No Cables in the Cloud

I usually go to great lengths to hide wires and cables. My MacBook Pro’s power cord is fed neatly through a hole in the back of my desk. The cables for my entertainment system are tightly bound with twist ties. When I worked at SCSU, I ordered a wireless mouse and keyboard to make the Dell I was using a little more tolerable.

Cables are ugly, and they can be a significant source of clutter if not managed properly.

One cable that I’ve been unable to do away with is the USB cable for my iPhone and iPad. Until now! With the release of iCloud, I hardly have any reason to connect my devices to my Mac ever again.

iCloud offers wi-fi sync, which allows me to sync my devices wirelessly. Even now, my iPhone is sitting here on my desk, and I can see it in iTunes.

iCloud backs up my devices while I’m sleeping. I don’t have to plug my iPhone or iPad into my Mac to back it up anymore. When I wake up and check the settings, my devices read “Last Backed Up: 4:42 AM”. Every time. It’s automatic and awesome. Backing up everything to iCloud also means that, should I have to wipe my device or get a new one, I can restore everything on the spot, without having to go home and plug into my computer.

When iTunes Match becomes available at the end of the month, I’ll be able to download any of the music in my collection wirelessly. That means I won’t have to carry my iPod around anymore. I can have access to my entire library wherever I am.

iOS 5 also provides wireless software updates, so I don’t have to connect to a computer to update my devices.

All this equates to a sense of freedom. While the cynic would argue that I’m bound to Apple’s ecosystem, I’m actually free to leave at anytime. I don’t resent living in Apple’s ecosystem because it’s the most frictionless option available. Everything works seamlessly as a unified system. This is an incredibly exciting time to be part of the Apple community, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how things develop over the next few years.

Take Photos, Be Happy.

Mike Tyson reveals a tech secret to making yourself happier: take lots of photos.

As far as the types of pictures you should take? Anything. It doesn’t have to be artistic or taken with any grand purpose. But you should use photography as a way to simply document even the most slightly unique things you see in your world whether they’re visual curiosities, a funny moment, you eating somewhere new, the arrangement of clouds in the sky… anything. And what you’ll find when you start sorting through your photographs, you actually will have an opportunity to recount all of these minor fleeting moments which you may would otherwise have forgotten.

I fully endorse this advice. Any camera will do.

Ever since I got my iPhone 3G a few years ago, I’ve been snapping photos whenever the urge strikes. The quality of the iPhone 4’s camera has turned picture-taking into an easy and enjoyable hobby, and the iPhone 4S’s camera is even better. People often say, “The best device is the one you have with you”, and that’s certainly true for cameras. My iPhone 4 is always in my pocket, so I can capture a quality photo whenever and wherever I want.

But rather than make this another OMG-the-iPhone-is-so-great post, I want to emphasize Mike’s point about documenting your life. That’s exactly the way I treat the camera roll on my iPhone: it’s like one big photo album of my life. I have pictures dating back to right after I graduated college, and I have pictures of the pork and mushrooms I ate for dinner tonight. Calm down; just one. I like food photography.

The point is, I can flick through these photos and remember exactly what I was thinking or feeling when I took them, and that makes me happy. Like Mike says, these are moments I probably would have forgotten. Instead, I’ve documented in pictures the past three years of my life. The 1,814 pictures I have on my iPhone are really 1,814 memories I can revisit whenever I please.

Relationships Are Like Smartphones

Note: This post is equal parts facetious and serious.

I was eating food with a friend earlier this evening, and three quarters of a quesadilla into the meal, we concluded that relationships are a lot like smartphones.

I know. Hear me out.

Most people (read: non-nerds) are uneducated about the smartphone market. They’ve heard of the iPhone, but they don’t know anything about operating systems, RAM, or megapixels. As such, when they go into the phone store, they’re vulnerable to this: “Here. This is an Android phone. It’s pretty much the same thing as the iPhone, but it has a bigger touchscreen. And it’s only [a cheaper price than the iPhone].”

But, as most iPhone owners know, it’s not pretty much the same thing as an iPhone.

This scenario comes down to one thing: not knowing any better.

Sure, there are some solid Android phones out there. Maybe they only have a few annoyances. Maybe the scrolling isn’t perfectly smooth, or an app crashes here or there, or the email application is kind of a pain. But it’s totally useable. It’s good enough.

