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How My New Handheld Computer Has Changed My Life

August 4, 2013

While I have always been a tech-savvy person who likes new devices/technologies, I also have a serious dislike of, and prejudice against, mobile phones. Part of this stems from my general dislike of talking on the phone; part of this dislike goes back to when I was a network administrator and my company needed to be able to get ahold of me 24/7. My students are always shocked when I tell them that, while I do have a cell phone, it’s usually locked up in my car or my scooter and always kept turned off.

Even as cell phones became smart phones, I felt no desire to join the crowd (in addition to being an introvert, I’m also an iconoclast). As more and more people seemed to walk around with phones held to their ears or staring down at their hands, I just could not see the attraction.

I started to do a little bit of rethinking during a staff development when one of my fellow teachers just took a picture of the powerpoint slide with his phone instead of writing everything down. I also found it useful when my friends could look up some info or find an address, but again, I had no desire to spend all of that money (plus the monthly charges) for some phone.

Then, I had my “Eureka!” moment. I’m not sure what started this thought process, but it finally occurred to me that a smartphone wasn’t really a phone at all–it was a handheld computer that took pictures, gave directions, played music, and oh, by the way, also could be used as a phone. When I started thinking of it as a mini-computer, I suddenly realized how handy it would be! The next hurdle was the price. Since I didn’t even know if I would find it useful, I didn’t want to be tied to a contract for two years. Fortunately, I found a no-contract plan that I can live with (Virgin Mobile).

One of my favorite book series is the “In Death” series of futuristic detective novels by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts). In them, everybody carries around a PPC (portable personal computer). I joke with my friend S that I am not carrying around a smartphone, but a PPC, so that’s what we call it.

Here’s why I am writing this essay: I was pretty sure that I would find my new smartphone handheld computer to be useful and maybe even fun. What I had not realized is that it would make certain things that I had previously done on my desktop or laptop so much easier to do. I enjoy Twitter (@sandramiller_tx), but I had fallen off on keeping up with it because I wouldn’t always think of it when I was on my computer, and so many messages would accumulate that it just seemed futile to try to keep up. On my PPC, I can easily scroll up the list and keep up with what’s going on. This made an incredible difference as I went into #TMC13. What some have called the “back-channel” conversations were almost as important as the presentations, and I would not previously have been able to watch or participate in them.

Tieing in with what a couple of other people have written about introverts and extroverts, as I said, I’m definitely an introvert. I joke with my students that I’m anti-social, but I’m not that far along the scale (my father definitely is, however). I agree with Greg’s post that online writing and collaboration is easier for the introvert because there is a distance and an implied lack of obligation (on both sides). I love to lurk on both Twitter and Facebook, but I rarely post on either. What my “handheld computer” has allowed me to do is to access those conversations more easily, which makes me feel more a part of what’s going on, even though I rarely share anything.

In the month or so that I’ve had my new phone, I’ve only used it as a phone three times. I’ve been somewhat shocked that I have texted S as much as I have. I can see the attraction–if I have something short I want to tell her about, but don’t want to bother her with a phone call (the introvert again). More than that, though, this new electronic device allowed me to participate more fully than I would otherwise have been able to do in a truly incredible professional learning event. (And the Amtrak app kept me from going crazy waiting on trains.)

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