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Archive for the tag “cell phones”

Technology addiction?

This morning at TGIF Dr Marlena Kruger spoke on the impact of our technology addiction.

I think she made some useful points, for example that young children learn more from playing with hands-on toys that from playing with simulations of them on a computer screen.

Shape sorting toy

Shape sorting toy

When our kids were small, they had one of these shape sorting toys. It would be possible to design a computer app to match the same shapes to spaces on the screen, but kids learn a lot more by handling the shapes, coordinating their sense of sight with the sense of touch by feeling it, and yes, putting it in their mouths.

So playing with computer apps is no substitute for playing with actual things in the real world.

But the problem with this kind of talk about “technology” is that people seem to get locked into a narrow two-dimensional world like a computer screen. What do we mean by words like “technology”?

Consider, for example, this article, which seems to be making a similar point to that made by Dr Kruger — 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12 | The Huffington Post:

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010). Children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012).

Think about it for a while, especially the heading, because it is an example of tunnel vision — like limiting yourself to the number of pixels on a computer screen, and seeing nothing outside that.

What is a “handheld device”? A pen, a pencil, a crayon, a pair of scissors — all these are handheld devices. All these are technology. Specialists in early childhood education have been saying that children should learn to handle such things long before they start school.

Ah, you say, but those are mechanical devices, and we are talking about electronic devices.

But experts in early childhood education say that listening to music is important for the development of young children. Does that mean you are going to take your toddlers to symphony concerts? No recordings, because playing recordings nowadays usually requires electronic devices — when last did you hear a wind-up gramophone played? No discos, because there they use electronic devices to amplify the music.

I’m not simply being pedantic here. Before making huge generalisations about “technology” and “hand-held devices” we need to see the three-dimensio0nal world beyond the computer screen. When you dig in a garden you are using a hand-held device and a spade is technology. Technology is part of what makes us human. Saying that children under 2 should have no exposure to technology is insane. No cooked food, because cooking uses technology.

huntgathEven hunter-gatherer societies use technology, at least for the “hunter” part. Without technology we would just be gatherers.

So when we talk about being “addicted” to technology, we need to think about the wider meaning of technology, and the extent to which technology has made us human.

And when we speak of a remedy for addiction to technology, we need to think about whether the addiction is to technology, or to something else that the technology is used for.

When television was invented, people learnt how to send images to a cathode-ray screen (later LCD) in a remote location. At first, in television, the image was controlled by the sender. The receivers were passive. They could perhaps choose between images sent by different senders, but they had no control over the content of the images received.

Technophobes lamented the bad influence on children — “the flickering blue parent” was one phrase bandied about.

But it was not the TV that was generating the images. They were being sent by people who decided on what was sent, to serve their own purposes. It was one-way communication, yes, but it was one-communication from one group of people to another. The technology facilitated the communication, and to some extent determined it (yes, I’m old enough to have been influenced by Marshall McLuhan, and maybe I’ll say more about him some other time) but it was still communication from people to people.

For me it was a huge liberation when personal computers came along.

Yes, there I was looking at images on a cathode ray tube (CRT), but they were images that I put there. They were things I could control. For a while the rest of the family thought I was opting out of family life. I was “playing with the computer” instead of being sociable and watching TV with the family. That was tantamount to being accused of being addicted to technology. But it wasn’t. If I wrote a letter on the computer, I was no more addicted to the computer as technology than I was addicted to the typewriter before I had a computer, or addicted to a fountain pen before I had a typewriter.

In every case I was “using technology” to communicate with other people, and what I was doing was not “playing with the computer” any more than a handwritten letter is “playing with a pen”. Yes, I do sometimes play with a pen. I twiddle it, I idly click a ballpoint pen so the tip comes in and out.  But using it for a task is not “playing with it”. Is doodling “playing with” a pen? Idly and absentmindedly drawing little pictures? Is sketching fellow participants at a meeting playing with a pen? Perhaps great art exists because some people were addicted to playing with the technology of paint and paintbrushes.

One of the things Marlena Kruger said was coming home and putting your cell phone down and not touching it. Abstain from using the cellphone, because people are more important than the device.

