The Next Great Debate? Or A Sign of the Times?

teens-staring-at-phonesI’m not a massive fan of the humor/satire site The Onion, but an older video from their site recently made its way to my Facebook timeline – and I was thinking that could easily be me (maybe without a discussion on euthanasia of course).  The surgical attachment of devices to the hands of my teen-aged girls – is this the next great debate? Or a sign of the times?

From The Onion archive story tells the story Caitlin Teagirt a 13-year old who is reduced to simply rolling her eyes and grunting because of digital addiction.

To be fair to 15.5 and 13.5 – I am perhaps guilty too of being over connected (but that’s also how I pay the bills).  But at this point, it’s generally easier for me to communicate with my kids via text – or if I really want to capture attention Snapchat.  Shame on me for getting to this point.

At the same time, I also see technology is the equivalent of making phone calls and gathering up with my friends when I was their age.  For both girls, there is a constant flow of group texts, group Snaps and group Chats – it’s not a lack of socialization.

To me the issue is the dynamic within the house – and the rolling eyes and the ever-present mobile phones.  It’s an uphill battle and one I’m not entirely sure I want to take on – after all I’m not contemplating euthanasia and it’s not getting in the way of the important aspects of home life.

When thinking about the question of if it’s the next great debate, or just a sign of the times – I’ll fall to the latter and accept the present.

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The Uber Parent

uberIf you work in, or have gone out in a city (or even some suburban areas) you probably know the concept of Uber – on demand rides.  The concept is pretty simple, you download an app, load in your credit card information – and when you need a ride you click a few buttons and your ride shows up ready to go.  We now live in the age of the Uber Parent though – and this could very well be my next app.

As an only parent, I don’t have a lock on this market certainly.  Any parent or set of parents with one or more teen-aged child who doesn’t drive knows the feeling.  Starting on Friday afternoon – there’s a text from a child and you’re in your car off to the races taking someone (or a small group) someplace.

The great thing about Uber is passengers get to rate the drivers and drivers get to rate the passengers – the higher your rating (both as a driver and passenger) the better the service.  This video featuring an old friend from my CBS News days will help explain how it works:

I do threaten to rate my kids to prioritize their rides, and I really wish now and then they could coordinate a bit so it’s not the sense of just driving in circles.  But in this über world of specified properties to extreme degrees – the Uber Parent app may soon be needed.

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Perception and Time

I'm Late, I'm LateI have a confession to make – more often than not I am punctual, meaning early to on time.  For almost everything.  If I wanted to further this confessional moment (which I guess I will), being late bothers me.  When it comes to perceptions and time I’ve realized recently it’s not always a shared trait in my house.

This pertains more to 14.5 (unless it’s a weekend morning where I have to wake 12.5 up).  Apparently being 5-10 minutes late for my older one is socially acceptable.  And according to her I need to change my outlook on time to meet her needs, since my getting her going an hour before an event (or 40 minutes before leaving for school) is just too much time.

There are few things in life that are nearly totally manageable by the individual.  There are always dependencies on other people (friends and family), other things (mass transit, traffic) or events (weather) that can impact when you arrive.  But you can control when you leave, and manage the expectation of when you’ll arrive.

Professionally, I have a schedule at work and I try to respect not only my time commitments but the time commitments others have made to be in meetings (or on calls) with me.  I try not to go over, I try to start on time and I try to be on time.  Obviously it’s a less than perfect system since there are a lot of variables you can’t control.

A recent case study for this was yesterday when instead of a nice easy day of calls from the home office I was summoned out to New Jersey and the corporate HQ.  So, instead of going to the gym and getting into my day I had to fight traffic and do all I could be on time for 1030 meeting – leaving my house with two and a half hours to travel.  I was on time.  I have no idea if the people who summoned me out to Basking Ridge know what it takes for me to be there at 1030 without notice.  In this case perception and time are one in the same.

Yesterday my brother (who is still living in my basement for those keeping score), asked me about a trip he had to make for some on the job training.  I thought travel time would be about 40 minutes under normal conditions.  I had no idea what traffic would be like on a Saturday morning and no insight into the weather.  So I told him to leave an hour early and kill 10 minutes.  I have no idea if that is what he did, but in this case perception and time are one in the same.

