the mobile web is rewiring my brain
My trip to California last week brought an ugly truth to light: the way that I interact with the world has changed because of the mobile web.
It’s not often that I can so easily trace behavioral modification to a specific event, or series of experiences. Sure, I know that I love Led Zeppelin because my brother forced me to listen to it when I was 7 (he was scared I would be sucked into a world of crappy music). But as an adult, the daily barrage of experiences, and the slow rate at which we generally change tends to mask shifting behaviors - at least to ourselves. This is the sort of thing that social scientists study and unravel, and I am neither. Mostly, we are not nearly self-aware and objective enough to realize what happened.
But last week, I had something of an epiphany. It came between the time I booked a hotel room by using a kayak mobile app (the same one that led to victory over rental car agencies) and taking the train to San Francisco without any real idea of where I would be meeting people. Now, for some people, I realize that’s something of a norm. Land in a new place, and figure things out. That’s not me. I tend to travel with a small notebook filled with confirmation numbers, train schedules, addresses, key phone numbers, and times, and alternate routes. Type A traveler? Absolutely 100%.
And I started thinking hard about what the hell had happened. Why was I running around without a clear idea of where I would be. Walking down the Embarcardero with my friend Jini, we started talking about it. It was clear to me that my iPhone was at the heart of the problem, closely followed by the increasing ubiquity of wifi. In my head, I know that anywhere I go, so long as I have a signal, I can find my way to wherever I need to go.
That’s an incredible safety net, and a testament to the way in which our world is changing. But it’s also dangerous. There are still many places where the signal won’t cut it, where planning is critical, where it leads to faster, better decisions. There are places where the perception of convenience can create a false sense of security.
But then again, on the whole: holy crap! Just thinking about the world we live in makes me giddy sometimes. I can land in a city I don’t know, blindfolded, and, 10 minutes later know where to get a sandwich, a local microbrew, and a hotel room. Zounds!
So what that really means is that I now have choices I never had before. Those options are seductive and they have to be consciously considered. Not planning = exciting, fast paced, and sometimes more convenient. Planning = more sure, safer, generally more efficient. There’s some mix of the two towards which I am moving, testing the balances along the way. Now I’m doing it far more consciously than I was.
Living in the future is awesome.
game of telephone
Yesterday, I went through the nightmare that is pricing out and choosing a new cellphone plan for my parents. We have a family plan that includes one blackberry (dad), one iPhone (me), and one phone phone (mom). In the New York, area, that really leaves us with two credible options: Verizon and ATT.
I spent about 2 hours on the phone with another hour on various websites attempting to figure out what the best plan would be. I received four different price quotes, each of which were different than the one my father ended up signing for at the store. This was further complicated by the fact that we were forced to sign a two year contract to get him a phone, and the fact that I didn’t actually need a new phone at the moment.
Throughout the process, the piece that really kept upsetting me was how clear the collusion in this industry is. Both companies charge slightly different amounts for each peice of the plan, but, magically, the price ends up within a $15 range, which is the same as it was two years ago. Text messages, which have already been acknowledged as a massive joke on the consumer due to the fact that they are 100% profit for the phone companies are simply the most obvious and infuriating expression of the problem (and yes, ATT, I think that $15 for 1500 texts is ludicrous, but you have me by the short hairs).
And then, finally, we have the phone exclusivity issue. On some level, that makes sense. Phones are often designed for specific frequencies, thereby limiting their use. However, that shouldn’t be a big problem, and is certainly not the root cause.
In any case, this is something of an acknowledged rant. However, the frustration I feel at the entire process is legitimate. As a consumer, I do not feel that I am experiencing the benefits of a competitive, open market where service gets better and cheaper as time goes on and innovation takes hold. The phones are better than they were, but the restrictions are still huge. That’s unfortunate, but it’s currently the price we have to pay.