Smartphones & You: Who Is (Really) In Control?

Posted by Harshad

Smartphones & You: Who Is (Really) In Control?

Smartphones & You: Who Is (Really) In Control?

Posted: 09 Dec 2013 07:01 AM PST

Smartphones are evolving at a rate that is beyond belief, coming out in the form of curved displays and self-healing capabilities, to changing the way we make payments and diagnosing illnesses. There are now more than 1 billion smartphone users in the world and the numbers are still rising. Smartphones have improved our lives with a variety of apps, for use in fitness and health, in keeping us connected, and giving us access to the latest news and info available online.

Smartphone Master Comic
(Image Source: Manu Cornet)

However, there’s a negative influence that smartphones have introduced into our lives. It has taken over our lives so much that we cannot put it down long enough to appreciate the world around us anymore.

It puts us in an instant gratification mode. If there is an alert, or a notification, it is the first thing we tend to, then on to the next social network feed, the next email, the next tweet etc. We have our eyes stuck to the screen, our heads crouched down while on the bus, in class, at work, and even during meals.

Smartphone Master Comic
(Image Source: Manu Cornet)

We are no longer in control. Instead, we have a tech addiction that puts smartphones in control of us. Let’s take a look at how smartphones have interrupted our lives in more ways than one.

We Can’t Live Without It

"Wallet, check. House keys, check. Smartphone, check." Checking that these 3 things are in my pocket before leaving home or the coffee shop has been a routine of mine for a long time. I assume it is the same for many other users (which would explain the plentiful doormat designs and wall stickers that remind you of this).

(Image Source: apartmenttherapy)

And although missing any one of the above will make anyone’s heart skip a beat, every time we sit down to a meal, we’d almost always take out only the smartphone for a quick check, message, tap or tweet. We may tell ourselves and everyone else that we need the smartphone with us for emergencies, but the truth is, having a meal without it has become the exception instead of the norm.

In fact, we’d sooner leave behind our wallets than our smartphones because we are too busy checking our phones wherever we go (if this happens to you often, we suggest the 2-in-1 phone and wallet combos or minimalist wallets).

Married To Smartphones

Even more extreme are those who check the smartphone before bed, and also first thing in the morning when they open their eyes. The fear of something happening online while they were sleeping compels them to check every 5 minutes, even though experience would tell them that nothing big ever happens.

Sleep Text
(Image Source: Huffington Post)

On a side note, do try to charge your phones far away from where you sleep. You never know when it will explode right next to you.

We Lose Focus Of What’s Important

While smartphones can be helpful in a variety of things e.g. taking notes in class or documenting our life experiences through pictures, we almost always choose to be less productive with our devices. We distract ourselves with games, videos, music and social media feeds. Social notifications like a new comment, a new Like on your photos, or a chat prompt, make us lose sight of what is right in front of us, urging us to instead reply or act upon the notification.

It is all fun and games until someone crashes a car.

Life-Threatening Smartphone Use

Personal safety takes a back seat (pun intended) when it comes to smartphone usage while driving. It’s now common to see public service announcements or news reports of accidents caused by smartphone use while behind the wheel.

In Japan, there’s even a campaign to spread awareness of ‘smartphone walking‘ accidents – involving smartphones, very distracted users and train platform accidents (deadly combo).

Driving Texting
(Image Source: Automotive.com)

And we’re not referring to taking an important call with the help of earphones and bluetooth. We’re referring to texting, tweeting, Facebook-ing, upvoting and taking selfies, while the car is still moving. Not having your full attention on what is on the road in front of you is a recipe for an accident, some say almost as bad as drunk driving.

Behavioural Changes

The increased use of smartphones has probably reduced human interaction, affecting more than just verbal communication. It has caused us to unwittingly sever ties with our loved ones. Conversations and fights are taken to Facebook instead of being tended to face-to-face and in a calm environment. Meals are taken in complete silence, apart from sounds of keyboard tapping and social alerts.

Phone Addiction
(Image Source: Telegraph)

Dissatisfaction of a service or product is taken to a blog or review site. We have been reduced to becoming complaint-generators, instead of problem solvers, which is ironic, considering how much longer we are "communicating with one another" online. In July 2012, 121 billion minutes (230,060 years) were spent on social media sites in the U.S. alone!

Disconnecting From Work

Completely removing ourselves from work is also getting difficult these days. It’s common for workgroups to have group chats in messaging apps to talk about work 24 hours a day. Discussions through emails give the impression that the work discussed should be completed just as fast. Everyone demands answers almost as immediately as their email reaches your inbox.