So back to 14.5.  She had to be at an outing with her class at temple at 11 this morning.  It’s raining pretty steadily here and generally passing all the shopping locations on a Saturday morning can add 20 minutes to a drive.  The place without traffic is about 20 minutes from our house.  So, I left with an hour early – creating a 20 minute cushion.

You’d think  she was two days early for the carrying on I had endured.  Apparently, if I give her 10 minutes to leave the house she’ll move quicker than if I give her 40 minutes.  This is based solely (according to her) on the amount of time she’ll be texting friends.  I am not completely sure I see the correlation, but that is the argument.

I try to share with her my thoughts that people form opinions on you based on how you present yourself, and punctuality is the first item in that list – even before appearance.  A moment where perception and time are linked.  I’m not sure she agrees with the preface of the argument though.  As far as she is concerned, five minutes late is on time.

As for 12.5, I guess if it doesn’t involve waking her up it there is no argument to be made for perception and time.

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A Lesson Learned, A Lesson Planned

A lesson learnedI hope in life I never become too old to learn a lesson.  Last night after a brand new experience, I realized not only a lesson learned, but a lesson planned for my girls.

I’ve been driving for 30 years now.  I think I have driven a car in 48 of the 50 states and at least five countries (without putting too much thought into it).  Last night for the first time in all those miles I suffered a blow out while driving.

The good news, I was alone in the car and never lost control.  The back left tire blew while I was rolling my way on the world-famous Long Island Expressway.  I pulled over, took a look at the tire (down to the rim), assessed where I was on the road (narrow shoulder) and where I was geographically and decided my best move was driving half a mile to the next exit and getting into a parking lot just off the road.

I called my roadside company.  Maybe it was some kind of karma pay back for my post yesterday about technology running amok, because everything I lamented yesterday came to pass as I was stuck in a never-ending phone tree.  After finally reaching a person they told me at least an hour.

Being able-bodied, I decided to change the tire myself.  Now, I have helped people change tires, I have seen tires changed.  Until last night I had never changed a tire myself.  Check that off the bucket list.

About 15 minutes after I started, I was underway with a donut tire on my car and heading to a place to get a new full-sized tire for my car.  I spent another 10 minutes trying to get to anyone at Allstate Roadside to cancel the call, but that is impossible.  So I left.  About 10 minutes into that trip, the tow truck called to tell me they were at my location.

The one thing the experience confirmed for me is that before either of my kids head out on their own in a car, they will learn how to change a tire.  Not that I expect them to do that, but they should know how to.  They’ll have roadside (I would highly doubt it would be Allstate BTW) to call.  But knowledge is power.

So, I’m not too old.  A lesson learned, a lesson planned.  Keep your eyes open for that lesson you can learn, and pass along.  You never know when it will show up.

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Technology Run Amok

Technology Run AmokAs someone who tries to be on the forefront of the tech curve, I think it’s important to recognize when perhaps, just maybe technology has run amok.  In certain use-cases with certain technology I’d say we are there.

The use-case I have in mind today is what is now the prevalent use of phone-trees for incoming calls from customers.  You know these, you almost cringe when you hear the automated voice say, “Press 1 for English.”

For some context – I rarely initiate calls to any company.  Largely because I don’t want to get lost in the phone maze, and practically because more often than not I can get what I need accomplished done quicker via website, app or even Twitter.  So this week I had to call my cable company and the local Walgreen’s about a prescription.  What I got (aside from lost time) is a stark reminder of technology run amok.

First, Cablevision.  I understand why they have the phone tree to help direct customer calls to the right product team.  Like most modern MSO’s they have ISP, cable and phone services.  My issue though is I’ve been getting several emails a week for several weeks asking me to call for an account review.  It turns out after more than five minutes of pushing buttons, selecting options and eventually setting up a call back – all they wanted was an updated cell phone.  For real.

Then there is my neighborhood Walgreen’s.  Now this should be easy.  My questions are about something I bought in the store or the pharmacy counter.  That should be two, maybe three button pushes.  So yesterday morning while waiting for 14.0 I decided to call to check on a prescription’s status.  Eight button pushes in, I could not get to one of the two pharmacists on duty.  The Walgreen’s app doesn’t give status on a pending prescription, so I had to go walk into the store to find out there was a snag at the doctor’s office.

