Do You Need A SmartPhone?

I wrote a post a while back called “Do You Really Need A SmartPhone?”  It has proven to be very popular,  and usually gets lots of search engine attention.  Apparently, people are really confused about this!

Today, I re-read that original post and found it . . . um . . . confusing.  Oh, my information was good; it just wasn’t organized as well as it could have been.  So I’m going to make another stab at it here:

‘Do I Really Need A SmartPhone, Part II”

What is a SmartPhone?  It’s a cellular phone that can access the Internet.  That usually means it can access the Internet via a wi-fi connection or over your carrier’s mobile network.  This is important because when you access the Internet on your SmartPhone via a wi-fi signal, there is usually no additional charge.  However, when you access the Internet over your carrier’s mobile network, the usage counts against your monthly allowance, and if you go over the allowance, there is usually an additional charge.    As a practical matter, many have a wi-fi network set up at home, and that works fine for SmartPhone Internet access there, but when we’re out and about. . . that’s where you’ll be running on your carrier’s mobile network.

For what reasons might you want to access the Internet with your SmartPhone?  There are a million reasons.  And none of them may be important to you.  Here are a few of the most popular things people do with their Internet connected Smartphones:

  • Navigation.  The GPS navigation built into the phone uses the Internet.
  • Email.  You can collect your email on your phone . . . but it requires Internet access.
  • Facebook.  When you are on it, you are on the Internet, whether at your computer or your SmartPhone.
  • Google/Searching.  If, like me, you want the answer NOW, you may be using search features on your phone, features that jump to the Internet to find the answer.
  • Apps.  If it’s an App, chances are it operates off the Internet – or ‘In The Cloud.’  How about the one that tracks your morning run, telling you how far you went and showing your route?  Internet.  How about that QR Code reader App?  It’s going to take you to the Internet.  How about that YouTube App or the automatic ‘radio’ you downloaded?  They run over the Internet, and therefore, count against your monthly data allowance.

You see, there are quite a few things you might do with a SmartPhone, on the Internet.  The question is:  would you?  You’re the only person who can answer that, and you may not know until you get a data plan and try it for awhile.

Now that you mention it, what is a ‘data plan?’ and do I need one?  A data plan is what enables you to access the Internet with your SmartPhone when you are away from a connected wi-fi signal.  It gives you Internet access through your carrier’s mobile network.  So, if you are going to be using your SmartPhone for Internet activities when you are away from a wi-fi network, yes, you are going to need a data plan.  And they aren’t cheap.  Usually you pay for a monthly allowance of data use – usually mesured in Gigabytes (GB).  A couple of GB is fine for most average users.  But if you’re going to stream movies, watch baseball games, play cloud games and so on, you’re going to burn that up quickly.

Is it possible to have a SmartPhone and only use it over wi-fi?  Yes.  While in Mexico earlier this year I used my phone only over wi-fi.  All of the Apps and other features I wanted worked fine.  But that was a special situation.  If you’re at home, where you have a wi-fi network, and that’s where you’re usually going to be when you want to use your phone to access the Internet . . . why wouldn’t you just use your computer?  Or your tablet?  The screens are bigger, and there’s nothing you can do on a SmartPhone you can’t do on a computer (except, maybe make calls).

What about text messages?  That’s where this whole discussion gets squirrely.  Most text messages in the US go over the carriers mobile netowrk.  Since they are text, not voice, they are data, right?  Yes, but most carriers charge for text messages differently than they do ordinary Internet data use.  They usually charge for messaging by the number of texts sent/received, within a monthly allowance.  That’s why most cellular plans have three components:  Voice/Data/Text, with an allowance for each component.  But, what if you don’t have a data plan?  Can you still get text messages (which, technically, are data)?  Yes.  Almost all phones, Smart and Dumb alike, can make and receive calls and text messages.

What if you decide you really don’t need to access the Internet when you are away from your home base computer?  What if Navigation and email and Facebook are not important to you when driving down the road?  Then you probably don’t need a data plan.  And if you don’t need a data plan, you don’t need a SmartPhone.  A ‘dumb’ phone (which is a pretty smart instrument) will make and receive calls and text messages without a data plan.  It will probably cost a lot less, too.

It is my humble opinion that unless you are a person who lives on (an in) your phone, for whom your phone IS your computer, OR unless you are in a business that requires you to be richly connected to the full cadre of information and media housed on the Internet . . . you probably don’t need a SmartPhone.

And, if you decide you do need one, rather than get lassoed into a two year contract with a carrier, why not take control of the whole situation.  Start by buying a phone outright.  I recommend the Google Nexus 4 phone available through the Google Play Store.  At less than $400 it’s all the SmartPhone you’ll ever need.  Then, shop various carriers’ ‘bring your own phone’ plans and choose the best one – at the moment – without a contract requirement.  When you hear of a better deal somewhere else, take your phone and switch.  Armed with information about what constitutes data and data usage, and with your own phone, you will finally be in control of this important part of contemporary life.


