New Home Screen, New Me?

One of the largest changes I’ve made during quarantine relates to my phone. I’ve always been an iPhone guy, and that hasn’t changed, but I’m trying to take advantage of widgets in iOS to help me become a better version of myself. This could mean being more mindful (and/or meditating more), tracking my mood, keeping a journal, and reading more often.

I do all of my fitness tracking via Apple Watch and I have no complaints there. I’ve closed all 3 rings for over 400 consecutive days (this is a straight-up brag, not a humblebrag) so I decided to change my relationship with my phone so that it mirrored how I use my watch.

I don’t waste time on my watch.

I glance at the time.
I record workouts.
I reply to texts or Microsoft Teams messages.

It’s essentially a very utilitarian device, albeit one that looks great and reminds me to breathe every so often. 😉 I was hoping I could transfer this type of experience to my phone.

Prior to the pandemic I might’ve flicked open my phone to check Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram only to realize later that 10 minutes had evaporated and I was angry at some idiot on the internet, or comparing myself to a neighbor, or jealous that a professional influencer was skinnier, more attractive, and more successful than me. It was your textbook hedonic treadmill and I was gladly climbing onto it myself and tiring myself out many times a day. I knew I wanted to change and I thought some technological changes could affect personal change.

I’m using a few new apps to help me along the way and, as I mentioned in the beginning, relying on widgets as my window in to these ecosystems and experiences.

First I setup the widget for an app I’ve been using for some time now, Moodnotes. Moodnotes is great for reminding you to track how you feel, categorize your emotions, and think deeper about how your mood may have been influenced by this state. I’d been relying on alerts to get me in to the app but I turned those off in favor of the cartoon smiley seen on the screenshot of my current Home Screen. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement!

Second I resurrected an app I used several years ago, Day One, to help kickstart my daily journaling habit. The widget for Day One includes a “Streak” view which motivates me to write a journal entry each day. The new Day One app makes it much easier to add a photo (with time stamp) which ends up being a great trigger for me to record the good, new, and interesting thing that happen each day. If I took a picture it must have a story, right? Day One also has a premium subscription option but I’m still using the free version for now and it’s working great!

Third I polled Twitter for app options to help track habits. Folks I trust recommended Streaks which I bought in a bundle with two other apps by the same developer for $7.99. The widget I use to access the app is infinitely customizable (and you can change the app icon color if you’re into that sort of thing) and includes timers for certain tasks I want to do – 10 minutes each of reading and meditation. For the meditation tracking Streaks actually relies on Apple Health data so regardless of whether I use Headspace or Tap In (my two main meditation apps) the streak gets extended and recorded.

I’ve also got two additional habits I’m trying to make stick – not drinking on weekdays, and not eating dessert. I figure curbing alcohol and sugar are noble tasks made harder during a pandemic so I’ll take whatever help Streaks can provide. Thus far it’s been a mixed bag with my not-drinking much easier to do than not eating desserts. Midnight snacking, late grazing, and plain old mindless munching are all too easy to do.

So now I’m reading, writing, meditating, and tracking my mood more often – though not quite daily – but what about the rest of my Home Screen? I added a very simple app/widget called Moon that displays the current phase of the moon in the widget. I find the photorealistic moon very beautiful and calming, and most quality watches & clocks show moon phase, and what is my phone if not a secondary clock when I’m not twisting my wrist? The Moon just adds an air of sophistication, class, and adulthood to what had been, and still is sometimes, a big toy.

And just today I finally went all-widget on my Home Screen and added a new weather app, Hello Weather, that is free and taps through to radar or forecast, all powered by Dark Sky. It’s pretty great so far and means I get glanceable info that I can park at the top of my phone screen where it’s hard to reach to tap anyhow. It’s a win-win.

Mainly the widget layout means I have to be much more mindful – or just more willing to swipe down or right – to get to brain-and-time-sink social apps. If I don’t see it on that first screen I’ve got to go searching for it. The things I can see are all things I’ve decided I want to do more/better. They ultimately serve as a measure of whether that day has been productive in the sense of accomplishing life-affirming, spiritual tasks. That might sound cheesy but it’s the choice I’m trying to manifest in my life by virtue of the way I use my phone.

