Tag Archives: mobile

Four Most Useful Alexa Skills

I have an Amazon Echo in my bedroom and an Echo Show in my kitchen. I use both daily. They have more than paid for themselves in helping me get hands-free information or assistance quickly.

Echo is far from perfect but she beats Siri to a pulp and Echo will only get better with time. Also, yes – Amazon is spying on us. So are Facebook and Google. You can accept it and reap the benefits of the products while taking privacy precautions, or live in the woods (nothing wrong with the latter). But if you think not owning an Echo will make you safer from tech companies watching you, you’re kidding yourself. So, enjoy!

These are the four skills I use the most. If you’re on the fence about buying an Echo, these are the ones from which you could most easily and quickly benefit. (The Echo Dot is only $29.99 right now, so that’s just a no-brainer. It’s the cost of an alarm clock and does a lot more, while also saving your eyes and brain from that stressful visual of the time around 3:42AM.)
  1. Find your lost phone.

    There are a few skills for this but the cleanest, easiest to set up, and easiest trigger words to remember are from this IFTTT recipe. It’s ideal for when your phone is lost within hearing range (like in your couch).

    You say: “Alexa, trigger find my phone.”

    And your phone will ring. Bluetooth does not need to be on, as it does with the Trackr skill that Amazon advertises for finding your phone. The IFTTT recipe doesn’t require installing any additional apps. Plus, just for fun, you can have that 415 number leave any voice message you want. The default is a machine-read, “Hey, it’s your phone. You found me.”

    IFTTT Alexa trigger informationNote: Available in the U.S. only. I like the simplicity of this skill. However, if your phone is lost outside hearing range, the Trackr skill is more detailed and can tell you where it was last seen (address included). That’s nice for finding a truly lost phone.

  2. Find out what time it is.

    You say: “Alexa, time.”

    Use this anytime, especially while you’re in bed. It prevents you from having to move, which can awaken your body. Most importantly, it removes the need to open your eyes and look at your phone or a clock, which wakes up your brain due to the light. Studies have shown that seeing the time on alarm clock or phone can worsen insomnia and anxiety about getting adequate sleep.

    Your phone’s blue light actually makes your brain think it’s morning. Looking at your phone is awful for your circadian rhythm. This simple skill can help. I don’t recommend a jolting alarm wake-up either, which increases heart rate and stress, but instead use a gentle smart wake over thirty minutes with the Sleep Cycle app. I also keep my phone on Airplane mode all night to prevent EMFs from harming my brain and body during sleep.

  3. Get help falling asleep or relaxing.


    You say: “Alexa, help me fall asleep.”

    You’ll hear ambient nature sounds. It’s relaxing. Good to play when getting ready for bed. Further, if you have Spotify, I recommend this skill for yoga, meditation, stretching before bed, or general soothing sounds:

    You say: “Alexa, play meditation music from Spotify.”

    Echo Show on kitchen counter with tomatoes
    Because I can’t remember anything for myself and neither can you.
  4. Set reminders for anything.

    From leaving the house to calling someone back to packing a lunch to putting clothes in the dryer to soaking black beans – sky’s the limit.

    You say: “Alexa, remind me to ___________ at 2:15PM.”

    The reminder will be audible from your Echo and also can appear on your phone if you’ve turned on notifications. I like this feature in case I’m not home.

I’m a fan of Amazon’s voice assistant, obviously. If you’re going to buy an Echo, please click through one of my links in this post. It chips in a few dimes to pay for my web hosting and my valuable hours spent arguing with Bluehost. Thanks 🙂

How a WTF Moment Became the New Normal – StandFor Interview

This Fourth of July, I had a memorable WTF moment with one of the rudest people I’ve ever met. What makes it noteworthy is that many consider his behavior normal. I tell the story in this interview with StandFor: Technology as an Escape Mechanism

Excerpt:

…To put it in context with technology: the Like button came out in 2009, then Facebook’s first mobile app was released in 2010, but it was pretty awful. Smartphones outsold PCs for the first time in the last quarter of 2011. Facebook improved its app, and with every iteration, it became smoother and more addictive, fueling phubbing.

In the U.S., having and responding to work email on your phone at all hours became expected as smartphone use increased, encouraging the unhealthy always-on worker mentality. The pendulum swung further when Instagram hit a penetrative point, having 150 million MAUs by late 2013, three years after launch.

I’d say 2012-2013 is when phubbing became really noticeable.

