Permanent Daylight Saving Time? No, thanks.

As we’re reminded each spring and fall, time changes are disorienting and disruptive. But the renewed movement to make Daylight Saving Time permanent is misguided—maybe even dangerous.

Yes, DST might get us home before sunset in the winter. At what cost, though? The mornings would be brutal. If Standard Time were eliminated, dawn would come ridiculously late to many North American cities:

CityDecember 21 sunrise time if DST were permanent
Chicago8:15 AM
Washington, D.C.8:23 AM
Seattle8:55 AM
Calgary9:37 AM
Anchorage11:14 AM

Few of us enjoy waking before dawn. Imagine if your morning commute and arrival at work happened in the dark, too.

That’s not just an annoyance; it could have serious public health implications. Human circadian clocks thrive when we’re exposed to early-morning sunlight—that’s why light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder is often administered immediately after waking.

What would happen if the entire continental population got dramatically less morning sun? The public health impact might be epidemic. ◾

apple TV

Thoughts on Apple’s fired engineer

Apple has fired a radio frequency engineer who allowed his daughter (vlogger Brooke Peterson) to record a prerelease iPhone X, then post the result to YouTube. The offending video has since been pulled (at Apple’s request), but it’s not difficult to find it online.

A few random thoughts:

  • First, let me say up front that I’m sorry that this happened. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for Peterson and her family to deal with the aftermath of this episode, particularly since it all happened in such a public-facing way.
  • Turning to the offending video itself (and on a lighter note), those inside Apple are struggling with the flagship phone’s name, too. Just before the 3:00 mark, the engineer calls it the “iPhone Ex” (i.e., not the “iPhone Ten”).
  • The Caffè Macs pizza looks delicious.
  • Halfway through the video, the engineer reveals that his team is scheduled to move into Apple Park (the company’s spaceship-like new headquarters) in December. I wonder whether he was authorized to announce this, given the level of public interest in the campus. If not, that revelation may have factored into his dismissal, as well.
  • The Petersons unknowingly mirrored Apple’s actual prerelease marketing strategy for the iPhone X: invite little-known YouTuber to Apple’s home turf, give them an exclusive hands-on with the iPhone X, and invite them to publish their thoughts ahead of major press outlets. One blogger even argues that Peterson’s video is more interesting than the officially-sanctioned takes.
  • You would think that the engineer’s internal alarm would have gone off the instant his daughter whipped out her dSLR on campus. Apple’s commitment to secrecy is infamous at this point, and in the past few years, the company has clamped down even harder on employee leaks. It would be difficult for Apple leadership to overlook the (very public) violation without undermining their authority inside the company. So why didn’t the engineer stop her—either mid-recording or before she uploaded?
  • Brooke Peterson has since posted her reflections on the incident. She claims that she was shocked that her “little, innocent video” garnered so much attention, when there were so many other hands-ons already posted online. It’s true that Peterson’s video didn’t reveal much about the iPhone X that we didn’t already know. But at the time it hit YouTube, precious few recordings of the X “in the wild” had leaked—and none of them came from inside Apple. It’s not surprising that this content went viral.

In Peterson’s defense, I doubt that she aimed to sacrifice her dad’s job to boost her YouTube subscriber count. But, whether intentionally or not, that’s what happened. Before her iPhone X hands-on, Peterson had just 87 subscribers; now, barely a week later, she has over 12,000.

That’s a solid base on which to build an internet personality brand, if Peterson goes that direction. At the very least, she plans to continue posting Youtube videos; as she states in her follow-up, “I’ll see you guys at my next vlog.” ■

apple culture

Putting the iPhone’s expense in context

Ten years ago, I had just started grad school, and the newly-released iPhone seemed like an unimaginable extravagance. Hundreds of dollars upfront, then a recurring bill… forever? It seemed like a device targeted at the rich and foolish.

But by the time I finished grad school, three years later, I had bought the iPhone 4. Since then, I’ve upgraded every two years: iPhone 5, iPhone 6, iPhone 7. And from here on out, I may buy a new iPhone every year, starting with the recently-announced iPhone X.

How did this happen? How did I move from “the iPhone is a ridiculous expense” to “I want a new one very year”?

