Charlie Calvert on Elvenware

Writing Code and Prose on Computers


Table of Contents

People Centered

I like to wax philosophical. I think it there is value to thinking on the meta level, to understanding our goals and the reasons we have for setting those goals.

This chapter is dedicated to those matters. Hopefully I will soon turn all this into a video or MP3 so that you can download it and watch it, or listen to it while driving in your car.


Most mobile devices are easy to use – at least in principle. Nearly anyone can pick up a mobile phone and make a phone call or play a song.

It is, however, surprisingly difficult for even expert computer users to understand how to use the full potential of a small device like a phone, tablet, or MP3 player. Many will find the journey from neophyte to expert longer than expected.

There are as many different approaches to using small devices as there are users. However, I focus on three types of users:

Young people often have full access to a computer for the first time when they are given a phone or MP3 player. Everything comes together for them at one time:

As a result, young people pour a good deal of their not inconsiderable passion and intelligence into learning how to use their device, and finding ways to stretch its capacity.

We sometimes think the developers of Twitter or Facebook were geniuses for seeing the potential of those media. Yet in many ways, the real geniuses were the young users who kept pushing the limits of the software, and who kept demanding new features that fulfilled their needs, their dreams and their imagination.

While the young adopted devices quickly and passionately, older computer users found themselves in a very different position:

Beginner’s Mind {#beginner’sMind}

To master a small device like an iPhone, Android tablet or Windows Phone takes work. Getting good at using Mobile Devices requires serious effort, and real study.

Perhaps it might help if we begin to by just dropping the word phone altogether. Most people don't use cell phones for making phone calls. They use them for communication, but not for making phone calls. In fact, phone calls are not even second, or in many cases even third in line for the most common activity for most users of Androids and cell phones. Therefore, it is best if we stop calling them phones, and start thinking of them as mobile devices, or better yet, mobile computers.

Anyone over 30 years of age probably once owned a computer that is not nearly as powerful as a modern cell phone. A modern mobile device such as Android Phone is not just technically a computer, it is actually a very powerful computer with a sophisticated screen, plenty of memory, and extraordinary capacity to access the internet in general, and the cloud in particular.

Mobile devices are not just small computers; they are a new kind of tool. A mobile device is an evolutionary development as different from a computer as an airplane is different from a car or train. Airplanes did not replace cars, and mobile devices will not replace PCs. Nevertheless, thinking that one who is good at using a PC is therefore automatically good at using a mobile device is a fundamental error, just as it is an error to assume that because one can drive a car one can pilot an airplane or a be a conductor on a train.

We should approach the mobile world with what Zen teachers call a beginner's mind. Assume nothing. Assume most of what you know is more of an impediment than an asset. Yes, you are an expert at using Microsoft Outlook to handle a Microsoft Exchange Account. That does not mean, however, that you know how to handle email on a phone. Sure you an expert at using Chrome to browse the web; that does not mean, however, that you know how to browse the web with a mobile device. Expertise with Microsoft Word can be as much a hindrance as an advantage when using mobile devices to create documents.

When we first used computers, many of us spent hours simply playing with them. Over the years, we have changed that attitude, and we now try to remain focused when we open our computers. We read email, write articles, debug code, read and grade assignments. My suggestion is that for a time we drop that directed approach, and simply set time aside to play with our mobile devices. Can we master the phone? How much can you find out about your devices’ camera? Can you easily transfer the pictures you take to the cloud and show to friends?

Dig into the tools you find. You don't know what Google or Amazon have to offer until you go look.