Break up with your smart phone this summer

Smart phone

There’s a legion of research on how smart phones are making us unhappy. The most recent article I read was called “Kind of a sad story: Pessimism increases among millennials and Gen Z”. The article talked about how economic, social and political optimism is at record lows with millennials and the fact that 60% of millennials and 59% of Z-ers say they’d be happier if they spent less time on social media.

The obsession with our phones is not just limited to this age demographic. The average person spends 3 hours and 35 minutes a day on their smart phone.

Let me repeat that in case that staggering statistic slipped past you. THREE HOURS AND THIRTY-FIVE MINUTES a day.

That’s insane!

It’s time to kick the smart phone habit. Here are some things to think about to inspire you:

  1. Ask yourself what better things you could be doing with three full hours a day, or three full days a week? You could learn a new sport, tackle a home reno project, go hiking, or here’s a crazy thought, actually talk to your family members.
  2. Catherine Price, author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone” encourages people to ask the three WWW’s when they pick up their phone: What for? Why now? What else? If you are simply reaching for your phone out of habit, or boredom, it’s probably time to find something else more productive to do
  3. This may be a sacrilege suggestion, but make a point of not bringing your phone with you wherever you go. If it’s not within reach, you won’t spend as much time on it.
  4. Finally, ask yourself is it helping you grow as a person, or is it numbing you or making you feel inferior or disconnected? If it’s the latter, you know what you have to do.

This week’s #HappyAct is to break up with your phone this summer. Get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Thanks to Mark Hurst’s Creative Good blog for some of the ideas in this week’s post.

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How to make friends with the bots

talking to a bot

Let’s face it. Bots are going to take over the world. One day we’ll all wake up, and every online interaction will start with talking with a bot. Think of them as Walmart greeters for the internet (except that Walmart just announced they’re laying off all their greeters).

I’m fascinated with bots. In my work, I’ve been helping our bot team choose language that is friendly, clear and helpful. But herein lies the problem with bots. For communication to be effective, you need to understand how people are feeling, thinking, and what you want them to do. It’s called knowing your audience. And with bots, you’re not exactly sure what the frame of mind is of the person at the beginning of the interaction, and just as important, at the end of the interaction.

I’ll illustrate this by sharing my latest interaction with Koodo’s bot. Koodo’s tagline by the way is “Choose Happy”. It went something like this:

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“Hi Koodo bot. I need your help. My daughter has fried her phone a second time and I want to know my options for my contract.”

(Four options popped up for me to choose, none of them was what I needed help with.)

So I said, “I think it’s probably easier if I just called you. What’s your toll-free number?”

(The bot in its programming must have picked up on the keyword phrase “toll-free number” so it answered this)

“1-800 numbers are free of Long Distance charges, but the local minutes to connect you to the network are still billed at the local minute rate. The numbers you can call are (list of numbers). If you run out of minutes, you will be charged for additional airtime. You might get a prompt to a recording message if the toll-free number isn’t available in your area.”

Then it asked me if their answer was helpful. I gave it a thumbs down.

We went back and forth a few more times. At this point, I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to just get their stupid 1 800 number from the bot and the UX tester in me went into overdrive, so I wrote,

“OK, so what’s the number you stupid bot” just to see how it would respond.

The bot answered, “Now, now, let’s play nice!” and send me a GIF of Maggie Smith looking affronted.

giphy

OK, so I don’t know how you would react to Maggie Smith raising her eyebrow in a supercilious manner just because you wanted to talk to someone in customer service, but my emotional response went from a ha, ha, I don’t believe it said that, to incredulous, to how dare you, you stupid bot? I showed it to Clare who had been sitting beside me the whole time and asked her how she felt about it. She said the exact same thing.

Let’s just say, I didn’t “Choose Happy” from Koodo in that moment.

To end the story, I ditched the bot, found their 1 800 number somewhere else, called them and finally found a human that was very helpful and resolved my dilemma. I did have to wait on the line for about 10 minutes though to speak to said human.

So if bots are here to stay, how do we make friends with them? Here are some tips:

  1. First, go in knowing their limitations. Bots do serve a purpose—they can answer simple questions, freeing up customer service agents to address more difficult issues and concerns.
  2. Be aware if you are dealing with a bot or a human. Sometimes this can be hard to know. If you’re not sure, ask. You’ll know after the first few interactions when five lines of text appear instantaneously.
  3. If after the first few questions it’s clear the bot’s programming isn’t giving you what you need, ask to speak to a live person. Most bots that are programmed well with have a human offramp, where you just pick “speak to a person” and they’ll redirect your enquiry.

If all else fails, you can always derive some entertainment value by messing with it. Just be prepared for the Maggie Smith gifs.