That is a lot of listening, deciding options and button pushing for very little reward.  That can’t be the model these companies are hoping to replicate in customer service.  I get it.  The phone trees should help steer the call so the right person gets the call and the right answer can be given.  That would be good customer service.

But this is a case where technology has run amok, and more options does not help get to a better result.

There are times thought when technology can be an asset.  During a recent cross-country flight on Virgin America – the outlet at my seat was not working. After my laptop died I pulled out my iPad and opened Twitter.  I sent out a tweet saying my GoGo inflight WiFi experience was great, but my seat outlet did not work on Virgin America.  From that tweet, before I landed Virgin America gave me a $50 credit on my next flight.  A company that can use technology to make sure the customer experience is optimized – it does work.

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He, She, They an App Review

He She They App ReviewWatch any gathering of young kids (I’m talking three-year olds or so) with their parents, and you’ll see kids with phones or devices – normally belonging to their parents.  But these kids are able to easily navigate the devices and launch the apps within.  I don’t bemoan this twist of technology.  Like reading to your child it’s a learning opportunity, and there are apps for that.  One of them is He, She, They, and this is a single dad app review.

The altruistic part.  The app is a $1.99 purchase from iTunes or Google Play with money from each purchase going to Autism Speaks, and since this is Autism Awareness Month, not a bad time to make the purchase.

The app, as its name suggests is designed to help kids understand the pronouns he, she and they.  It’s designed by some folks who have been working in the speech therapy field for years and has a pretty cool user interface.

The app launches in landscape on device and you swipe images into buckets broken down by “He” “She” and “They.”  One of the nice things about this app that many of the other educational apps don’t have is the game within a game.  After some correct matches balloons launch and you can try to pop them.

Another nice aspect to the app is there are three levels, so your $1.99 can go a little further – and you can watch your child master the key pronouns.

The teachers who helped design the app had kids on the lower end of the cognitive scale in mind.  But once your child is able to differentiate words, its a nice app to cement the proper use of these pronouns.

The graphics are crisp, and there are subtle changes in the experience each time.  It’s not just “nice job.”  There is also “way to go” and “thumbs up” mixed in, which will help drive engagement with the app, and enhance the learning opportunities.

So, yeah, your child can sell another farm or line up three diamonds – but with He, She, They they’ll learn something too.  A single dad app review.

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Remembering and Letting Go

CandlesOn this Yom Kippur morning (yeah, no comments about my posting on Yom Kippur OK?) it’s a chance to think about moments and people.  In this week that includes September 11, there has been a lot of that going on.  Remembering and letting go, two distinct concepts tied together.

On 9/11 as I was thinking about friends and colleagues taken that day in the terror attack I was flipping through my phone and realized their names and numbers were still in there.  In some cases email addresses were there too.  Obviously, I’m not calling or texting.



I can’t remember what phone I was carrying in 2001, but I am pretty sure I had to actively put their names and numbers into at least one if not two phones since that day.  A moment to remember friends without letting them go.  Their entries in my address book really are out of sight out of mind most of the year.

Then I realized on my Facebook are two friends who passed away over the years.  Their profiles still there, not deleted.  I’m not putting messages on their walls but they are there.  Another chance to remember without letting go.  Again, mostly out of sight and out mind, not in the way.

Even in my house, there are items tucked away-out of sight and out of mind, but still there and present from time-to-time.  Remembering and letting go.  Part of life sure, but also a part of us.

So the candles we lit last night for Risa, my father, my brother, Risa’s father and all those we have lost flicker on this Yom Kippur.  We remember, let go and do not forget.

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Old School-For Now

Since the beginning of my cell phone time I’ve always carried two cell phones.  One personal and one for work.  Initially, having a cell phone was a big deal and since I got a great price through work, I figured why not.

Through the years, it’s been nice because as jobs change my phone number stays the same.

Another compelling reason to carry two phones is when you carry a phone for work-its theirs.  That means at any point in time, they can say I want it back.  Well, if you have another phone, which you use for personal matters, great.  Here you go.

I would say since somewhere in the late 80’s I’ve carried a phone that also had my work email on it.  In the early days it was a Blackberry-you remember the ones with the wheel on the side.