But on Wednesday night we went to church in Brixton, Johannesburg. On the way home at 9:30 pm, on a badly lit road, with cars with bright lights coming the other way, we hit a pothole which dented the wheel rim so the tyre went flat. It was the first time in 11 years and 250000 km that we had had a flat tyre. Where is the jack? We’ve never had to use it before.

So I phone my son, who is a Toyota mechanic and knows these things. And ask where is the jack (it’s dark, you see). It’s under a plastic cover under the front passenger seat. You’d never find it by feeling for it. And how do you remove the cover, and how do you get it out?

But if he switches off his phone, because he’s not going to be addicted to it, it’s not a mere device. There is a person at the other end of the device. So by switching off the phone, you are switching off the person.

So speaking of “technology addiction” can be a bit simplistic. Your addiction can be to the device, like a cell phone, but more often it is addiction to what you do with the device. A cell phone is mainly used to communicate with other people. And you have the stereotype of a group of people all sitting together, all using their cell phones. Are they addicted to their phones? Not necessarily. What it means is that they prefer to communicate with people elsewhere than communicate with the people they are close to at that moment. The problem is not so much with the device used to communicate, but with human relations, that you would rather communicate with someone other than the people you happen to be with.

I said personal computers were a liberation, and its true. I can store information on my computer and find it much more quickly than if I had written it down on bits of paper. I’m writing an essay or an academic paper or even a blog post, and I need to verify the date of a historical event. Google leads me to that information much more quickly than trying to see if I have a reference book that has it.

E-mail was a liberation too.

I used to hate phoning people, and still do. I don’t know if I will be interrupting them when they are doing something important. If I send them e-mail, then they can read it and reply to it at their convenience.

But the people who liked the one-way, one-to-many model of broadcasting did not like this liberation. They wanted their captive audience. And Microsoft developed Windows 98 which was the first version of Windows to be integrated with the Internet, and the developed “push” technology for it. It was an attempt to re-enslave people that personal computers had liberated — by networking those computers and then pushing stuff at them.

And now cell phones use “push” technology too. My smartphone had “push” notifications for Facebook and Twitter, which drove me mad until I found how to switch them off (they don’t give you a manual, so it’s not easy to find out how to do that). So yes, cell phones are useful, but they can drive you mad. And there’s even a cell phone advertising itself with the slogan “Never miss a moment” — you’ll be so busy not missing moments that you’ll never have a moment to do anything.

But even though this is labelled “push technology”, it is not the technology that is doing the pushing. It is people doing the pushing. Yesterday I downloaded 90 emails and 85 of them were spam, sent to my “junk and suspicious mail” folder and deleted in bulk. They may have been sent by bots, but it was people who programmed the bots to send them.

Then back to TGIF, where technology, even electronic technology, was not absent.

TGIF: technology addiction. Two laptops and a projector

TGIF: technology addiction. Two laptops and a projector

I’m not against using educational technology. At one time I used some quite complicated gadgets to improve students’ reading skills, or at least show them how they could improve their won reading skills. But there is also this: Universities should ban PowerPoint — It makes students stupid and professors boring – Business Insider:

Overreliance on slides has contributed to the absurd belief that expecting and requiring students to read books, attend classes, take notes and do homework is unreasonable.

Courses designed around slides therefore propagate the myth that students can become skilled and knowledgeable without working through dozens of books, hundreds of articles and thousands of problems.

I’m not sure I agree with that article either. A lot depends on the content of what is being taught. Some topics can be enhanced by the use of slides, and others not. I must say that in this morning’s presentation I paid very little attention to the slides, and can remember little of what was on them

Eish MTN

When I first got a cell phone back in 2001, I got one from MTN, mainly because it was easier to understand their pricing. It was a pay-as-you-go one, and I got it because I was running around trying to organise for a student to travel to Kenya, and getting passports and visas and had to keep phoning.

Now they started sending me all kinds of offers. I’d get an SMS once a week or so, urging me to recharge and get double the air time and things like that. I usually ignored them because I don’t phone a lot, and prefer e-mail to talking on the phone. Then they started sending them twice or three times a day.