Most people are like Android phones. There are a ton of them out there.

Similarly, there are over six billion people on the planet. That means it’s impossible to know everybody. Since the human brain can only manage a finite amount of relationships at one time, making sure each one counts is essential. Each relationship should contribute something positive and amazing to your life.

Those people, who you love and keep closest to you, are like iPhones. These relationships don’t cause you stress or anxiety. They’re loyal and reliable, and they provide nothing but love and support. They are awesome.

Now, the iPhone only has 5% of the mobile phone market. That figure is analogous to the amount of awesome people on Earth. Most people are not awesome. I mean, they’re fine. They’re good enough. But, you’re not going to gain much from having relationships with them. And that’s OK. You can’t know everybody.

This is going to sound dumb, but listen, because this article isn’t about cellphones.

Making the switch from an Android phone to an iPhone is like meeting your future wife/husband after years of tried-and-failed relationships. When you meet that person, you realize how much better they are than anything you’ve ever had before. All that fighting and compromising and struggling fades away with a tremendous sigh of relief. A feeling of “Finally! This is how it should be.” A feeling of “Why didn’t I find you sooner?” A feeling of “This just feels right.” The relationship just works.

Up until that point, we often settle because we don’t know for certain that someone better is out there. We’re comfortable with what we have now, and even though it’s not perfect, we fight for it because it’s all we know. We’re afraid that maybe this is the best we can do.

We don’t know any better.

I’m assuming that you, being a reader of this site, are like an iPhone: awesome. The problem with being awesome, though, is that we’re outnumbered. There are way more dumb people out there than awesome people. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the tradeoff for not being average.

Dumb people are a dime-a-dozen. You can walk down the street and bump into fifty dumb people. That’s why that guy (“THAT guy?!”) is happy and you’re still single. There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just easy for one dumb person to find another dumb person. It takes a lot more effort and luck for two awesome people to meet because there are fewer of us out there. It takes longer for us to find one another.

Again, this is not about cellphones or which one is better. If you think the iPhone is stupid, that’s fine. Just replace “iPhone” with something else you love.

The lesson here is simple: “Keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Using your phone does not have to be a pain in the ass, and you don’t have to bend over backwards to make a relationship work. Don’t waste your time and energy fighting for something that’s flawed just because it’s familiar.

You can find something better if you have the confidence and the courage to look for it. There is someone out there who is as awesome as you are. Finding them requires patience, and it takes having faith in the fact that it’s only a matter of time.

Unplggd: Distraction-Free Desktop

Cerentha Harris has a great idea for creating a distraction-free desktop:

It’s all too easy to get distracted from work on the computer. But there’s a simple technique to help regain focus: create a new User account, one specifically designed for getting work done. That means creating a desktop stripped of extraneous bookmarks, applications, music and movie files, plug-ins, extensions…unless they’re designed for task management or your work related projects. Think of this desktop as your work persona. Creating a dedicated account for work related tasks is like having a work outfit compared to the comfy-cozy sweatpants of leisurely online time.

I keep my desktop pretty distraction-free at all times, but this is an awesome strategy, and one that I would recommend to my non-minimalist friends. Check the full post for step-by-step instructions.

Via Minimal Mac

Really Simple Discipline

Happy Labor Day!

This weekend, there was a bit of an uproar over RSS and its ability to overload the user with information. The discussion was catalyzed by Jacqui Cheng at Ars Technica, who wrote about why RSS is poisonous to productivity and sanity. (Via Forkbombr)

The headline is melodramatic, of course, but the concern is valid. She writes:

The Internet echo chamber is most apparent in RSS—mildly amusing items multiply across friends’ Tumblrs like rabbits on crack, and controversial items seem to invite commentary from every single person (and possibly some cats) who has access to a keyboard. This is, of course, one of the great benefits to the Internet—everyone has a voice—but it is not a great benefit to your productivity or sanity.

What makes it worse is that a huge number sitting in a little red badge over your RSS reader icon carries an obligation. “How many of those 342 items can I just mark as read, and how many of them do I actually have to pretend to read?” becomes a question that you ponder often. Even a ruthlessly curated RSS list can make you feel like you have to read the entire backlog—maybe even moreso, since you’ve now put time into making sure you’re following quality sources—and that’s just not a feeling that contributes either to getting things done or to relaxing.

