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Scouring the World in 15 Minutes

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

As I’m writing this in Hanoi, in the business center of my local hotel, I’m grateful for the various timesaving tools that have made my work easier, and more efficient, with regard to time spent on tasks such as news, trend and data review. While I’ve recently opted out of a couple of social media platforms (FaceBook and LinkedIn), I have made extensive use of other apps, especially on my phone, which I’d like to introduce to you today.

As for FaceBook and LinkedIn, I’d used both for about a year, but I’d found that they actually took up more time than they saved, and that their efficacy, with respect to supporting my work in consulting as well as networking, were minimal. What I did use them for, actually, was more prosaic: FaceBook to keep tabs on my son, and LinkedIn to keep up with old contacts. I’ve gone back to an analog mode of simply using the phone for the former, and email for the latter, which seems to work just as well.

For the aforementioned news, trend and data review, I of course use the internet via both desktop and laptop terminals when they’re available, but while traveling, I simply rely on my phone, which is an older iPhone with an extended battery “wrap” that ensures that it lasts a full day of heavy use or a couple, sometimes three, days of lighter use between charges.

For news, there are many “channels” and aggregating services available, and I use the BBC News app, along with Google, for general news. I’ve also made it a point to find and bookmark the local English-language paper when it’s available on the web, for future reference and review. Here in Hanoi, for example, it’s for the national English daily.

For trends, in my areas of interest, I use a couple of apps: InstaPaper and StumbleUpon. The first streams to my phone for offline review articles from a vast range of sources, ranging from Wired and The New York Times Magazine to Playboy, and on the last, yes, it’s now clear that I’m simply reading the articles. I can then forward, via link or full text download, the articles I’d like to share, via email, and this is particularly helpful for a mentorship program I’ve been conducting over the past six years for students at a regional university in Korea. I send them an article a day, to broaden their horizons as well as provide some fodder for thought and English study.

StumbleUpon is a bit different, in that it recommends websites and other online content (such as videos on YouTube) to me rather than articles. It’s a quick “learner” in that it’s very responsive to my feedback (thumbs-up or down) on recommendations, and it refines its search parameters so that the recommendations tend to be spoton with my interests, which cover a wide range, from design to Greek & Roman history through technology, fashion and collecting, as well as Korea-related news and shipbuilding industry information. I sometimes use this for the mentorship student recommendations as well, but it’s mostly a time-saver for web-surfing for me.

If I find a site that’s particularly interesting, I sometimes download the whole thing to my phone for offline review, via SiteSucker, a wonderful program that transfers an entire website to my phone in a relatively short period of time, depending, of course, on the breadth and depth of its content. I also use this for data-heavy due diligence projects, such as for particular company investigations, and it’s particularly helpful for this, as I literally have much of their public information (including PDFs of their annual reports, in many cases) at my fingertips, whether I’m online or not.

Finally, I have to give yet another recommendation to Wikipedia, which I’ve downloaded in its entirety to my phone, not via SiteSucker, but rather via a dedicated app called Encyclopedia. This is one of the New York Times’ seven must-have offline apps, and I’m a fan. I use it for background research, orientation to a new subject, or simply when I’m bored, and the beauty of it is that it’s available all the time, whether or not I have access to wifi or a 3G network, since it’s already been downloaded to my phone.

Many of these apps work while I’m simultaneously listening my favorite public radio stations via TuneIn Radio, which in its paid version also enables recording of one’s favorite programs. I listen to stations from across the globe, but tend to focus on channels that I especially used to enjoy when I was living in Palo Alto and New York.

It’s a wonderful world, really, when one stops to think for a minute about all of the things that are available to us via these technologies. I find my life to be richer for it, as long as I control my time spent on the various devices that make this possible. For me, fifteen minutes or so a day (not counting specific research or data-review projects) is often enough, and the beauty of it is that this fifteen minutes is mostly anywhere and anytime. It helps to have wifi or 3G access, but it’s not absolutely necessary, as mentioned above.

This is not a tech column, but I no longer view these apps and my phone (or the internet via other devices) as tech per se, but rather as a digital world that I can explore to expand my own horizons, at my discretion and convenience. Combined with an analog life of work, travel, friendships and family (in reverse order), I find that there’s a lot that’s new & notable out there, as well as in the palm of my hand.

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