Y’ello! Recharge today and get 500% your recharge value from MTN. Offer  valid till 05-AUG-14. T&C’s Apply Opt Out: STOP to 30246 (FREE)

So after all that nagging, I thought I’d try it. I had about R78.00 worth of airtime on my phone, and topped it up with another R60.00. They sent me an SMS to say that the top up was worth R300, to be used within a week.

MTNAyobaI’m hard-put to find enough to talk about for that long, but I phoned some friends I hadn’t seen for a long time, who lived far away, and caught up with their news. By the end of the week I’d used upabout R50.00 or so of the R300.00 they’d given me. So I expected that by the end of the week my airtime would be back to what it was before. But it wasn’t. It was R60.00, the amount I had paid for the recharge, but without the R78.00 I’d had before.

So it’s a scam. They sday they are giving you more airtime, but they take away the same amount at the end of the period. In the end, they give you nothing. They pretend to give you air time to make more calls, but the cost of those calls comes off your original airtime, when the extra airtime expires.

It’s all smoke and mirrors, a ripoff.

EishMTNWell, I did like they said in that SMS, and SMSed STOP to the number they gave, and they said I’d been removed from their marketing list.

But it’s ironic to think that I first joined MTN because I thought their pricing was more transparent, that What You SEE IS What You Get (WYISYG). But it isn’t, not at all.

So it’s Boo! Hiss! to MTN.

Ayoba MTN? No, it’s Eish MTN.

Next time I want a cell phone, I know where not to go.

My love-hate relationship with my Android cell phone

A few months ago I started getting notices that my cell phone was due for an “upgrade”. I had “upgraded” it two years ago, found that it was in fact a downgrade (the camera on the new phone was completely useless), so I kept the old one, and gave the new one to my son, who didn’t care whether the camera worked or not.

This time I looked at what was on offer, and was after the one with the best camera specification. And the only one that fitted the bill was an HTC Cha Cha, which had, so it said, a 5 megapixel camera, which was the same as Val’s old Samsung, which I had inherited last time she upgraded. So that’s what I went home with.

I also bought a magazine-sized book on how to use an Android phone, since that’s what it was. It seems that the more complicated the phone, the less they tell you about how to use it. So i bought the extra book and began to read it.

I’ve had my new phone for about 3 months now, and, book or no book, I’m still battling to use it.

This one has a QWERTY keyboard. That looked nice. I could get an “s” by pressing once instead of four times. What was not apparent at first sight, though, was that unless I was using the phone lying flat on my back in bed, with the bedside light on, I could not see the number buttons. Presbyopia and all that. And since some numeric key pads have 789 on the top row, and others have 123, you can’t really learn to do it by feel. That was probably the most stupid design decision of the 20th century.

It has a special blue button for sending pictures to Facebook. That looked as if it could be nice, except that it only worked about one time in 5. It has a button on the screen that you press to take a photo. It works about one time in five too. I once took a photo and then pressed the Face book button to send it, and it took a photo of the floor when I pressed the Facebook button and wanted to send that.

It did send the photo I took in church last night, while waiting for the service to begin. It never did begin; our priest, Fr Athanasius, was stuck in traffic for two hours, so we had the agape meal and went home.

But still, It should be possible to get the photos off it with the cable, if it takes them in the first place, that is. And, for all that it is supposed to be a 5 megapixel camera, the quality of the pictures isn’t much better than the cheap Nokia I traded in for it.

Then this morning it rang. I pressed the green button to answer the phone and lifted it to my ear. It was still ringing. Pressed the button again, lifted it to my ear, and it was still ringing. Pressed it again, lifted it to my ear, and heard a remote phone ringing. So maybe it was a missed call, and was calling back. No, it was calling back to someone who had not called me today.

I hear the phone beep, and it tells me there is an SMS. I press the message to read it and it tells me to pull the ring to unlock the phone. I [pull the ring, but then the message disappears. But there is a little thing telling me that there is 1 message. I press it. Nothing. I press it again. Nothing. I press it again, and get a message to say that I can move the button that is telling me that I have a message that I want to read. But it won’t let me read the message that I want to read, just move the button telling me that there is a message.

