While organizing and decluttering the house, I unearthed a bit of a relic – not Antiques Roadshow-worthy, but historically interesting from a high tech angle.
Before heaving this brick of a book into the recycle bin, I thumbed through the listings looking for today’s Silicon Valley giants. What I found instead was a blast-from-the-past reminder of how much life has changed in the last 15 years, simply from an information retrieval point of view.
In other words, I remembered what life was like before Google and other search engines became essential to our daily lives.
Before Google, you perused an encyclopedia to find, say, the GNP of Canada or the capital of Vermont. If you wrote a report for school, you hiked to the library and squinted at a card catalog or microfiche, and asked a sympathetic librarian for help.
Before Google, if you needed to find a plumber or a restaurant or the State Bar, you looked in the yellow pages. The phone book people (who are they, anyway?) began making a big phone book for your home and a smaller one, presumably for your car, so you could take it with you everywhere.
The phone book was a go-to source for tons of information, not just addresses and phone numbers. It had city, airport, campus and stadium maps, first aid tips, and a calendar of local events for the year.
For the truly inquisitive, the phone book listed Talklines, a kind of dial-on-demand information spiel for topics ranging from parenting to stain removal to auto repair. You just called and listened from the comfort of your home. (There were practically no mobile phones, and cordless phones were just getting popular.)
The most shocking part of this phone book was the listing of all known websites in the area. Three whole pages were devoted to the URLs and email addresses of these early adopters of websites in the Silicon Valley. They were listed under “Internet – Web Sites” (right after Interior Decorating and before Investigators).
This was what life was like before Google, in the stretch of land that is now Google’s (and Facebook’s) headquarters. Words like SEO, PageRank, keyword optimization, AdWords, link building and black hat tactics had yet to become part of our internet vocabulary.
We didn’t know it, but getting the information we needed was a very slow, very manual process. People relied on phone books like this ancient artifact, and books, newspapers and their friends and family to keep them up to date and get their questions answered.
Life was simpler, but not easier.
Do you remember life before Google?
Everyone makes mistakes. It’s part of our shared humanity. How does your company handle the inevitable oversights and blunders that happen in the workplace?
In his book, Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure, Paul Schoemaker argues that the path to success is often paved with insights learned from our failures. To achieve new business innovations, which are inherently risky, companies must foster a culture that is supportive of “well intentioned failures”.
Which got me to thinking about companies that not only tolerate failures, but learn from and even celebrate them. Shoemaker mentions a CEO who awards a “best mistake of the month” to the manager who uncovers the most valuable information from his/her mistake. Over time, this leader has changed his company’s culture from hiding mistakes to dissecting, sharing and celebrating them.
One of my favorite examples of recasting a losing idea into a winner is Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard, where unpopular or too-expensive flavors are laid to rest as “dearly de-pinted”. It’s a popular attraction at their Vermont factory; headstones have pithy sayings, and some visitors even bring flowers to their long-lost favorites. And people love talking about this online: googling Ben & Jerry’s flavor graveyard yields 38,200 results!
I think of my failures as a gift. -A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble
Movie and TV studios know that mistakes and outtakes are important to many viewers, and bloopers are often included in the bonus material of DVDs. Pixar has even (painstakingly) created bloopers on purpose for both Toy Story and A Bug’s Life.
There is no shortage of inventions born of mistakes. (Necessity may be the mother of invention, but error makes a fine father.) You probably know that Alexander Fleming’s pre-vacation sloppiness in the lab led to the discovery of penicillin. And the 3M scientist who invented the adhesive for Post-Its was aiming for an ultra-strong glue. Other inventions born of mistakes were the pacemaker, plastic, teflon, saccharin and even Coca-Cola.
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. -Albert Einstein
Of course, celebrating failure is more the exception rather than the rule. According to Schoemaker, “The great virtue of mistakes, whether they occur accidentally or by design, is their ability to enlarge our range of experience, shrink our ego and thereby increase the chance of discovery.”
Made any great mistakes lately?
This is Part 2 of How College Students Use Technology (Hint: Not Like the Rest of Us), continuing the conversation with Alexis, Jack, Justin, Katy, Michelle, Rebecca and Tommy.
Quick summary of Part 1: The essential, must-have technology devices for college are a laptop, iPod and cellphone (or simply a laptop and iPhone). The non-essential gadgets are a TV, iPad, DVD player and desktop computer. Students majoring in computer science often have a dual-monitor setup for increased productivity and/or a desktop computer for extra computational power.
“Laptop/iPod/cellphone is definitely the essential triad,” said Justin, Political Science senior at Amherst.
College students seem less cult-ish about the Great PC-vs-Mac Divide than Generation Xers and Boomers, perhaps because these college-age Millennials are digital natives. Chances are they’ve had access to both PCs and Macs in middle and high school and are very comfortable in both environments. But a few PC-vs-Mac generalities did emerge.
PCs are for Computer Science majors and Business majors
Business majors need to be Johnny-on-the-spot with MS Office applications such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Of course, you can buy MS Office for the Mac, but version compatibility is cleaner across PCs. More importantly, their prospective employers, Fortune 500 companies, typically have PC environments and use enterprise software and other business applications made for PCs.
Computer Science types run the gamut. They’d probably prefer to have one of each (a PC desktop and a Mac laptop) plus dual monitors. Michelle said that some of her Computer Science friends believe that if you have a Mac, “you must not know your stuff, or at the very least, wasted your money. Also, CS people are disproportionately likely to be gamers, and since most games come out for Windows first, they buy PCs”.