These social apps are engineered to be highly addictive. It’s a business that profits off usage. I noticed people checking their phones not just for text messages (actual communication) but being addicted to refreshing their social feeds like slot machines (passive, receptive entertainment) because the apps for Facebook and Instagram became so addictive. Facebook became the internet for many people. These apps are designed to encourage addictive checking just like cigarettes and McDonald’s fries cause cravings. Smartphones with apps, messaging, and email provide what became a socially acceptable escape mechanism for the boring or awkward moments of daily life

Read more at The Talk: Technology as an Escape Mechanism.

#talkyourwalk

Emily sitting near grass
Me at the StandFor photo shoot – wearing Quit Phubbing shoes

Photo credit: Heather Haberkern (Heather is a talented stylist, interior designer, and photographer who led the StandFor photo shoot)

Your Phubbing Habit Ruins Relationships (StandFor Shoes Review + Offer)

Phubbing = phone snubbing. It happens when we ignore the people around us because we’re paying attention to technology. Phubbing wrecks relationships. I’ve been concerned about this for years, as you know if you’ve listened to my podcast or read my blog or ever met me. I put my phone on airplane mode every night because it’s an important boundary for me – yes, I am unreachable for a few hours of precious serenity.

phubbing definition
Phubbing: you probably do it everyday.

With more and more people using the attention-siphoning devices — the typical American checks his or her smartphone once every 6.5 minutes, or roughly 150 times each day — phubbing has emerged as a real source of conflict. –CNN 

“Researchers James. A. Roberts and Meredith E. David identified eight types of phone snubbing behavior that have become common in today’s world. They are:

– During a typical mealtime that my partner and I spend together, my partner pulls out and checks his/her cellphone.

– My partner places his or her cellphone where they can see it when we are together.

– My partner keeps his or her cellphone in their hand when he or she is with me….”

Sound familiar? This stuff is disturbing.illustrated-people-on-phones-phubbing

Who’s really worse: fast food companies or tech companies?

It’s somewhat in vogue to believe companies like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola and R.J. Reynolds are the problem. They make us sick, fat or dead, they pollute our planet,  and they’re purely profit-driven. Yet all the while, we lionize tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple. But these companies are responsible for literally rewiring our brains.

We’re willing participants as users of social networks that contribute to the breakdown of real human interaction, just like people in the drive-thru know what a Big Mac does to their body.

I suppose the parallel is that we didn’t always really know how bad fast food was for us until Supersize Me etc. came to light, until we legislated publishing calories on menus. And we won’t really acknowledge the negative impact of dopamine addiction to text message chimes and Facebook Likes for years, if at all. It’s more than a negative impact, it’s the unrecognized public (mental) health crisis of modern times.

StandFor Initiative contacted me and asked if I’d like to try out their anti-phubbing shoes. I’d never seen shoes with such a neat mission. Go check out their site. Frankly, this mission is way cooler and more important than TOM’S. I don’t care if that offends anyone. The Stop Phubbing mission is something we should all embrace before we break our ankles falling into a mall fountain.

Emily wearing StandFor shoes
Me wearing StandFor shoes

I picked the LOVERS shoes – there are plenty of really neat designs with backstories and real life inspiration. Here’s the description from the designer for my chosen pair:

One of the members of our team said that there’s nothing like the real feel of his wife’s warm hand touching his. Everyone should probably feel like this. But when we go to restaurants, we are shocked by couples who hardly look at each other and would rather spend their meal time staring at their phones, phablets and tablets.

I’m happy to wear these #stopphubbing shoes and I hope they spark a conversation. They’re comfortable, well made, and pretty darn cool looking. If you’d like a pair, here’s a $30 off discount promo code (valid through July 30, 2017): Enter promo code RMEFt9MD at shop.standforinitiative.com and choose the shoes, ankle boots or boots you’d like.

standfor-initiative-shoes-blue-grey
Me wearing the LOVERS design, inspired by couples who ignore each other for their phones.

 

[Images: Stop Phubbing]

