Random thoughts on gadgets and social media

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m into electronic gadgets. I’m on my second iPad, I have a Motorola RAZR, a MacBook Pro, and a desktop with 12 Terabytes of storage. I use cloud services including Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Google Drive. I am able to quickly move from one device to the other without using USB flash drives to transfer files; I can work on the same document from all the devices with reasonable success. I like to brag that I can do all my work from my iPad while anywhere in the world as long as I can get a decent Internet connection. My iPad is as close to a perfect mobile device as I have ever experienced. It is easy to use, and I can effectively use it for all aspects of my life, both personal and professional. But I still find substantial value in the other devices, and I am constantly on the watch for better tools that let me link them together as seamlessly as possible; in fact, I just registered for my annual trek to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

Cloud storage lets me access all of my music, photos, and documents without concern as to which device I am using at the time. The ability to work on documents while offline even gives me confidence that I can still be productive without an Internet connection. The sync capability of the cloud services takes care of most revision management issues for me. It is still a bit challenging to collaborate without some ground rules with the others, but data sharing is fantastic.

I like that fact that I have devices with iOS, Android, and Windows 8. The variety exposes me to all the major choices, allowing me a way to experience each, seeing the strengths and weaknesses. It keeps me on my toes looking for an even better computing experience. I am impressed with how well all three operating systems and their applications work together; granted there are issues, but overall, it is very effective and getting better with each release.

There are still improvements to make in the interoperability of these devices, especially in the area of email management. But even that has some pretty interesting solutions when you start to step away from letting Microsoft Outlook dominate your life.

Social media

Social media is a different story. I use LinkedIn, Google+ Circles, and Facebook as my primary social media tools. Though I have a Twitter account, I rarely use it. I have steered away from Pinterest and newer sites simply because I just don’t want to spend that much of my life messing with these “tools.” I love the concepts behind social media, but to me, we are still in the infancy stage and there is a lot of growing up to do. LinkedIn makes me feel reasonably comfortable. But Facebook seems to be a new experience every time I log in. It does some pretty interesting stuff, but to manage your profile and security settings requires a PhD in Facebookology! Google+ Circles is on the right track, but the uptake is way behind Facebook. It always saddens me when the best technology doesn’t win.

I must admit that I certainly do not consider myself a power user of social media, but I do use it enough to be comfortable with the capabilities. I limit Facebook to personal use and LinkedIn for my professional interests. They both keep me well connected to the world about me.

But what I don’t understand is how you, the engineer, use social media. I see how you can use it in your personal life. I see how you can use it to a limited extent in your professional lives, but many companies block access to some of the most popular social media outlets like Facebook and LinkedIn. Many of your suppliers are using social media to communicate with you, sending new product information, status updates, and much more information.

Texting is another interesting communication tool. Texting is quickly replacing voice communications via phone or face-to-face interaction. Texting is so popular because it is almost spam-free (though today I received two spam messages), it is personal, and nearly every message gets read. What other form of communication is that efficient? Texting is also having an impact on another tool that I always disliked: voicemail. How we use voicemail has changed with the wide acceptance of texting. I have always hated the voicemail icon and the serial nature of gathering your messages, the need to find paper and pencil to write down the message, and long rambling messages. Texting lets you better manage your time. Just send me a text for “will ya.”

I last discussed social media in my column in August of 2009. At that time, I was still waiting for the Chosen One. I still don’t think it is here, but there have been some significant improvements. Apps like Flipboard on my iPad aggregate information for me from multiple sources in a fashion that is reasonably useful and easy to digest. Mobile devices improve with each generation. I continue to be optimistic that in three more years, we will be even closer to nirvana.