I’ll let you know how the actual habit cultivation turns out long-term but in the past few months, since around mid-February when I got Streaks and did my first Home Screen widgets, I’ve garnered a few streaks in the teens. That may not sound like a lot but I’m very pleased with things. I also find that when I mindlessly swipe to open my phone I’m confronted with all of the good things I could be doing – reading, writing, meditating – which has led me down the path towards actually completing a book or writing a journal numerous times.

I also just love seeing the smiling face of Moodnotes and the moon phase. They make me smile.

If I’m being philosophical about the devices it’s because I’ve had time to consider why and how I use them. I decided I want to use them for self-improvement and now I’m learning to live with the consequences of that decision. So far that’s been calmer, more meaningful, and mindful experiences.

Here’s to hoping those things continue.

Weekend Walks

I’ve written a few blog posts during quarantine cataloging the weekend walks (and their corresponding pictures) I’ve taken these past 7 months or so. This time around I took a very leisurely stroll in the rain on Saturday and then I did a combo walk/run on Sunday when the weather was better.

I’ve broken up the pictures into two galleries but I find them hopeful. The recurring theme is that you can find some real beauty when you slow down a bit. [I know this isn’t earth-shattering]


Getting Game

The Oatmeal has me pegged and so I felt I needed to make amends.

Why did I wait for a free Internet cartoon strip series to guilt me in to buying the $1.99 version of a free game (ReMovEm) I’ve played over 12,000 times!?

As the strip posits, I had a rationalization problem. Anything that can hold my attention (or steal my attention a few minutes at a time over the past 2 years) deserves my financial support.

If you’re the Tetris-loving type, give the free version a shot and thank The Oatmeal for calling me on my own hypocrisy.

12,000 plays can't be wrong
12,000 plays can't be wrong

One Game, Two Icons
One Game, Two Icons

LARPing for fun and profit

I don’t really have much real-world experience with live action role playing games (or that phrase an oxymoron), but I do enjoy game mechanics and I hate doing my chores.

For the truly uninitiated who may have never even played a tabletop or MMO(RPG), here’s a brief video as a reference point to LARPs:

I’m fairly certain that clip inspired a good portion of the movie Role Models, but I can’t be totally sure.

Most of us probably don’t have the extemporaneous acting skills, free time or foam weaponry fabrication (smithing?) skills to participate in a LARP session but we love playing casual games on our phones and on Facebook.

A couple of posts this week by Jeff Hilimire and Thomas Strickland – mainly on the topics of location-awareness and technology’s place in place-based transactions got me thinking along a parallel path: gaming.

One of the hallmarks of most of the current crop of time-wasters (everything from check-in apps of various stripes, to FarmVille to even Twitter itself) are achievements. They take many forms: badges, buttons, mayorships, stars and even virtual goods and cash. But they share the feature of rewarding certain behaviors and actions with the acquisition of “flair” no matter how fleeting or ephemeral.

This idea of “the gameification of everything” has been rolling around in my head for months, since I first saw Kottke’s blog post, saw Jesse Schell’s DICE talk and heard about Jane McGonigal’s “SuperBetter” post-concussion ARG.

Here’s a recent video of a talk Jane gave in RE: SuperBetter:

These things may not seem related to why (or why not) technologies like Twitter or Foursquare or GetGlue ultimately survive, but they definitely have taught me that, as social animals, one need we have that exists right alongside this pure need to be social and share, is a desire to play, to have fun and to be rewarded in some way for our accomplishments. It starts with “tag” and moves to chess and now it’s XBOX Live and – some would argue – things like Gowalla and Miso.

But what I would argue (finally!) that “stand alone” experiences will never go away because, although most of the current crop of apps are about the “social”, you have to consider the personal, singular effects that these experiences have on the users/players who interact with them.

Do I think Foursquare will be around in 2 years? No.
Do I think Twitter will be around in 5 years? No.
Do I think Farmville will be around in 10 years? Yes.

Games are different and the introduction of game mechanics (and game-like risks & rewards) changes the math of what I’d think of as purely “social media” implementations.

What I’m most interested in (currently) are alternate reality games, social games and game-like constructs that help educate, inform and get things done. Two excellent examples, the upcoming Epic Win App and the Chore Wars RPG. The former is a GTD app/game for smartphones and the latter is an RPG framework for familial household duties. Fun AND good for you!