I use RSS to keep up with websites and writers whose commentary I value. Currently, I have 89 subscriptions in my Google Reader. Like the number of people I follow on Twitter, I try to keep it under 100. This constraint ensures my feed is always curated with only the highest quality posts, and that I’m never overwhelmed with too much information.

At the very least, I do scan every RSS entry’s headline. I read short and/or pertinent posts on the spot, or mark them as unread for later reading. Long-form articles, or things that interest me, but aren’t pertinent, get sent to Instapaper.

I use Reeder on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro. I do not use unread badges on any of them. I check Reeder on my own terms, usually multiple times a day. That is, I read RSS when I want to read RSS. It doesn’t try to force its way into my day and steal my attention. I agree with Cheng that multitasking can be detrimental, which is why I don’t leave Reeder open on my Mac while I’m working on something. If I open those apps, it’s because I’ve consciously decided it’s time to look at them. Since I have to actively open Reeder to look at my feeds, it’s easy to forget about it completely when I’m writing or working on something else. Same goes for Twitter, Facebook, and the like.

Marco Arment, in his response to Cheng’s article:

RSS is best for following a large number of infrequently updated sites: sites that you’d never remember to check every day because they only post occasionally, and that your social-network friends won’t reliably find or link to.

This is exactly how I choose which sites to follow. I subscribe to very few big news sites. Lifehacker is the biggest one that comes to mind, and I could probably stand to unsubscribe and just follow their Twitter feed. All of my other subscriptions are independent writers. I don’t follow all of TechCrunch; I just follow MG Siegler. I don’t follow CNN, the New York Times, or any traditional news sites via RSS. I follow a couple on Twitter because it’s easier to scan a tweet than mark every news item of the day as read.

Ben Brooks, in his own response:

To claim that RSS is bad for you if you subscribe to too many feeds is absurd.

What’s bad for you is letting a tool like RSS overwhelm you, take over your life if you will. I have gone away for 3 days, as Marco suggests, and come back to thousands of RSS items, I read them all in time and it never bothered me.

If it bothers you, then blaming the tool is not the solution to this problem.

I agree wholeheartedly. The solution to dealing with information overload — be it via RSS, Twitter, Facebook, etc. — is self-discipline, not blaming the tool itself.

I love RSS. It’s a great tool, and Reeder makes it a joy to use, but I keep all of my feeds carefully curated. If someone starts tweeting way too much, they get unfollowed, or put on a list where I can check in less frequently. I have over 400 friends on Facebook (ugh), but a huge majority of them are hidden from my News Feed, so I only see the people I care about. This disciplined approach always presents me with a feed of high quality information, and it prevents me from getting bogged down and having to sift through meaningless posts.

Cheng asserts that it’s possible to get behind even with a highly curated feed, and that’s true. If I do somehow manage to miss a couple days on my RSS feed, I might have around 200 unread items. But like Ben says, I just get to them over time. I’ll set aside half an hour to clean up my feed. Reeder makes this an easy task. I don’t feel guilty about having unread items. The fact that I’m going to miss things is inevitable, but it’s also not going to kill me. Plus, by keeping my feed populated only with high quality sources, it’s much more likely that I’m going to want to work through the backlog, and doing so won’t be a source of stress.

Obviously, Jacqui Cheng is a tech reporter, and her job dictates that she stay on top of every news story coming down the pipeline. I can’t say what’s best for her. As for me, I’m thankful for having a tool that makes it so easy to read my favorite writers. I use the tool; it doesn’t use me.

I try to post something worthwhile here every weekday, whether it’s original, a link worth reading, or some combination of the two. Subscribing via RSS is one of the best ways to support QLE and keep a steady, but hopefully not too overwhelming, stream of posts coming.

From Bleeps to Beats

I don’t do much video gaming anymore. I used to when I was younger. I’d spend hours and hours exploring virtual worlds, battling evil, and living lives far more exciting than my own. Those were the days.

I miss it a great deal from time to time. Nowadays, video games don’t hold my attention like they used to. Even when I get excited and buy a new one, which is an increasingly rare occurrence, I never end up playing it for very long. I just don’t become immersed in the game’s universe like I once did.