First, there’s the coincidence factor: the iPhone rose to prominence just as our careers were getting started. My wife and I scraped by during our grad school days, working stints in low-paying administrative jobs to support each other’s studies. Back then, tacking $100+ onto the monthly budget seemed impossible; paying the rent and affording groceries were difficult enough. Now, a decade later, both of us work steady jobs, and we have more discretionary income to apply to gadget purchases.

But even if our financial situation hadn’t changed, the iPhone would have been difficult to resist. The device has grown more capable and usable with each passing year, replacing a variety of standalone devices that we would have otherwise purchased. Consider:

Device Price per year Notes
Camera $200 ($1,000+ every 5 years) Our iPhones have relegated our old point-and-shoot to the junk drawer. And we almost certainly would have bought a DSLR by now, in order to document our daughter’s early years. The iPhone X’s chief appeal is its dual-lens camera system; it’s tricky to capture a toddler’s madcap antics without a zoom.
iPod / MP3 player (x2) $166 ($500 every 3 years) We each owned various digital music players before our first iPhones. My beloved iRiver iHP-120 gave way to the iPod touch, the bridge device that first convinced me how useful a pocket computer could be.
Dedicated GPS $67 ($200 every 3 years) I’m astonished that there’s still a market for these standalone navigators. I’m more astonished that the Wirecutter thinks they’re better than just using your smartphone.
Document scanner $50 ($250 every 5 years) For light document scanning needs, Scanbot does the trick. It’s not as fast as a dedicated device like the ScanSnap, but it easily bests a a flatbed scanner. This is definitely a case where “good enough” wins out.
Portable voice recorder $20 ($80 every 4 years) I would want this to record the Careful Tech podcast when I’m traveling.
Mini flashlight (x2) $10 ($40 every 4 years) In high school, everyone carried the Maglite Mini. Now, for everyday purposes, the iPhone’s built-in flash does the job.

That’s over $500 in annual gadget expenses that our iPhones render unnecessary. And that ignores the new uses that standalone gadgets can’t match—in particular, the iPhone’s portable computing ability, whose value is hard to overstate but difficult to quantify.

In other words, the iPhone X’s $1,000 price tag is deceptive. Yes, that’s a lot of money. But to some extent, it’s money that would otherwise be spent buying less flexible devices.[1]

  1. Most of the functions listed above could be handled by an older smartphone—one that costs a fraction of the new hotness. There is a tax for living on the bleeding edge. But some of that extra expense can be recovered by reselling your old phone to pay for the new.  ↩

technology Uncategorized

Smartphones: self-sedation, or self-improvement?

Smartphones create escape artists. In social situations, a smartphone offers an always-ready retreat from the stressful improvisation of face-to-face conversation. In lonelier moments, a smartphone helps us evade ourselves, holding existential questions and torturous self-evaluation at bay. In other words, smartphones too often substitute shallow interactions and white noise for a life of substance.

But could a smartphone pull us back into the world rather than away from it? Could smartphones facilitate real life, instead of substituting for it? Can phones ‘nudge’ their users toward deeper, more genuine involvement in others’ lives?

There are signs that they can:

  • This was the gist of Microsoft’s ‘Really’ ad campaign last fall. Windows Phone uses ‘Live Tiles,’ constantly-updating snippets of relevant info (e.g. upcoming calendar events, latest texts, etc.) to “get you in, out, and back to life.” The world’s largest software company gambled its entire mobile future on the premise that technology is a means, not an end.
  • Or consider the ‘Reminders’ feature in Apple’s newest OS. This service lets you set alerts by location, so that you can remember what you need to get done where. A timely notification might, for example, remind you to stop by the hardware store while you’re at the grocery store next door, saving you an extra trip and wasted time. Now, it’s up to you to spend those regained minutes on things that matter (family, friends, generosity, hospitality, etc.). But you could.
  • Finally, one more way my smartphone keeps me engaged: apps designed for quick, reliable text entry let me data-dump. I can exorcise the nagging thoughts and table ideas ‘til I have time to deal with them properly. This frees me up to focus my full attention on more important things—say, my beautiful wife across the dinner table.

As more mobile devices offer such features, real-life engagement and good phone development have begun to overlap. Well-thought-out phone platforms (and apps) thrust you out into the world; poorly-designed phones mire you in digital escape.