And if want to send an SMS? The old Nokia Dumbphone would give me a list of contacts in alphabetical order, and I could send a message. If they were lower down in the alphabet, I could press the first letter of their surname and it would take me there. But not this one. This one gives me everything in no order, and lots ofpeople it has pulled in from Facebook and Gmail, who I don’t have phone numbers for because they live in other countries.

My daughter hears I have an Android phone and phones me and tells me of all the wonderful apps that I can download. Apps? Who needs apps? I’d be happy just to be able to make and receive phone calls, and to send and receive SMSs without being asked if I want to move buttons first. And to take decent photos.

And then, to crown it all, I get an SMS, from Vodacom, my service provider. They say that they hope I have enjoyed using the PROMDATA service, and that I can continue to use it by paying the regular rates.


I never heard of this PROMDATA service, and have no idea what I am supposed to be enjoying.

I go to their website, and got and make a cup of coffee while it loads. I search for PROMDATA, and go and clean my teeth while waiting for the answer to load. Not found. It seems that their Website has never heard of PROMDATA either.

I search around and click on a link to email them. After getting tired of waiting for it to load, I went to the kitchen and made a couple of slices of toast. Got back to the computer, and see that the page still hasn’t loaded, so call up my e-mail program and dash off an e-mail asking about PROMDATA to, and cc it to support, info and a few other possibilities.

A slice of toast later the e-mail page has finished loading, so I copy the mail message I sent with my e-mail program, and paste it there. Send it. Ten minutes later it’s back with a problem. It must have a 10-digit cellphone number. I count the digits I entered. Ten. What now? Oh, perhaps it doesn’t like the dashes. Remove dashes and resend.

Ten minutes later it suggests that before sending I should look at their help pages to make sure that they don’t have the answer to my question. One must not waste the precious time of the underpaid people at their call centre, you know. I look through some of the irrelevant questions to which they have given splendidly accurate answers. None of them say what PROMDATA is, and if they did, surely their search function would have found it 40 minutes ago? Surely? Surely?

So eventually it sends that too.

It has taken me about an hour to ask the meaning of one stupid SMS that they sent me. Not to find the meaning, just to ask about it.

In the mean time, if you have tried to phone me, and I haven’t answered, then it may be because I didn’t hear the phone ring (because I forgot to switch it back from “vibrate” after church), or because I heard it ring, and pressed the answer button, but it kept on ringing, or because it was waiting for me to move some button around the screen, or trying to determine whether I was at the gasworks.

Just send me an e-mail instead.

And preferably in plain text, without all those trade mark Euro thingies in it[1].

I just love 20-year-old technology, like e-mail. It’s so much quicker and easier.



[1] The trade mark Euro things are another problem, and nothing to do with cell phones. It’s just that some people send e-mails full of Trade Mark and Euro symbols, sometimes in the middle of words, which makes their messages hard to read.

Telephone tapping and worse

One would think, with all the brouhaha about the closure of News of the World as a result of the telephone tapping scandal, that people might think twice about sending out spam e-mails like this

XCeptor – the ultimate spy software for mobile phones – you can install one REMOTELY to any phone around the world.

Now all you will need to do in order to get total control over a mobile (target) phone of a person of your interest is to send the special MMS to that target phone, which is generated by our unique Xsepter LOADER. This way you can get very valuable and otherwise un-accessible information about a person of your interest very easily.

All you will need to do is to install our unique Xseptic LOADER to your mobile phone and start its execution. You will get the dialog box on the display of your mobile phone and you will be requested to enter a phone number of a target mobile phone of a person of your interest. Afterwords you will choose SEND option in that dialog box. The Xseptoid LOADER will send the special MMS message to the target phone immediately and a person of your interest will have no idea that this special MMS message has been received by his phone. Our Xseptic software will be immediately installed to a target phone and it will be automatically configured for communication with your (source) phone. The special MMS message which has been used as the carrier of our Xsepter software from your (source) phone to a target phone will be automatically deleted then.

