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SPOTLIGHT
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May the smart be with you

Published on -8/27/2013, 9:39 AM

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Is there a shift in human focus and concentration, or is it just me?

While waiting in the foyer of a well-known seafood restaurant in Kansas City, I counted a half a hundred people milling about, engaged in some form of interaction -- primarily with themselves.

Yes, there are others with them, but these people are head-down on their phones. I'm certain you have both seen them or been one of them. Maybe you're reading this on your mobile device right now.

Phone usage and etiquette have changed significantly during the past few years. Before Apple launched its iPhone on June 29, 2007, all you could do on a phone was send and receive calls -- and painfully text.

Can you ever forget your first text -- 1,2,3 or maybe it was a,b,c. In technology terms, that was eons ago.

Cellular phones are smart today. Most of the time they are smarter than their users, especially in my case. They are as much app driven as talk and text.

Consider all the possibilities: email and the Internet, personal calendars, Facebook and other social media apps, Google and other search engines, the latest news and markets, camera, music, movies, solitaire and other games, PayPal and who could live without Amazon (where eager consumers can buy anything their hearts' desire while reading just about every book ever written), and if you think about it -- your phone or tablet has become your end-all, be-all communication device.

I'm waiting for the next great apps to come down the pike like the cab, chauffer, house, maid, cook, house cleaner -- you know a phone that will literally take care of me and pamper me while I'm busy communicating.

Whoa, Bessie, I'm getting ahead of myself.

There are plenty of other technological marvels just around the corner such as voice recognition that may just be the latest, greatest breakthrough.

Many of us are not masters of our own phones. We use the programs we need and rarely explore new ones, unless badgered to do so by a friend. Don't believe me? Think about the apps you use.

Most people who know me realize I am still mired firmly in the Dark Ages of smartphone technology. Still, I'm trying to move ahead using what I refer to as baby apps. I sought out a young, computer wizard friend the other day to help me with the fundamentals of smart phone usage. Here are some of the best how-to-do-its we came up with:

* How to use it mechanically -- not just to turn it on and off. Your phone holds the key to mysteries and magic that can fill the hours with joy, mirth and, most importantly, dividends once you master its technology.

* How to use it mannerly. You know, the when and how loud are key to your perceived image.

* How to enhance your communications. Texting is the new black? Data transmission exceeds voice transmission -- by a lot. When emailing, how are you perceived? How do they read it? Is it, "C U L8r" or "See you later?" Is it "LMK" or "Let me know?" You tell me. I don't abbreviate. Sister Benigna Consolata wouldn't approve.

* How to use it to allocate your time. Use your stopwatch feature to measure the total amount of time you spend on your phone. It's easy to hit start-stop-memory each time you pick up your phone. Your total at the end of the day will shock you -- but not as much as multiplying the total by 365.

* When you're by yourself, be aware of the time. Minutes soon become hours, and hours days.

* When you're by yourself, but others are within hearing distance, speak at half-volume, and keep it brief.

* In an informal gathering, ask permission first. Use your judgment as to what to ignore. Be respectful of the time and attention paid to people you're with.

* In a business meeting, never.

* In a restaurant, beyond never. It's rude.

* In church, don't even think about it.

On a flight to California a couple months ago, I thought I'd stepped into a bad movie when the following scene played itself out before and after we landed.

First, the milling of the masses up and down the aisles as all the overhead luggage was stowed. Then the passengers were safely buckled and the flight attendants told everyone to power down. Plane landed and every passenger was on his or her phone or staring at it. Exit, door left and they walked off the plane like lemmings marching to the sea.

In reality, people are walking into walls, tripping, bumping into one another, and crashing their cars while looking at and using their smart phones. I saw a cartoon in the New Yorker a few months ago that showed a woman on her phone saying, "I've invited a bunch of my friends over to stare at their phones."

Like it or not, the smartphone is here to stay. It's economical to use, and applications are increasing daily.

Our challenge is to make the best use of it we can.

Good luck, and may the smart be with you.

Hoxie native John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas who writes for the Kansas Farm Bureau.

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