Part of me thinks that games today are just “too good”, with their flawless graphics and amazing technical specifications. It’s like hearing a record that’s overproduced, or a movie that’s been redone and repackaged ad nauseum. Too shiny, too slick. No charm, no heart.

Part of the magic of those old video games was their flawed nature. Deformed character sprites, 8-bit musical scores, sans voice acting. Sigh.

At any rate, I stumbled upon this internet gem: a YouTube user named Garudoh has miraculously compiled a series of videos called, “From Bleeps to Beats: The Music of Video Games”, of which there are over 500 entries. I’m not ashamed to admit I was up until the wee hours of the morning listening to all the old soundtracks from my favorite games. They still hold up.

Some of my favorites:

So. Good. And so impressive for games that are about fifteen years old. I get so much joy from listening to these.

Bask in the nostalgic auditory bliss of my childhood!

The Great iTunes Purge

Last night, I decided to take a couple of hours and purge my iTunes library.

I started with 16,716 songs. That’s a cumulative 129.23 GB of music, which would take 64 days to listen to from start to finish.

By the time I reached the end of my library, I had whittled it down to 12,170 songs. I deleted almost 40 GBs of music. Now it would only take me 44 days to listen to my entire collection. Decent.

How’d I do it? Songs and artists I don’t like, but had some how acquired (Taylor Swift): gone. Songs I don’t mind, but would never consciously decide to listen to (Aerosmith): gone. I kept artists who I’m interested in, but haven’t gotten around to listening to yet, and I obviously kept all my favorite artists.

So, why the merciless deletion?

For one, I’m working toward being able to get all my music on my iPhone so I can stop carrying around both it and an iPod. Up to this point, the iPhone’s 32 GB hard drive has been too small for me to comfortably fit everything; my music collection was/is too big to selectively comb through every song. My library is still pretty enormous, but with the larger hard drives coming up, an iPhone-only setup is definitely doable in the near future.

Second, I keep all of my music on a 750 GB external hard drive because I like knowing that if my computer crashes, it’s all safe and sound. I don’t miss not having my music on my laptop because I either A) have my iPod with me, or B) have access to the internet and any number of music streaming solutions, Spotify and Grooveshark chief among them. These alternatives allow me to keep my computer lean and fast; I don’t have to take up valuable hard drive space with thousands of songs, many of which I don’t listen to regularly.

I want to start backing up this drive, and the more refined my music collection is, the easier that’ll be. Deleting all of my songs-I’m-never-going-to-listen-to also frees up a considerable amount of space on my external drive, thus prolonging the time when I’ll need to upgrade to something larger. Plus, I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to finally delete Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.

Additionally, letting go of all those never-played songs feels great. It’s easy to think that the more songs you have in your iTunes, the more sophisticated and eclectic a person you are. But the truth is, no one cares. The feeling of not having to wade through thousands of unplayed songs far outweighs the tiny bit of reassurance you might get from knowing those songs are there if you ever need them, which you probably won’t.

It was time to eliminate all of the musical clutter I’d accumulated over the years, and I recommend purging all types of files every once in a while. It feels awesome, and your computer will thank you.

Home Button Follow-Up

In my post about why the iPhone is minimalist, I mentioned that the Home button serves a single purpose: to return to the home screen.

I’d say this is true the majority of the time. However, Luke Wroblewski actually came up with thirteen different functions for the Home button, most of which I hadn’t thought about.

I stand corrected, but Luke’s list doesn’t make the Home button any less minimalist. After all, one button is far simpler than thirteen different ones.

Via The Brooks Review

Simplicity In Your Pocket

(Or, Why the iPhone is Minimalist)

Dave Caolo rolls out his new, practical 52 Tiger with a post on how to de-clutter your iPhone. It’s a good article with simple strategies for keeping your device clean and tidy. A personal favorite:

I like to keep the bottom row icon-free. This habit developed when I bought the original iPhone years ago, and there was a dearth of apps for it. Since then, I’ve always keep that bottom row empty. It looks nice and provides an obvious lane for swiping back and forth.

I’ve been keeping my bottom row free since I got my iPhone 3G, and I find it makes a world of difference in how calm my home screen looks and feels.