The example of use:

You will send the special MMS message containing our unique Xsepter software to a mobile phone of e.g. your girlfriend. In case your girlfriend will be using her (target) mobile phone, you will be provided by following unique functions:

In case your girlfriend will make an outgoing call or in case her (target) phone will receive an incoming call, you will get on your personal standard mobile phone an immediate SMS message about her call. This will give you a chance to listen to such call immediately on your standard mobile phone.

In case your girlfriend will send an outgoing SMS message from her (target) mobile phone or she will receive a SMS message then you will receive a copy of this message on your mobile phone immediately.

This target phone will give you a chance to listen to all sounds in its the surrounding area even in case the phone is switched off. Therefore you can hear very clearly every spoken word around the phone.

You will get a chance to find at any time the precise location of your girlfriend by GPS satellites.

All these functions may be activated / deactivated via simple SMS commands.

… wouldn’t one?

The name of the software has been changed to protect the guilty, but no doubt lots of unscrupulous journalists already know and use it.

Technology and changing rural lifestyles

Twenty years ago, in an online discussion with someone, I expressed scepticism about the value of privatisation in telecommunications. Back then we were communicating on the Fidonet BBS network, which was a fine example of private enterprise socialism. Telkom, our telephone network, had recently been separated from the post office, and was being semi-privatised. There were ominous rumbles that they would be charrging the amateur BBS sysops business rates for their phone lines, because they were carrying “third-party traffic”, which Telkom thought ought to be part of their monopoly.

I thought privatisation of the telephone network would be a bad idea. The infrastructure of fixed-line telephones made it a natural monopoly. I couldn’t imagine five telephone companies setting up five different exchanges for our suburb, for a fifth of the traffic, and five times the infrastructure, five sets of lines to each place. And in rural villages with five subscribers — the school, the police station, the shop, the church and a couple of others, erecting five sets of phone lines would be wasteful. And if the shop-keeper wanted to phone the police, who were subscribed to a different company, it would probably cost more.

My interlocutor predicted that cell phones would change all that. Cell phones would make it possible to provide cheap telecommunications in rural areas. I remained sceptical, but his predictions have come true in ways that I doubt that even he had imagined, as this blog post shows: brett’s morning blend (25may10) | aliens and strangers:

This, though, may be the most surprising feat of technology: People who have never had a bank account, and never will, are using their cell phones to save money. They make their deposit at a cell phone store, and the money is kept in the phone network through their SIM chips. If they need to make a withdrawal, they go to a phone shop, and receive their cash. But increasingly now, they are not dealing with cash at all. Instead Tanzanians are paying one another by sending money from one phone to another. I pay for electricity here in Geita through my cell phone, and receive a code to enter into my electric meter. When I enter those numbers, my account is recharged with money. Pre-pay electricity through a telephone. That’s high technology, and people who’ve never seen a credit card are using it every day.

And there’s more. Africa leads the way in mobile money – The Globe and Mail:

It’s part of a phenomenon that has people in Africa adopting new technologies that have been slower to catch on in more developed parts of the world, where individuals and institutions cling to older, existing infrastructure. People in Africa who have never used an ATM card, banked online or even had a bank account are using their mobile phone for financial transactions, while Internet users are skipping cable modems and going straight to wireless broadband.

Five years ago we were planting a new church in Tembisa. Most of the people were unemployed, and one of them was a cell phone mast rigger. A couple of months later he got another job, and we haven’t seen him since — his job takes him all over the continent, where cell phone technology had begun taking off.

Update 20 June 2010

For an interesting post on a related topic see First World Technology in a Third World Country | Mission Issues

Cellphone cameras

I was playing around with my cellphone camera a couple of days ago, late one night when we stopped at a garage to buy some cold drinks. While my wife was in the shop I took some available light photos with my cell phone just to see what happened.

Here is the garage forecourt:

I then rested the camera on the steering wheel and took the car instrument panel, less than a foot away. I expected an out-of focus underexposed blur (it was lit only by the forecourt lighting), but the result was actually quite readable.

I’m impressed.

For those interested in such things the phone is a Nokia 2760, which I think is pretty near the bottom of the range. I got it free when I switched my account from MTN to Vodacom at the beginning of the year, but have only just worked out how to get the photos off the phone, so I hadn’t used the camera much.

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