It’s these kinds of experiences – fun first – that I think point the way for future endeavors. You’ll always have loyalty-card-like systems (WeReward, Foursquare) but how about a “game” that gives me credit/points/something for calling my brother or working out regularly or giving an awesome presentation. One could argue that there are already portions of this functionality in other apps, but maybe I’ve just argued myself back around to this concept of pervasiveness that Jeff & Thomas put much more eloquently than I have thus far.

And while I think some if not most of the social technology and sites we have today will be gone in the near future, I think games/gaming are here to stay. The rub will be how does an activity I take in a game affect the real world? Donations to Haiti via Farmville is one way. Or how does an action I take upon entering a store or making a purchase or doing something here and now affect the game world on a server in China?

In the end, my post title is pretty meaningless given the current state of LARPs and ARGs. What I want is a better world (ha!) where I can snap a picture of the building I’m in or a QR code to update my game status for points that influence my fitness regimen or my diet and that tie back in to my game console, my TV and my running shoes. Like PerplexCity if had been played via phones. Or something like that. Maybe even like UGA’s Personal Media / Public Good projects.

It’s late and I’ve rambled on long enough. My ultimately-buried lede: while passivity is the logical outcome for all things social, active participation and outright gaming also have a long history and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon The fun begins when the games activate socially and the social activity you take without thinking about it affects your game.

Game on!

Mobile Me

In the interest of confusing the hell out of search engines and readers alike, I titled this post “Mobile Me”, in the style of Apple’s signature syncing technology (which I completely need to purchase but never end up doing).

No, I’m thinking more about the relationship (and yes, it’s a relationship) I have to the internet and how closely tied I am to my phone, my netbook and my Nook (eReader).

While in Mexico for Spring Break I turned off my iPhone, had the Nook in Airplane mode (for battery conservation) and only used the netbook once. It was like being on an island.

It was actually Cozumel, so it was literally an island, but it was also metaphorically an island of (self-imposed) lack of connectivity.

What the trip taught me, aside from the fact that I don’t necessarily need to be as connected as I am, is that being connected on a mobile device is much more meaningful than connecting on a desktop or laptop. Heck, my work laptop hardly ever leaves its stand in my office and my desktop has been resigned to near-paperweight status, so my main modes of internet usage are primarily handheld and mobile these days.

Turns out I’m not alone (and will be getting much more company soon).

The video above (linked & embedded) is a presentation by Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley, given at Google recently. GigaOM has the pull quotes that hit me the hardest (emphasis mine):

The Morgan Stanley analyst says that the world is currently in the midst of the fifth major technology cycle of the past half a century. The previous four were the mainframe era of the 1950s and 60s, the mini-computer era of the 1970s and the desktop Internet era of the 80s. The current cycle is the era of the mobile Internet, she says — predicting that within the next five years “more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs.” As she puts it on one of the slides in the report: “Rapid Ramp of Mobile Internet Usage Will be a Boon to Consumers and Some Companies Will Likely Win Big (Potentially Very Big) While Many Will Wonder What Just Happened.”

I’m already 75% there myself and we’ve gotten Raelyn a netbook for her upcoming birthday and Jenn & I are likely to replace our current desktops with laptops (and large terabyte+ external HDs) when the time comes. The future (as it usually is) is already here.

I’m even more excited to make the move to a more mobile-connected future now that I’ve seen these photos & video of the new iPhone. Yowza! My current contract is up in June and hopefully the new iPhones won’t be far behind.

Some of the things I love about being able to carry the internet with me (instead of waiting around catalog the day’s events):

  • Checking in via Foursquare/Gowalla
  • Though I’m clearly a creature of considerable habit, it’s still fun to keep folks up-to-date.

  • Sharing pictures of my beer drinking
  • A man should have hobbies.

  • Share my rapier wit/spew bile
  • Hello, Twitter!

  • Download a bestseller based on the readership of others in the airport
  • A horrible practice if you’re looking for quality literature, but still fun to do! Also, it’s fun to imagine a paperless world.

I need to upgrade my photographic capabilities (Eye-Fi Explore X2 [hint, hint!]) to really take advantage of the DSLR + Vacation + Flickr + Facebook + Twitter math, but I’m working on it. It would also make workflow easier, but that’s another post entirely.

Despite the fact that this entire post was written sitting at my desk, connected to the internet via a laptop serving as a desktop, I feel completely confident that won’t be the case for the majority of my internet usage this year or any year in the future.

See you on my phone!