As the new year approaches, I decided to make a different kind of new year's resolution list. Instead of a cheesy list of things to watch or things I'd like to see, I thought I would make a list of the things I will resolve not to do in 2011. As a columnist writing about digital living for the last half of the year, I think the ways in which we remove technology from our lives can be as important, if not more so, than the ways in which our lives collide with the digital frontier.
1. Call instead of text
I resolve to burn through more minutes, and use fewer text messages, emails, or any other sort of textual, non-oral communication. This was advice I used to give employees when I was a manager. Whenever you can call someone and get them on the phone, that is far preferable to email. I think the same is true for texting. When you have someone on the phone, it is much harder for them to say "no."
In business, if you need something done, or if you need help, an email can always be a one-word answer. But on the phone, we can always ask for more. Plus, the small talk is important, especially in my line of work. For people who feel chained to their desks or stuck working from home all day, just a few minutes of idle chatter isn't mundane, it's a pleasant escape, and a way to build a personal relationship that will enhance the business side.
In my personal life, today I had a chat with my sister over Gtalk. She's in Paris on vacation. It's her birthday. We couldn't get the video chat schedule worked out for today, so she could talk to her nephew in person, and by the time I had time to get in touch, it was almost 11PM Paris time. That's not too late, since Parisian dinners take at least 4 hours. But there is no reason I couldn't have called, and I felt bad about it after I hung up. We traded emails and IM messages today, but I should have called.
2. No more happy birthdays on Facebook
That brings me to my second resolution, which I actually started a month ago. I'm not wishing anyone happy birthday on Facebook anymore. Sure, I loved getting all of the birthday messages, it was nice to be remembered. But on my birthday this year, I got maybe one phone call . . . from my parents. That doesn't even count, since they made me, so they have to remember. I had dozens of friends, including some of my closest friends, leaving wall posts. Nobody asked what I was doing that day, if I was having a good time, or who I was with. It felt very impersonal.
I stopped myself from leaving a happy birthday message on the wall of a great old friend I hadn't spoken to in months. Since then, if a birthday comes up I want to commemorate, I'll call. Facebook is a great source of information, and it's helped me remember or discover plenty of birthdays I should have written down on my calendar. But that should be the end of Facebook's birthday involvement. If I have someone's number, I'll call. If I don't have their number, how important could a "happy birthday" from me really be? If it's important enough, I'll find a way to connect.
3. Don't use the phone at the dinner table
Never. Ever. Not when I'm eating at home with my family. Not when I'm out with friends. Not when I'm at CES at a boring press dinner surrounded by people I don't know well, or want to avoid (not you, Dan Hesse, I'm looking forward to that one). If I'm eating at home alone, I won't pull out my cell phone. If you don't hear from me between 6PM and 8PM, assume I'm eating dinner, and I'll call you, email you or text you back.
Lunch is different. Lunch is a victim of my work schedule. I eat lunch when I have time, and so lunch needs to understand that I have more important things to do. It's not that I hate lunch. I love lunch, it might even be my favorite meal of the day (am I alone in this?), but as long as it falls during work hours, lunch has to get with the program. If I'm eating with people who are more important than anyone who might call or message me, I'll keep my phone stowed. But if you see me pull out my phone during lunch, it's not that you lost the phone face-off, I'm just trying to be productive.
4. See the 2D version instead of the 3D
If a movie was not originally filmed in 3D, I'm not seeing it in 3D. For most of you, this is a given, but for me this is a big deal. First, I like to write reviews of 3D movies for SlashGear. Most of those are warnings about why you should avoid those films. Second, I did spend an exorbitant amount on Oakley 3D glasses, and my window to return them ended soon after Tron: Legacy hit the theaters. So, I'm stuck with them (though they are worth the money).
I will not see any horror movies in 3D. I will not see any dance movies in 3D. If parts 1-6 of a movie series were not in 3D, I will not see part 7 in 3D. The 3D effect has its time and place, and I'm going to use my instinct, honed on a year of watching utter 3D garbage, to determine which movies are worth the extra cash for 3D, and which aren't worth the headache (literally and figuratively).
5. Use my gadgets to do things more than I do things on my gadgets
I'd like to travel more. I'd like to get outside. I have a dozen devices that can take photos, and a dozen more to display them, but I've gone a couple months without shooting a worthwhile shot outside of a camera review test. I'm not going to give up gadgets, that's just silly. But I'm going to focus on buying and using gadgets to do other things, instead of doing things in the closed ecosystem of the gadget. No portable gaming devices for me this year. No buying new phones for the Web browser or the graphics chip. I might need a phone that's waterproof, with an altimeter.
No new Apple TV, no set-top boxes, no 3D television set, and no new home theater system. I have a lousy, cheap setup, and that’s the way it will stay for the next year. I'm still going to watch TV, but if I buy anything new, it won't be a device that's made to be stared at or listened to passively. It's time to remember that gadgets are tools. When gadgets can broaden your horizon and make the rest of your life better, instead of just your living room, then you are doing a better job at living digitally.