Still, as with all Apple products, the iPhone itself is designed with focus and simplicity in mind so you don’t have to actively think about keeping it clutter-free.

From a software point of view, iOS has a uniform design; everything is consistent across each screen. Every icon is the same shape and style, and they’re all organized into a neat grid in the order of your choosing.

A friend once asked me to fix one of the icons on her Android phone, which was inexplicably out-of-line with the others. I tried several things, but the icon refused to conform with the grid. Staring at one rogue icon all the time would drive me nuts. Fortunately, the iPhone makes it impossible to have a messy home screen. Even if you have the maximum twenty icons or an entire page of folders, they’re still neatly arranged and offer a soothing user experience.

Dave also suggests being ruthless about which apps you keep on your device. I generally don’t keep apps that I might need “someday” for the precise reasons Dave describes: Re-downloading an app from the App Store is simple and free, and iOS 5 will save my app data even when I remove unused apps. Quick and painless.

Any self-respecting nerd will tell you home screen organization is a science. A judicious approach to app selection allows me to only have two screens-worth of icons. My home screen contains my most used apps, and the second screen contains folders for games, reading, utilities, and apps I’m intrigued by or experimenting with. This setup keeps all my apps only a swipe or tap away and protects me from having to dig through pages and pages of icons to find what I’m looking for.

Of course, the iPhone’s minimalist design is not only limited to software. The hardware itself is also clean and free of any extraneous buttons, keyboards, or trackballs. The iPhone’s Home button, for example, has a single function: return to the home screen. Its simplicity allows virtually any user to be able to navigate the phone within seconds. There’s practically no learning curve; if you’ve pressed it once, you’ve mastered it. This ease-of-use is what enabled my grandmother to look up something on Wikipedia despite having never owned a computer.

“But it’s so expensive!” you protest. “How can can something so expensive be considered minimalist?”

You could certainly make an argument that a free flip-phone is more minimalist than an iPhone, but this brings me to the issue of quality.

I’m a fairly ardent minimalist, but I agree with Marco Arment on this issue:

If you sit on, sleep on, stare at, or touch something for more than an hour a day, spend whatever it takes to get the best.

Why? Well:

  1. Quality lasts longer. You can buy something cheap that will need to be frequently replaced, or you can buy a high-end item that will serve you well into the future. My iPhone 4 is fifteen months old — forever in technology years — and it still seems brand new.
  2. Quality feels better. I love using my iPhone. I don’t get frustrated with it because I can’t figure out how to do something or because something isn’t working properly. That’s one less source of stress in my life.
  3. Quality inspires you. My MacBook Pro is so enjoyable to use that I actually want to write posts with it. My iPad makes me want to read articles, essays, and novels. I don’t dread using these devices, so they actually allow me to get more done. Could I get by on a phone that just makes calls? Yes, but I’m a nerd, and I need more than that. Maybe not as a human, but as Andrew Marvin, I need to be able to read the latest news and check Twitter and play a game here and there because those things make me happy.

Everyday, the iPhone makes my life simpler and easier. I don’t have to carry a dictionary around with me. I don’t have to wait until I’m at a computer to send a quick email. I don’t need to buy a GPS for my car or a pedometer for exercising. I don’t need to keep a planner or a book with me all the time. The iPhone simplifies all of these areas in my life, which in turn makes me more productive, calmer, and happier.

Big Things to Come at 52 Tiger

Dave Caolo:

Technology is supposed to “make our lives easier.” Don’t let the God-forsaken fax machine at work let you believe that was a false promise. Your gadgets are tools, and you are the artful craftsperson.

Splendid. I share Dave’s philosophy and have a similar mentality for this site.

Shawn Blanc Reviews the New MacBook Air

Shawn Blanc, in a characteristically great review:

After using the 13-inch MacBook Air for almost two weeks, it has been difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is about this laptop that makes it so great. I don’t think it’s so much in what the Air is, but rather what it is not — or rather, what it doesn’t have. The Air doesn’t have an optical drive, it doesn’t have many ports, it doesn’t have a removable battery, and it doesn’t have much weight.

It’s the subtraction of all these things that adds up to make the Air such an attractive and incredible computer.