In a perverted twist of social convenience through smartphone apps and constant connectivity, this has come full circle to haunt us. We can no longer keep up with what our digitally-powered jobs‘ need of us.

What We Can Do About It

But all is not lost. The most sensible way to overcome all these problems is to simply put the device away when there is no need for it. You can turn off notifications from unnecessary apps that don’t require you to take immediate action. Another way is to set special notifications that tell you how important that message is, and whether a response is required immediately, or if it could wait. You can also try the Do Not Disturb mode (on the iPhone).

When charging your device, do it far away from where you rest or sleep. Allow yourself to be disconnected from the Internet or run a complete tech detox during the weekends or when work has caught up with you.

Get Your Friends In On It

Here is a game you may have heard about: have everyone you are meeting up with for drinks, put their phone in the middle of the table and not touch it till it’s time to leave. Whoever does so first, pays for the next round of drinks.

It is a simple game to get everyone to communicate with each other instead of their phones, and that meet-up can actually (finally) get you to reconnect with friends and family, for real.

Phone Stack
(Image Source: New York Times)


At the end of the day, we need to be the masters of our smartphones, and not depend on it so much to make sense of this world (online and off). There is more to life than a retweet, selfie or a Like. And if you happen to find it boring to live life without your smartphone, perhaps this is a wake-up call to reclaim a life that is independent of tech and geared towards true happiness.


8 Online Shopping Traps to Avoid This Holiday Season

Posted: 09 Dec 2013 05:01 AM PST

Shopping can be so effortless these days that we can literally do it with our fingers, be it through swipes and taps on our portable smart device or scrolls and clicks on our mouse. Ordering something takes less than a minute. But for something so easy to do, there are plenty of traps in the online shopping arena that most first-time shoppers may fall into.

Do you know what you are paying for? How do you know which seller to trust to deliver the goods as promised? What other sensitive information could we have inadvertently given away in the process? If you’ve never considered any of these questions during your online shopping spree, it’s probably time to do so.

Let us now examine some of these potential pitfalls and how we can avoid them.

1. The Hidden Shipping Charges

While you may notice that the listed prices on shopping sites can sometimes be much lower than those at the local brick-and-mortar retail stores, we often fail to take into account the shipping and handling costs to get these items to our door step. These fees usually appear right before we click "Purchase".

By the time that we do notice, we would have already gone through the hassle of choosing our items, filling up our particulars and credit card information. Most of us would just go through to the checkout even if, with the shipping fee, the product is no longer cheaper than store prices.

And this placement of the shipping fee near the finishing line is no coincidence. Some merchants may charge you a separate shipping fee for each item shipped instead of a single fee for all items, or offer free shipping only if orders exceed a certain amount e.g. for Amazon, it is $35 for US deliveries. Other dubious ones may even mislead customers with "free delivery" promises, which only applies to members, who have to pay an annual membership fee anyways.

What You Can Do:

If you want to avoid falling into such a trap or save yourself from having to discard your shopping cart at the last minute and redo your orders, be sure to factor in all the hidden costs from the get-go. Check out their shipping rates and if there are special requirements to lower them.

Alternatively, you can find promotion or coupon codes at sites such as RetailMeNot, DealNews and FreeShipping or just type in the name of the retailers along with keywords like "coupon", "free shipping", "codes". Some provide you with free shipping and other great discounts.

2) Inconsistent Delivery Times

When you are in the shopping season, take note that delivery times will take a hit, especially if the item is in high demand. It takes time to restock products especially if you are purchasing from smaller-scale online merchants. You may even have to deal with an indefinite delay (which will be ugly for Christmas day morning). Fortunately, you can prevent this travesty if you take a few precautions.

What You Can Do:

Firstly, when choosing an online merchant to purchase your goods, make sure that it has a proper automatic notification system in place that will inform you if their stock is running low or soldout. Reputable sites like Amazon and eBay will update you on the status of your shipment through your text messages to your mobile phone or through email, and you can also trace it anytime you wish.

In most cases, these companies will also give buyers an estimated order-by deadline to ensure that the items will be delivered by, say, Dec 25th. Also, take note that most sites indicate the duration in terms of business days, not calendar days. So, when they say ten working days, they actually mean two weeks!

3. What You See Isn’t What You Get

One of the biggest drawbacks of online shopping is that you can’t be sure if what you see onscreen is going to be what you will eventually receive. This may be especially true when you’re buying apparels. To fill this gap, online merchants provide pictures and brief descriptions of these products, and include comments or feedbacks by people who have purchased similar items.

