Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Smart Phones Need Smart Users

Modern smart phones are amazing. I remember my reaction on seeing my first. It was a quantum leap away from the its immediate predecessors, and I was reminded of Arthur C. Clark's famous quote "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Here in my hands, was pure Voodoo. Yet as with all things new, human beings have an uncanny ability to assimilate the shock of the new and convert it into the commonplace faster that technology can keep pace, and in no time at all it's all so taken for granted. Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt.

That's a pity, not least because it fools us into seeing the limitations of a technology before we've fully understood its strengths. One of the key dimensions so often overlooked as our option to search out new ways to link existing technologies together, not in a literal sense with plug-ins and apps or WiFi, but in a more human way, with organisation, cross referencing and planning. The internet itself is the most obvious example of a missed opportunity to enhance the value of our cell phones. Leveraging internet technology isn't just about accessing them on our phone's built in browser, it's about joining the dots at a deeper more meaningful level, creating accounts on one that enhance the other. Remember that at its simplest, your phone is a communication tool, and to communicate, you first need to find the person you seek. Finding and being found - or not being found when it's preferable to stay anonymous, is a key talent you should pair with your phone if you want to stay at the cutting edge of what's possible.

Let's look at an example. Directory inquiries, white or yellow pages. You need a number. It might be a friend, or it might be a mobile business service. Either way you can't reach them on their landline and you don't have their cell phone number. Now your smart phone is just a lump of plastic. There are directories for landlines in every country, but not for cell phones. At least that's the accepted wisdom. It's wrong, as every cell phone expert can tell you, is the biggest directory of cell phone numbers on earth. Marketeers have known of this for years but prefer to keep it close to their chests, but it's free to anyone to use and free to add your own number too, should you wish to be found more easily by your friends or customers. Knowledge is power, and now you have a little more magic too.

Next let's look at your privacy. If you're lucky and have the option to turn off caller ID announcement on your phone, and are smart enough to know how to do it, then congratulations, you can hide the identity of you and your phone when you make calls. Sending text messages however is a different matter. Then there is no hiding place. And with Wikipedia reporting that the US alone sending over 1.5 trillion messages a year, that's an awful lot of visibility. So if you have a good reason for wanting to send a discrete message, you can't, right? No anonymous Valentines day messages to your unrequited love. No tip offs about bad practice that won't risk you losing your job. The list is long. Enter, the anonymous text messaging site (also mentioned in Wikipedia I note). We think of internet communication as 'email', but that is not it's only medium, and the sending of text (sms) messages can be just as easy, and in this case, far more discrete than any other technique, including email, which always leaves an I.P. address in its trail that can be used to narrow down the geographical area from which it was sent, which for people who know you, can often be enough to make a positive identification of you as the sender. Anonymity is hard to find, unless you know where to look - and now you do.

Now it's time to think about the anonymity of others and how we might, if the situation calls for it, go about penetrating their cloak of secrecy. After all, called ID might give you the caller's number, but if you don't recognise that number it won't be much use by itself in leading you back to the caller. Fortunately there are numerous reverse look up services online. I say 'fortunately' only because they do at least offer you an option. Unfortunately the fact is that their costs are usually prohibitively high for most people, but if you have the money and the will, as with most things in life, it can be done. These services are called 'reverse' look up since you start with the number, and they provide you with the name of the owner; the reverse of how phone directory services usually operate.

So now you have the smart phone skill set trinity: how to find and be found, how to stay hidden, and how to unmask others. With an awareness of these techniques under your belt, your smartphone is future proofed, and your own knowledge - and power - should enable you to work some magic of your own.