Homeless School Kids . . . GROWL!

A dear friend sent me a bulleted list of facts about poverty in America this morning.  It was from Bill Moyers.  The information was, of course, unsettling . . . in fact, some of the ‘bullets’ were silver:

  • Roughly half of all Americans will experience poverty by age 65
  • There is a widening poverty gender gap:  in 2010 women were 29% more likely to live in poverty than men; in 2011, the figure was 34% – a very rapid 5% rise.
  • 50% of all jobs in America pay less than $34,000 a year (which is what the average REALTOR made last year).
  • In 2011,  28% of workers (not unemployed people) were paid wages below the poverty line.

But this one bullet really grabbed me; it shocked me.  I knew it was a reality, but didn’t realize the extent of the problem:

  • There are more than 1,065,794 homeless children in American public schools.

How can this be?  How could we have let this happen?

We’ve always had poor people.  We’ve even had homeless people in the past – they were called ‘Hobos,’ rode the rails, ate beans, and were mostly single men who had chosen the vagabond lifestyle.  During the Great Depression (which is starting to look less Great compared to the one we’ve been in ), large numbers of people were unemployed and homeless, living in ‘Hoover-villes’ or tent cities.  But now we have an abundance of homeless families.

I know a lot of you will hate me for this, but I never saw homeless people on the streets of America until the Reagan years.  That’s when we started to turn people out of State funded mental hospitals.  Up until that time, when obviously crazy people were encountered on the streets, that’s where they were sent.  They were cared for there, medicated if necessary.  Heck!  James Taylor spent time in one before ‘Fire & Rain’ and I worked in one.   Today we’ve grown accustomed to seeing these people as human debris, and somehow it’s ok for them to litter out streets.

That’s the obvious homeless.  What we don’t often see are the families who live in our canyons and beneath our overpasses.

It’s easy to talk about lack of motivation, laziness, poor decisions and so on – all of which are factors.  And I DO know a homeless person or two who will honestly admit that they chose that lifestyle and wouldn’t be happy living any other way.  But that’s certainly the rarity: the solitary modern day hobo.  It’s a different story for a homeless family.  It is difficult for a homeless family to right itself, regardless of motivation.

I’m thinking about my time in Oaxaca earlier this year.  People live very simply – they have to: there is no money. But the typical Oaxaqueno makes the $5.75 a day necessary to survive and keep going largely by selling stuff in the street:  tamales, textiles, carvings, fruit, elotes, and so on.  You can do that there because there are no bureaucratic hoops to jump through.  You just do it.  That would be impossible for the homeless families we have in America.  We require business licenses and health department blessings to do anything like that (which is one of the reasons the United States looks so different from, say, Mexico).

So what could a homeless person in a job-poor economy do to make money, short of begging?  I met one very enterprising veteran on the Embarcadero last summer.  He was set up directly across from the USS Midway, a wonderful floating aircraft carrier/museum.  He had bought a couple of cases of bottled water at a nearby Office Depot and was offering it to the throngs of tourists passing by.  He offered the water by ‘donation,’ which everyone pretty much took to mean $1.  He also offered to tell  a story or a joke.  As I sat and talked with him I learned that that’s what he had to do to legally run his operation.  First he had to go to the police department and get an Entertainer’s License, which is free and designed to sanction street performers.  Then he could offer the water, but only by donation, and he had to also offer some form of entertainment to stay within the limits of the law – hence, the stories and jokes.  

This was a man who came West to take advantage of the construction boom we experienced in San Diego a few years ago.  As that boom went bust, he found himself out of work, out of money and out of housing.  Having had enough, he was trying to get enough cash together to get back home, somewhere in the Mid-West.  After that weekend, I never saw him again, so I assume he was successful.   He was smart enough and personable enough to figure out how to do it.  Most are not.

There is no pithy point to this piece.  It’s more of a shout than a post.  But here’s something I know:  there has been a massive re-distribution of wealth in America over the past ten years.  As the majority of Americans saw the value of their greatest asset – their homes – plummet, and as we bailed out the finance industry and wall street, BIG business began to log record profits.  The banks and lenders who led us into the crash that devastated the nest eggs of not many, but MOST Americans are today, far more profitable than they ever were before the crash.  The American People lost.  Who gained?  The banks and lenders.

Today the top 1% control about 40% of the wealth in America, and it is a share that is growing, rapidly.  The bottom 80%, on the other hand have about 10% , and their share is shrinking.  As the gap continues to widen, as the disparity continues to grow, as more and more . . . homeless children fill our public schools, we will look less and less like an egalitarian democracy. We’re starting to look more and more like Feudal England, where the Lords and Ladies are the leaders of Giant Multi-National Corporations.  The rest of us?  We’re just the serfs.

Well . . . I’m working myself up into quite a lather.  Thank goodness there’s a good movie streaming on Netflix.  Think I’ll post this diatribe and then sit back and watch.  It’s Blade Runner.