it for years (since before Google owned it and it was called Grand Central). I love that when people leave me a voice message it translates it into text and sends it to me via email.
See where this is going? Yep, that’s a big part of how Google Search is so much better and faster than Siri. They have been doing this voice recognition data mining using a host of other services for years before Apple even stepped into the game.
Another thought, seeing this in action, I imagined what things would be like if Google Search, like Siri, also had the ability to interact with other apps like Reminders and the Calendar.app. Or, if Siri were to become just as good (which is inevitable but will take some time). It immediately became clear to me — this is the next interface.
In other words, what if when we slid to unlock instead of being met with rows and pages of icons we, instead, were met with Siri? What if our primary interaction with such devices was not touch, but voice? What would that look like? What would that feel like?
I don’t have answers to any of those questions but I bet Apple is thinking them up in a lab somewhere right now. Feel free to file away for future claim chowder.