The trap you have to look out for here is whether the online retailers have a reasonable return policy in place. If the actual item isn’t what you had in mind, will you be able to return the item and get a one-to-one exchange or a full refund? Will there be any restocking fees imposed for the returns? Also, consider how the return can be done.

Do you have to send it back through the post office (and pay the shipping fees) or can you go to a local brick-and-mortar store partner to get an exchange? Remember that apart from allowing one to return items they do not like, a return-policy is also useful for damaged and faulty goods.

What You Can Do:

If the online retailer does not have an existing return policy, you may have to check out the material at the local store, especially for clothing (with the cutting and the sizing and the fitting), before considering ordering it online. Better yet, if the price isn’t too much of a difference, you can just skip all the worrying and get your item at the physical store instead, preferably one that has a clear and reasonable return policy in case you need to return the item.

4. Reviews & Ratings

There’s a lot of uncertainty involved when it comes to the "faceless" online shopping experience, which means there is homework to be done. Homework, as in, doing research on the products and sellers to see if the products and services are dependable. One way to do that is to look at the reviews and ratings of these sellers.

What You Can Do:

One can reasonably depend on the feedback given by the users since they have first-hand experience in dealing with the seller. Similarly, the reputation ratings gathered from tens to thousands of users can be helpful in assessing a particular seller. Reviews of the products are also important because (as discussed in #3 previously). For example, the size of a shirt indicated as of "medium" size, may turn out to be larger or smaller by your regional standards.

However when looking at reviews, take everything with a pinch of salt. Reviewers can be paid to give positive but fictitious testimonials for the seller or the product on the site itself. The rule of the thumb is to be skeptical when it comes to reviews and feedbacks.

Also, look for reviews from multiple sources and if possible from other sites, like Epinions. When in doubt, you can always Google the seller’s name with keywords such as "scam", "ripoff", "fraud", etc to find out if the merchant is indeed trustworthy.

5. Price Comparisons

When shopping online you can quickly, vigorously and efficiently compare price tags, and possibly find better deals and discounts than any of the largest sales event you can find at the mall. Online merchants lure buyers in with insanely low-priced items on their sites, then hide the additional charges i.e. shipping fees. It’s probably a good idea to compare prices.

What You Can Do:

If you have used sites to compare prices for flights, hotels and rental cars online, e.g. Expedia and Priceline, then you probably might know of comparison engines like PriceGrabber, Pricerunner and Amazon. These sites collate the pricing information of products offered by their participating retailers and display the information in their results page based on search queries.

Due to their ability to sieve out information quickly and present them in intuitive layouts for clearer comparisons, these search engines are immensely useful to serious online shoppers.

Here’s a top ten list by Search Engine Watch for the best shopping engines.

6. Secure Connections for Payments

I’ve previously mentioned about the dangers using unsecure, open Wi-Fi hotspots that are freely available in public places. For one, such Wi-Fi sources do not offer encryption, which means that anyone who is connected to the same hotspot can gather data which you transmit online, be it your login details or your emails.

Another problem is the bogus hotspots that trick unsuspecting people into logging in. Once you are in, the hackers can record your keystrokes, or mine your device for sensitive information. If you use these hotspots to make online payments, your credit card details are as good as gone.

What You Can Do:

Limit yourself to general browsing (with no logging in) when you are on open Wi-Fi connections, and do not do any online banking and purchases. This applies to your hotel Wi-Fi connections, even those that are password-protected.

If, however, under an emergency, you have to buy something while connected to public Wi-Fi, make sure the payment site is secure and encrypted. The web address should begin with "https" instead of the usual "http" and there should be a "lock" icon on your browser.

7. Dubious Links Or Apps

Scammers and companies are out to get as much out of shoppers as possible with dubious deals unbelievable deals. Not too long ago these came in the form of links in random email. These phishing links will lead you to fraudulent sites where in the process of acquiring something that isn’t actually there, you key in your credit card details to cash in on the superb deal.

What You Can Do:

If you don’t want to fall victim to this, trust your gut. Always run a check on Google to see if this too-good-to-miss deal is actually a legitimate one. Read up what other users or buyers (or victims) have to say about a particular deal before you release any information to the site. Other than that, you can also verify the authenticity of the site by locating the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificates like VeriSign within the page itself.

Here’s how you can verify VeriSign certificates that you come across in any websites.

8) Shopping Addiction

If you’ve been doing your shopping online, you would have realize by now that it can get pretty addictive. If you indulge in impulse buying and retail therapy, having 24/7 access to a shopping spree from home can be hard to say no to. Just with a few clicks of our mouse, we are already browsing online catalogues, putting items into shopping carts and setting up accounts for return visits to Amazon and eBay.