Your Life History on Demand

Here’s what I see coming for voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Lots of marketing opportunities here, and perhaps finally one eco-system to combine all social app data. More on that later.
Basic Functionality:
  • What date did I move to San Francisco?
  • Who joined me at the Bruce Springsteen concert a few years ago?
  • What was the name of that Portland, Maine dive bar on the water with the oysters we loved?
  • When did I first buy raw maca powder?
That’s fairly simple stuff. The required data sources (which we’re already comfortable sharing) include:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Swarm
  • Instagram
  • Amazon
  • Evernote
Amazon Echo Dot on kitchen counterApps like Timehop can already tap into high level info like this and tell you where you were three years ago, but the social and detail layers will require more information and networked data.
Intermediate Functionality:
  • What did I wear to Blackdiamondskye?
  • Which outfit should I wear today?
  • What topics did I research after my first lunch with Sandra?
  • How many calories have I really eaten today?
  • When am I due for an oil change?
Data sources:
  • Google
  • Weather
  • Credit card purchase history
  • Amazon
  • Photos
    • Clothing/style analysis (with predictive capability)
  • Mobile GPS data (location services) from apps like Google Maps
  • Passbook (boarding passes, movie ticket stubs, event badges)
  • Messaging app history (iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.)
Advanced functionality:
  • When was I happiest during the time I lived in New York?
  • Which job offer suits me best?
  • When did I know I was in love?
Data sources:
Everything we say and type? No – just all of the aforementioned sources, plus a future wearable or implanted device to monitor energy. Triangulate the data and apply some algorithms and AI.
hourglass with blue sand
Essentially, I think everything I currently rely on Evernote for will be available through a voice  assistant that is continually self-improving a personalized tagging convention and data-rich picture of who I was, who I am, and who I will be (how I will behave).
Location, check-in, and social data – your digital footprint – will be accessible. Visuals included. The more you check in and document your every move, the richer your look-backs will be. This is similar to the re-do in my favorite Black Mirror episode, The Entire History of You, except what I envision is not based on a 24/7 life recorder, but an aggregation of experiential data shared by permission.
ICYMI – The Entire History of You premise: In an alternate reality, most people have a “grain” implanted behind their ear. It records everything they see, hear, and do, like a first person recorder for life. This allows memories to be (quite realistically) played back either in front of the person’s eyes or on a screen, a process known as a “re-do”.
I’m not advocating for a grain implant or anything as terrifying as what’s available in this show. But the personal data recall possibilities are pretty exciting.
  • Upside: wonderful for re-experiencing memories or pulling up information quickly.
  • Downside: our memories will get even weaker because we will exercise that muscle less and less. Oh, and privacy.

Reduce Commerce Friction: Travel and Hospitality

Remove friction from the customer experience, make the sale more likely. We are seeing a trend in travel and hospitality to make transactions and guest experiences hassle-free, higher tech, and less reliant upon hard copies and hard people. Make mobile device use free, experience-enhancing, and rewarding, and incremental revenue-generating for vendors – stay in business.

Travel and hospitality companies that don’t prioritize automation and mobility won’t be here in five years.

You can already see the market for a frictionless, more seamless guest experience in the successful offerings of progressive car rental companies like Silvercarairlines like SurfAirPorter, and Virgin, hotel chains like IHG with the health-themed, wristband-based EVEN Hotels, Marriott with Moxy, etc. Reduce check-in time, reduce waits, reduce error-prone interactions with agents. Move the printed rental contract to the cloud. Take a snooty or busy or bribed human concierge and replace them with an app. Develop culturally sensitive sub-brands focused on different market needs and smarter guest profiling. The obvious fixes abound.
Silvercar homepage screenshot
While I loathe both of these resorts, I should touch on theme parks: Disney and SeaWorld are handling the trend well.
 Disney MagicBand family
Disney World’s MyMagic+ is a billion-dollar tech project that includes hotel and resort-wide WiFi and microchip-embedded wristbands that interact with sensors throughout the park and link to a reservation system to book attractions weeks in advance. Disney’s MagicBands use radio frequency (RF) technology, replacing theme park tickets and hotel room keys with tap and pay technology. MagicBands and Apple Watch (coming early 2015) both remove commerce friction, i.e., the hassle of getting a phone out of a pocket to tap and pay.

SeaWorld’s 7/15/14 app update incorporated a new mobile payments system. Now guests can use the app to pay for gifts, food, and Quick Queue access at the ride instead of paying in advance via desktop or at the front of the park.

SeaWorld iPhone app

But isn’t disconnecting important?

One could argue that the onslaught of offerings like free WiFi and charging stations at amusement parks and resorts only perpetuates the always-on, distracted state of mind from which a true vacation should provide escape, particularly when with family. If you really want a relaxing unplugged escape, however, you shouldn’t be at Disney or SeaWorld. If a parent uses a theme park’s free WiFi and app to decrease time spent waiting in line, to augment reality and amuse the kids, or to enhance the experience by hashtagging an Instagram photo to get a free Lego toy upon exit, everyone wins (guests, park, and brand). Not to mention that having instant communication via mobile can make a family trip more manageable and efficient – as long as you can find a convenient charging station.
What traditional airlines are doing for connectivity – further reading: