The Shifted Librarian - Shifting Libraries at the speed of byte

Life in the Treo Lane

I've had my Treo 600 for almost two months now and though I logically knew the impact it would have, even I have been surprised by just how wonderful a device it truly is.

I know a lot of people have denigrated the idea of converged devices, but I'm here to tell you that they are the future. The conventional wisdom was always that one device couldn't do many things well, but what the folks behind the CW failed to mention is that one device can do many things well enough. It's truly amazing having a cell phone, PDA, game pad, audiobook player, MP3 player, word processor, email reader, web browser, instant messaging client, radio, ebook reader, and camera all rolled into one. Add to all of that a thumbboard that makes it easy to respond to email, write notes, or instant message and you have one incredibly powerful device. (To see just how powerful it is, check out everything I've got loaded on it, and that's not even listing the default apps!)

Start by no longer having to carry two devices, a cell phone and a PDA... much easier to keep track of. Then throw in the fact that I no longer have to carry around my Audible Otis, and I can take pictures anytime, anywhere. Sure, they're not the greatest resolution, but it's a lot of fun, and I've got some great ones that I wouldn't otherwise have. I'm not using it as an MP3 player much because the storage capacity isn't there yet. Between the Audible books and my backups, the 128MB card I bought is pretty full, and I only have 2MB of the 32MB internal memory left. I'm considering upgrading to a 256MB card, but I keep thinking that a 1GB card will be available for a decent price soon, if not a 5GB.

Storage has become my second greatest concern now; the first is power. I use my cell phone a lot more now because I always have it handy. Even better, it synchronizes with Microsoft Outlook, so I truly have all of my contacts on the phone. On my old one, it was a pain to enter each one, so I only did those I used often. Now, though, I've got hundreds of them available a stylus click away. Ditto for my calendar. I never had it on my old cell phone, and half the time it was too inconvenient to carry my Clie and my phone so I was often without my schedule.

But the big addition that's really blowing me away is the internet access. I've never had a device that let me access email or the web from truly anywhere. When pundits talk about technology, they often say we keep integrating all of these new devices and technologies without any real gains in productivity or time. Sometimes I feel this is true, or that we give up hours working on the means in order to take advantage of the ends. I love my wireless network at home, my ReplayTVs, etc., but it does take time to maintain them all. The old adage is true, "technology is great... when it works."

I maintain the wireless network, the broadband internet access, the digital video recorders, the MP3 collection, etc., because I do find they make me more efficient, and I'm adding the Treo 600 towards the top of the list. There are so many minutes in a day that you don't realize you're wasting (it's even worse when you do realize they are being wasted). I had to stand in line last week to renew my license plate tags. Last month we had to rush Brent to the local emergency services clinic and then wait, wait, wait in the office. A few weeks ago I sat in a room waiting for others to arrive for a meeting.

All of those moments would have been complete wastes of time in the past. But with my Treo 600, I was able to check my email (both home and work), get weather forecasts, check movie times, administer mailing lists for work, run a couple of searches in Google, look up a book in the library's catalog, check the answer to a trivia question, keep the kids occupied playing games, and more. It may not sound like much to you, but it's a world of difference to me. I'm more connected than ever, and it's not a bad thing because I'm connected on my terms. I don't feel obligated to check my email every five minutes, but if I get 2-3 minutes, I often choose to check my work email, which means I can start actual work faster when I arrive at the office in the morning. That alone has made me more efficient, something I don't find myself saying all that often anymore.

Last month I was working on a computer in someone's office while she was at a meeting. It was mostly installing software and rebooting, testing and rebooting, tweaking and rebooting... not the most intellectually stimulating work. One of the things I really like about the Treo 600 is that it has an external speaker that is much louder and clearer than you would think it should be. So while doing that work in the office, I turned on the Treo and listened to The Time Traveler's Wife while working. How cool is that?! Want even more cool? Try listening to non-commercial music streams from Shoutcast! I'm actually looking forward to baseball season this year.  ;-)

At dinner a couple of weeks ago, Sheree asked me to check if she was still the highest bidder for an item on eBay. When we were out to dinner on a different night (yeah, we do eat out a lot), we wanted to find a paint store to get some swatches, so I checked the web for the nearest one. When we decided to go to a movie last week, I pulled up the list of shows and times at our favorite theater. When I was working on a neighbor's computer, we had trouble finding a phone number to call for support, so I looked it up on my phone. In fact, when we finally dialed into AOL, bringing up web pages on my phone was faster than bringing them up on their computer. When I was working on a different neighbor's computer, we used my phone to order broadband service for them because of the speakerphone on it. They could answer the personal information questions while I could answer the technical ones.

And the thumbboard makes a world of difference. I was pretty good at writing Graffiti with a stylus, but I'm much faster at entering text on the Treo. I thought the keys would be too small and that it would be difficult to use such a small keyboard efficiently. Boy was I wrong. I've gotten pretty good at it, and now I would never go back to a device that didn't have one. The thumbboard makes the real-time applications truly real-time, and I totally understand how it becomes second nature for kids that grow up with this type of input on a device. I'm more convinced of the future of instant messaging than ever because of it.

It's truly amazing having a converged device with you at all times, and I can't say enough good things about the experience with my Treo 600. I feel like an information gunslinger because I can whip out my Treo at any time to look things up. So the next time someone tells you that converged devices will never succeed, that you'll never be able to take everything with you in your pocket, or worse yet, that you don't need to, just point them my way and I'll educate them by way of demonstration.

The future is here, my friends, and like all things, it brings with it good things and bad. The question, of course, is how library services play in that future, which I'll address in my next write-up, because while there are a lot of things I can do with my Treo, too few of them involve the library.

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