The thing about online shopping is that everything from the shopping cart to the actual payment via your credit card is virtual (you don’t even have to hand over your card), so you never really feel the pinch on your wallet until you see the credit card bill at the end of the month.

Left uncontrolled, this can trap us into overspending and accumulating a mountain of debts, mostly from buying "limited time offers", "last-minute deals" and "must-haves" that we in fact have no need for.

What You Can Do:

Be conscious of what you spend on and how much. Exercise self-restraint. Don’t resort to shopping to improve your mood. Know what you’re looking for and stick to it. Set a budget on how much you will allow yourself to spend before heading to the site.

Set financial goals for a home renovation, or a vacation, and keep them closeby to remind you to watch your spending. Nothing helps you better in saying "no" to splurging than a bigger and longer-term target in mind. When all else fails, keep the credit card statement near your laptop or computer, so you can relive that moment of horror you had when you find out how absolutely broke you were.


Designers: Do You have Too Much Ego For Your Own Good?

Posted: 09 Dec 2013 02:01 AM PST

Ego and design go together like chocolate and chili peppers (seriously, it’s delicious – the Aztecs were really on to something). In moderate amounts, it’s not a bad thing at all. You could even say that a healthy ego is essential for any working designer. After all, you’re solving complex business problems with nothing but your creativity.


However, a lot of designers take it too far, putting off clients and even their fellow designers with their arrogance. How do you know when you’ve crossed the line from confident to conceited? Read on to find out.

Does Your Talent Justify Your Ego?

Have you seen the Pixar film Ratatouille? It’s perhaps my favorite film to come out of that studio. In it, there’s this head chef who compensates for his diminutive height by wearing a gigantic chef’s hat. His arrogance and temper, however, isn’t enough to earn him the respect of, well, anyone who works with him. If you’re amazingly good at what you do, people will often give you a pass with regard to your ego.

When I was in school, there was an instructor who captured this phenomenon perfectly with a graph. Basically, the more talent you have, the more people will put up with you being a jerk. If you’re a super genius, this is good news.

But if you’re like the rest of us, a little humility definitely goes a long way. The head chef in Ratatouille wasn’t quite talented enough to get away with being so egotistical, and in the end he paid for it.

Keep in mind that people tend to remember bad manners much more than they remember good ones. Even if you’re nice 99% of the time, all most clients and colleagues will remember is that one time you were a jerk.

The Designer’s New Clothes

We designers get into the industry because of our love for beauty and aesthetics. But how much does our obsession with what we do really matter in the “outside” world? Do clients appreciate the intricate beauty of a design as much as we do? I happen to think that, for the most part, clients are grateful for their designers’ services. However, there is a very important balance to maintain, and that is value delivered versus cost.

If a client feels he or she has overpaid for a design, they are going to be extremely unhappy. In the same vein, if the experience of working with you and putting up with your attitude is not worth the final product, you are going to find yourself in some very warm water.

No matter what your opinion of your own work, or your client’s opinion of you, always treat every client as though their project is the most important thing on your schedule. If you do, you won’t have to resort to egotistical displays of your own genius – your clients will do it for you!

Designing With People, Not For Them

Design is something that impacts people’s everyday lives in a profound way. Therefore, it’s important not to exclude users from the design process. Designing with the people you and your clients want to reach, rather than for them, is key.

We are quickly moving past the era where the black turtleneck-wearing solo designer can stand from atop his tower and dictate the design trends of the rest of the world. People want to be a part of the process; in fact, they already are.

No matter how you intend for users to experience your designs, they’re going to find idiosyncratic ways to optimize the standard experience to their own personal preferences. There’s definitely a lot to be said about guiding a user through a design – thinking for them, as many UX experts recommend.

Example – Personalizing Shopping

However, there are always going to be ways that people will personalize what you design for them. A good example would be online shopping. If you buy things regularly on Amazon, you probably have your own configuration of the various list-making and purchasing options that are available to you.

Perhaps you place products in separate wish lists, or use the 1-Click option. Other people might prefer to use the regular checkout option and forgo wish lists altogether, preferring to save items for later purchase in their shopping carts.

A smart designer will pay attention to these usage patterns, and, rather than egotistically enforcing one way to do things on everyone, they will choose to give the users the experience they’re looking for.

What Do You Think?

How do you navigate the line between healthy designer’s ego and annoying arrogance? Are there any lessons you’ve learned in your career about how to maintain your individuality as a designer, while still keeping your clients at the center of your professional focus?



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