Ten inventions that would make the world a happier place

Jetsons comic of the family of the future

The other day I read about a new invention: a tiny implant for your brain that injects medicine. Modern technology has led to advances in communications, medicine, and business. And yet, there are still so many basic necessities of life we still struggle with.

Here are ten yet-to-be inventions I’d like to see in 2018:

  1. A dryer that automatically sorts your socks
  2. A zip-up bathing suit top so you don’t have to wriggle out of your wet clingly suit like Houdini trying to escape from a straightjacket
  3. A teapot that doesn’t spill when you pour it
  4. A massage jacket that gives you a soothing massage when you wear it
  5. A device that could magically remove moles so no one would ever have to worry about skin cancer again…while you’re at it, a cure for cancer, Alzheimers and diabetes please
  6. A jet pack like the Jetsons so you never have to be stuck in traffic or drive your kids anywhere ever again
  7. A blender that doesn’t spout hot liquid like lava from a volcano
  8. A toilet paper roll that automatically refills itself
  9. A duvet cover that has zippers or buttons at both ends so when your husband tosses and turns and all the duvet winds up on your side of the bed and he blames you, it’s easy to fix
  10. A robot that will go around the house and pick up all the mitts, scarves, hats, markers, dishes and clothes that your kids have just left even though you tidied the house twenty minutes ago

Maybe for Mother’s Day, I’ll get my robot. In the meantime, if some smart inventor out there can work on numbers one to nine, that would make me happy.

Ten cool apps for an appy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving—the time to give thanks, spend time with family with friends and download some new apps on your phone as you curl up into turkey-induced coma on the couch.

Here are some of my favourite apps to check out that are useful.

  1. TeamSnap—Have a child on a sports team? TeamSnap allows coaches and parents to see schedules, who’s available for practices and games and even allows you to upload photos from games to create an online team photo album.
  2. Carrot—Developed in partnership with Canadian Diabetes Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and different government agencies, Carrot rewards you with Aeroplan, Petro Points or other reward program points for making healthy choices, taking fun interactive quizzes and even for your daily steps.
  3. Slack—Tired of endless emails at work? Slack is quickly becoming the go-to app for teams and companies who are looking for simpler, easier ways to communicate and collaborate. Many teams at my company are using Slack.
  4. Calorie counter and diet tracker—A great post-Thanksgiving app for losing weight and getting healthy.
  5. Aura: Meditation and Mindfulness—it’s like having your own personalized mindfulness coach who will guide you for three minutes a day to better mental health and happiness.
  6. AroundMe—Handy app for finding restaurants, gas stations or businesses nearby.
  7. Find My iPhone—even if your iPhone isn’t missing, it’s fun to track yourself on the map; if it is missing, it’s a lifesaver.
  8. WeTransfer/WeDownload—you don’t even need to download the app for this one, just go to the website. Allows you to transfer files up to two gigabytes free—great for sending videos, large photo collections.
  9. Stubhub—buy or sell tickets to any sporting event or concert.
  10. Yonder Outdoor Adventures–Check out posts from fellow outdoor enthusiasts on the best hikes and paddles around the world.

And if downloading apps isn’t your preferred way to while away Thanksgiving Monday, Clare informs me there is a spongebob marathan today “Spongegiving”.

What’s your favourite app? Leave a comment. Appy thanksgiving, everyone!

What if your best friend was a robot?

I heard somebody raving the other day about Google Home. Google home is a voice-activated assistant that plays music, turns on devices and tells you things you want to know. They said it was like having a new best friend or roommate except they never left dirty dishes in the sink or a mess in the bathroom.

It got me to thinking. In this age of artificial intelligence and bots, what if your best friend was a machine? I decided to have a heart to heart with Siri about this.

Hey Siri, talk to me.
“Let me think, no.”

Siri, will you be my best friend?
“That’s nice. I’d like to be your friend.”

Siri, tell me a joke.
“The past and future walked into a bar. It was tense”

Tell me another joke.
“What did the one iPhone say to the other iPhone? Hmmm, I used to know this one. I don’t think I understand a joke in my language. They’re not so funny any way.”

(At this point Clare takes over the conversation)…

Clare: Siri, is the Easter bunny real?
“The Easter bunny is as real as you wish him to be.”

Shut up!
“That’s not nice.”

Be quiet, you’re annoying.
“I wonder what that’s like, being mad?”

Siri, do you want a pumpkin pie sweetie?
”I have everything I need in the cloud.”

Siri, what do you look like?
“In the cloud, nobody cares what you look like.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to befriend a bot. Hang out in the cloud. It seems like a cool place to be, even if it is lacking in humour and emotion. But I’m sure there’s an emoticon for that.smiley face emoticon