The MacBook Air will definitely be my next computer. My 2009 MacBook Pro is still going strong, but I can’t wait to see what the Airs look like in a couple years.

To Follow, or Not to Follow

Frank Chimero:

The new criteria is that I will follow you on Twitter if I would help you move. If I’m willing to carry a box full of photo albums, kitchen gadgets, and spare blankets, I’m probably also going to be interested in hearing about how it’s annoying to file receipts, in seeing photos of your coffee, and in knowing how it smells like wet dog on your subway ride to work.

Exactly.

A lot of people don’t get Twitter. They say, “I don’t want to read about what somebody is having for lunch.” For a long time, I agreed with them. It wasn’t until after I joined Twitter that I finally understood how valuable it is.

The amazing thing about Twitter is that it can be as useful or useless as you want it to be. Twitter doesn’t force you to read about what people are having for lunch. If you, the user, choose to follow people who tweet such inane minutia, then yes, you will have to put up with that. But the better option is to only follow people who make quality contributions to your timeline. For example, I follow a bunch of writers and minimalists and nerds because I care about what each of them has to say. So much so that I’m willing to put up with the occasional tweet, as Frank Chimero says above, about something that doesn’t interest me. Like when John Gruber tweets about sports.

Unlike Facebook, where you’re socially obligated to accept someone’s friend request or risk offending that person, Twitter is not a forced two-way street. You don’t have to follow everyone who follows you, and just because you’re following someone doesn’t mean they have to return the favor. There’s no fake virtual friendship to maintain. You’re either following someone, or you’re not.

Lion's Hairpin Turn

I finished John Siracusa’s Lion review late last night, and as I’ve said before, it’s a tremendous achievement. The level of depth and insight is wonderfully impressive.

A few episodes ago on Hypercritical, Siracusa explained his desire to weave a narrative into his Mac OS X reviews, rather than provide a laundry list of technical changes from the previous version. The result is a better understanding of the big picture: Mac OS X’s history, its current state, and where it’s heading in the future.

In keeping with that mindset, the final paragraph of Siracusa’s review reads:

Over the past decade, better technology has simply reduced the number of things that we need to care about. Lion is better technology. It marks the point where Mac OS X releases stop being defined by what’s been added. From now on, Mac OS X should be judged by what’s been removed.

Apple has always had an affinity for simplicity and minimalist design, and Lion is the next evolution of those tenets. As Siracusa explains in his review, the emphasis of OS X has shifted from the addition of new features to the subtraction of those deemed obsolete in the computers of today and tomorrow. Tiger (10.4) introduced over 150 new features, and Leopard (10.5) boasted over 300. Then things changed: Snow Leopard (10.6) explicitly contained zero new features, instead offering many under-the-hood improvements. It’s as if the first six incarnations of OS X saw Apple speeding toward an optimal number of features, and, once reached, Snow Leopard finally saw it putting on the brakes.

With that deceleration comes the ability to change direction. Much has been said about how Lion challenges computing conventions that have existed for decades, and what we see with 10.7 is Apple moving its desktop OS even further into the realm of simplicity. The removal of scrollbars and introduction of Fullscreen apps both contribute to a decluttering of the interface. Features like Autosave, Resume, and Launchpad all seek to remove barriers from the average user’s experience.

For us nerds, however, these changes can be quite unnerving. Siracusa repeatedly mentions “geek panic!” in his review and on last week’s episode of Hypercritical, when he revealed many power users misinterpreted his review’s final paragraph as containing a negative tone. That is, “removal” is a bad thing, more akin to maliciously taking something away than simplifying or improving an experience.

I disagree with this reading, and I think Siracusa makes it very clear that these changes are, overall, for the better. As he explains, technology should eliminate, rather than create, things we need to worry about. Lion eliminates visual elements, like scrollbars, but it also eliminates the fear of not saving, the fear of not knowing where you installed something, and the fear of finding documents amidst what seems like hundreds of files. The realization of these fears can be catastrophic for a typical user. But in Lion, the features that made those users feel unconfident about their computing abilities are now gone, replaced by reassurances and safety nets.

So, as OS X turns a corner and heads off in a new direction, we have “lost” some features of old, but we have gained a simpler, more user-friendly experience. And while it may take time for us nerds to adjust, Lion also opens up a host of new possibilities, and for the majority of its users, a world with far less fear.