Last week, I became victim to one of the fastest growing crimes in New York City-theft of a cell phone.  My work cell phone (a HTC Incredible 3) was taken off a table where I was eating a salad.  Now I still have my personal phone, so not a huge issue.  I’ve moved a lot of my work stuff (temporarily) to my personal phone.

But what I can’t move is access to my work email.  There are lots of security rules when working for a big company, and it’s just not going to happen.  So now, I am kind of working “old school” where I have to log into my computer, do a VPN connection and check my email.

I can’t really remember the last time I walked into work and had no idea what was in my email box.  More than that, connected to email is calendar, where my day, the calls the meetings and places are all laid out.  I’ve forwarded those to my personal mobile, but still it’s not a great system.

But it’s also been pretty refreshing.  It’s a good reminder that not every email needs to be answered in real-time regardless of day and time, the world will go on.

I expect tonight my new phone will be waiting for me.  By sometime tomorrow I will have my email back up and running-and once again I will be über connected.  But for now, I’ll get back to you soon, promise.

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The Tween Who Would be a Teen and the Soon to be Tween

Although the difference in age between my girls has not changed (and yes I know it’s not supposed to) at this moment in time it seems like the difference is a lifetime.  11.0 is a full-fledged tween, trying hard to be a teen and 9.0 is somewhere on the outskirts of becoming a tween, but not completely sure she wants to be all that all the time…

And so we’ll go into the new year as the tween who wants to be a teen and the soon to be tween-albeit perhaps reluctantly.

While this may have been clear to people on the outside looking in, it was Chanukkah this year that made it clear to me.  As I mentioned last week, the first night’s gift was a cell phone.  With the cell phone came responsiblity.  And with the responsibility, came a contract to sign.

I’ve fielded comments pro and con my idea of a contract, and as I usually do, I did just what I thought was right-although I do agree there were some good comments made by those who think my idea was a little over the top.

But when it came to the girls.  I went over each clause with them individually.  9.0 happy to have a phone initialed each of the clauses and signed her name.

11.0 did her best to negotiate with me.  She doesn’t have the experience yet to know she should not negotiate from a spot where she has no strength.  The biggest argument she had was her friends did not have to sign a contract for their phones.

When that came up, I tried out my mother’s favorite argument from when I was growing up and made the comparison a friend’s home life, “Go move in with them,” she would say.

I probably did not say it with enough conviction, because it did not resonate with 11.0 or with me for that matter, so I quickly moved on.  I tried to point out that 11.0 really was not in a spot to negotiate terms, since I could easily take the phone and put it in a drawer.

Knowing I would do that, worked and 11.0 reluctantly signed.

But the difference in attitude is duly noted.  11.0 just short of rebellious, and 9.0 happy to have a phone.

I guess I’ll be living with a teen girl soon-and with two teen girls before I’m ready, unless of course I can figure out a way to mess with their birthdays…but that’s not likely is it?

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The Mobile Lesson In Responsibility

As 9.0 said this morning-my girls are getting a little spoiled this year at Hanukkah.  And given all that has gone on-I think it’s OK.  Or at least it’s not the worst thing that can happen.

By the way that declaration came after the first night-because they got their big present, the cell phone.

Neither of my kids had any idea a cell phone was coming their way this year.  In fact, I had told them talk to me when you are 13, but a variety of things have gone on over the last few months that made me re-think my position.

But that’s not to say it did not come with strings.  You see before being allowed to explore the features and functions of their Droid X (pictured) phones they had to sign a contract of responsibility.  Yeah, I”m like that.

Basically the contract points out what I am committed to paying for and clearly states overages are out of their money.  It also puts the onus of maintaining the device on them as well as using it responsibly.

They both have experience with losing iPod’s and DS’s devices for significant chunks of time for not following the rules and not being responsible-so they know there are consequences.  The contract though is a first.

Here’s a look at the contract:

Contract of Cell Phone Ownership and Responsibility

As part of my ongoing policy with them of teaching them social responsibility in the connected world I thought in this case it was important for them to know the rules, know what they were getting and put consequences in writing for them.

We’ll see in six months if this works-but at least they know for now what the ground rules are and they know that if there is a problem, the phone is a privileged that can be rescinded at any time and not a right of passage.

In the immediate future-look out for a text from one of both of my kids-they are slowly working their way through every mobile number they can find.

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