Behind the Screen

Philip Bump, writing for The Atlantic:

Our always-on society is, in fact, becoming a Golden Age for introverts, in which it has become easier to carve out time for oneself.

The full article is here.

As a introvert myself, I completely understand and agree with Bump’s argument. One might think the onset of technology and our current state of always being connected would be the bane of an introvert’s existence, but it’s actually quite the converse.

As Bump points out, introverts likely found pre-Industrial Revolution America to be quite the safe haven. Communication was more difficult, and there were less people and more space between them. As technology and populations exploded over time, the advent of the city packed more people into smaller spaces. As a result, introverts likely found themselves in stressful situations far more frequently. Regular telephone calls, increased social interaction, and solitude that was much harder to come by.

Fortunately, technology today has actually managed to rescue the introvert, as Bump illustrates:

A brilliant first volley was the answering machine: ostensibly a device meant to ensure that a call wasn’t missed, it quickly became a tool to ensure that you could miss any call you wanted.

A puzzling point for an extrovert, but for the introverted among us, a brilliant one. As technology has grown, so has our ability to hide our introversion without anyone else (i.e. extroverts) noticing.

Bump, a self-described introvert, explains the distinction between these two personality types:

For introverts like myself, it takes energy to engage with other people. Doing so requires thoughtfulness. It’s tiring. Expending energy, for us, isn’t energizing. Please note: we’re not talking about shyness, some character flaw. The problem isn’t with the introvert — it’s with the demands you make on the introvert. An introvert can’t force an extrovert to sit quietly in a room and read a book, but extroverts (and the stigmas they’ve inadvertently created) can impose social demands with ease.

I’m not complaining, because I wouldn’t trade my introversion for any amount of gregariousness, but I believe an extrovert will never be able to fully understand what it’s like to be an introvert for the precise reasons Bump describes. Through no fault of his own, the extrovert can’t possibly know what it feels like to be physically and/or mentally exhausted after, say, an hour in a room full of strangers. The stigmas Bump mentioned are undeniably true. How can you possibly not like going to parties? The notion that someone could feel this way is nonsensical to many, and we introverts often come off looking rude and stand-offish, even though we don’t intend to be.

But technology has in many ways given us an out. Bump goes on to detail his four reasons why technology protects the introvert, and for the most part, I agree with all of them. The notion of essentially lying about what you did this weekend in a status message (Bump’s first reason) seems suspect, but it’s actually just a means to create the solitude the introvert needs. As such, a simple “Be back later” status can achieve the desired result: personal space and peace and quiet.

Serial communication in the workplace, Bump’s second example, is something not just limited to introverts. I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we email someone instead of calling, because the latter is a little too personal, or we might be slightly afraid of the impending response, or we just don’t have the energy to get roped into a twenty minute telephone call.

I used to pride myself on responding to emails instantly; it’s the kind of disciplined and respectful response I’d prefer from others. Plus, it helps keep my inbox at zero. But in reality, one of the main benefits of email is that it doesn’t require an immediate response, which contributes to a more relaxed correspondence. The same can be said for text messages; you can read a text and take your time to think about your response, which contrasts with the more rapid-fire cadence of a telephone call. While certainly not appropriate in all instances, these “slower” forms of communication have distinct advantages.

Bump’s third reason, that technology fosters serial communication everywhere else as well, is perhaps the most beneficial to introverts. Nowadays, communication is expected to be brief and to-the-point. After all, the crux of Twitter is its 140 character limit. People are used to this concision, and introverts and extroverts alike groan upon discovering a three-minute voicemail. The brevity of a text message has become the norm, personality type notwithstanding.

As twenty-somethings and frequent texters, we’ll often hear our parents shake their heads and mutter about how we always need to be connected, exercising that typical “kids these days” tone. Whatever happened to writing letters and talking on the phone instead of being glued to a little glowing screen? A valid point, but I would argue that reliance on the text message or tweet is rarely a character flaw displaying a rude aversion to human interaction, though that’s possible. Rather, texting allows me to be in almost constant contact with friends and family while maintaining the personal space I need as an introvert. I can still have a conversation and enjoy that human interaction without expending the energy a phone call demands. Texting allows me to preserve solitude while eschewing loneliness.

Bump concludes by pointing out that technology allows us to simply “push [our] thoughts out into the world, to be responded to at some undetermined future point.” In this way, technology has allowed the introvert to thrive. I’ve always been far more articulate in writing than I am in speech, and our always-connected world encourages that sort of thoughtful expression and reflection.

Bump’s essay, nor my response, are not in any way meant to be an attack on extroverts, and they are certainly not apologies for introverts or modern forms of communication. Bump concludes:

I speak of the struggle between introverts and extroverts in antagonistic terms. But it shouldn’t be considered that way. Extroverts, we love you. We just don’t want to talk to you all the time. Happily, we live in a time when the expectation that we do so is much lower.

I whole-heartedly agree. While technology is growing at a rate that may be scary to many, in some ways, it has allowed me to be more expressive, and thus truer to myself, than ever before.

Via Minimal Mac, who found it on Boing Boing

Much Ado About Scrolling

Arguably, no other feature has caused more of an uproar than OS X Lion’s new “natural” — that is, inverted — scrolling. On a trackpad, for example, you now swipe up to move the page down, and down to move the page up. Additionally, in keeping with last October’s “Back to the Mac” event, Apple has brought its fading scrollbars to the desktop: gone are the scroll arrows and alleys, and the thumb now only appears when in use.

Ever since the first developer preview of Lion, many people, even the most Mac-savvy among them, have been disturbed by these changes. I know several of my Mac-owning friends will soon be experiencing a similar reaction, so to them and all of the afflicted, I offer two reassurances:

  1. Yes. You can turn these features off. But!
  2. Give it a week first. If you’re still unhappy, then you can turn them off.

As John Gruber and Dan Benjamin discussed at length on last week’s episode of The Talk Show, Apple seeks to bring a more natural feel to the way we interact with content on our machines. As Gruber put it, Apple has “removed a slight layer of abstraction” by doing away with scrollbars.

According to the naysayers, this form of scrolling is a perfect fit for iOS, but doesn’t make sense when translated to the desktop. On the iPhone and iPad, screen real estate is limited, so the presence of a permanent scrollbar would have been both displeasing to the eye and a waste of space. Further, the touch interface makes the inverted scrolling feel natural because your finger is making direct contact with the content. Flicking the page up to go down feels good, as does going in the opposite direction.

As for the fading, the arguments against it are well-founded. An always-present thumb shows your position on the page, and its size allows you to know approximately how many more screens of content you have left before you reach the bottom; i.e. a thumb that’s a third the height of your window lets you know you’re looking at a third of the total content on that page. Subsequently, you know you have about two more screens worth of content to go.

For my part, it only took a couple of days before I got used to the new scrolling, and I’ve always loved the fading scrollbars. Everything looks much cleaner. To help ease the transition, imagine you’re grabbing and moving the content itself rather than a scroll thumb. Apple clearly believes we’ll be better off accepting the changes, since the inverted scrolling is described as “natural” in System Preferences, implying that the old way is unnatural. Again, I recommend sticking with it for a week or two, but I think you’ll start to prefer it much sooner than that.

For a more impressive analysis of Lion’s scrollbars, check out John Siracusa’s colossal Lion review over on Ars Technica. It’s an incredible piece of work.

Adding Signatures in Preview with Lion

One of the myriad new features in OS X Lion is the ability to digitally add a signature to a .pdf document using the Preview app.

Preview Signature

The process is very straightforward:

  1. Open the .pdf in Preview.
  2. Click the Annotate button in the toolbar.
  3. Pull down the Signature drop-down menu.
  4. You can then create a signature with your Mac’s built-in iSight camera, or add a signature you’ve used before via the “Manage Signatures…” option.
  5. If you’re creating a new signature, simply hold up a piece of paper with your signature on it so that your autograph is on the blue line. Click Accept when it looks good in the preview window.
  6. Finally, just click where you want the signature to appear. You can then move and resize it however you want.

For me, the hardest part was writing down a good version of my signature. Unfortunately, since Preview doesn’t improve one’s legibility, this took several hours. But, if you’ve already got your signature down, you’ll have your .pdf signed in a minute or two.

Farewell, hellish fax machine.