“My CS friends think that if you have a Mac, you must not know your stuff, or at the very least, wasted your money,” said Michelle, Chemistry sophomore at Rice.
On the other hand, Rebecca, Electrical Engineer junior at UT, is a “huge Mac person”. She said, “Most engineers use PCs though, because most programming has to be done on Windows. The engineers I know who have Macs typically run Bootcamp or Parallels on the Mac and run Windows off of a partitioned hard drive”.
Jack, Computer Engineering senior at Santa Clara University, said that most people in his Computer Engineering classes use OS X (Mac’s operating system) “because you can do very powerful things without having to install anything extra. The fact that OS X has a terminal emulator and Windows doesn’t is a big factor in my preferring OS X.”
Almost everyone else uses – or wants to use – Macs
It’s almost a no-brainer that artistic and creative types prefer Macs. Katy said she doesn’t know of any Rhode Island School of Design students using a PC.
Justin estimates a 50/50 Mac-PC split at Amherst.
Perhaps it’s the aesthetic superiority of Mac products or their lighter weight or just the Mac brand in general, but as Tommy said, “I bet all students (me included) wish they had a Mac.”
“Unless a student is a whiz on their PC, I bet that all students (me included) wish they had a Mac. With everything being Apple-friendly these days (we have a Mac store on campus), the easiest form of computer is a Mac.” Tommy, 2011 graduate of University of Oregon
Michelle said that chemistry and biology students “often have Macs because the better imaging allows faster run-time of programs that allow you to look at and manipulate molecules in 3D and some of the earlier software for working with chemicals was originally written for Macs and works better with them.”
In the end, it comes down to preference and parents
It often comes down to preference and what their parents can afford. If money is the absolute first priority, entry-level PCs are less expensive than Macs. If it’s time for you to choose a new laptop for college, take a look at both Luis Benitez’ article and College Avenue’s article. And just for fun, here’s a transformer-themed Mac vs PC video.
It’s back-to-school time on college campuses everywhere.
With two kids in college, I was curious about the technology habits of the young and the studious. If you count college students among your customers, here’s a glimpse into their lives and their gadgets.
I talked to or emailed seven* college students to get a picture of how they use technology:
- Alexis, senior at University of Southern California, Architecture major
- Jack, senior at Santa Clara University, Web Design and Engineering major, Computer Engineering minor
- Justin, senior at Amherst College, Political Science major
- Katy, junior at the Rhode Island School of Design, Illustration major
- Michelle, sophomore at Rice University, Chemistry major
- Rebecca, junior at the University of Texas at Austin, Electrical Engineering major
- Tommy, recent graduate of University of Oregon, pursuing a job with Nike
Here’s a summary of their observations and experiences.
TVs are used primarily as monitors, not to watch TV
If they have a TV, and many students don’t, they use it to:
- Watch downloaded TV shows and movies from Hulu, Netflix or Megavideo
- Play video games
- Watch DVDs from a gaming system
Only Alexis mentioned watching cable TV shows like Comedy Central, and Tommy and Justin said people watch live football games on TV. Michelle summed it up: “TVs aren’t a big deal because we’re fine with low-quality things and our laptop screens. TVs are mainly for watching movies with friends & anytime you want a high-quality or social experience.”
It’s where college students work and play. Their laptop is their TV, DVD player, phone (with Skype or Gmail), music library (with iTunes and earbuds), online gaming system, and of course, their computer workhorse for papers, research, presentations and sometimes programming. Wifi on campus is a given, and all school business is online – class and housing registration, reference materials, class syllabi and assignments, grades and more.
Some students like Rebecca have a second monitor which they hook up to their laptop for increased productivity at their apartment or dorm. Jack has a second, older laptop he uses exclusively for media. “I use it as a server computer to serve up all of my music and video media to people on my local WiFi network as well as outside of my LAN network to things like my smartphone. This way I can have access to all of my media at all times.”
“Surviving in college without a laptop is theoretically possible” said Katy, junior at RISD, “like time travel”.
A note to high schoolers and their parents: Ignore the college tour guides’ assurances that there are multiple computer labs on campus and in libraries and therefore you don’t actually need a laptop. “Surviving in college without a laptop is theoretically possible” said Katy, “like time travel”.
No one goes anywhere without their phone
Kids take it from room to room, even. “Many people actually sleep with their phone and certainly carry them everywhere,” said Michelle. Alexis added, “I nearly have panic attacks without my phone.”
Facebook is for friends and acquaintances – and planning group events
“It’s the easiest and fastest way to get a lot of information to a lot of people,” said Rebecca. “Facebook is for keeping up/stalking friends and acquaintances. Some people enjoy friending everyone they ever meet so they can secretly keep up with their lives… it’s the age of knowing wayyy too much about wayyy too many people.” Tommy said it’s great for people like him who attend school 2,000 miles away.
Planning group events – Facebook’s killer app?
Parties, meetings, protests, road trips, camping, concerts, fraternity events, study groups – students organize all of these on Facebook. School administrators plan events on Facebook too – visiting lecturers, internship/career fairs, portfolio days, schoolwide study breaks, etc.
And Google+? Michelle said that “although everyone agrees Google+ might be great, it has yet to catch on.” Rebecca said Google+ doesn’t have “huge distinguishing factors that would cause us to switch”.
“I nearly have panic attacks without my phone,” said Alexis, USC Architecture senior.
Skype is for closer friends and their boyfriend/girlfriend
The lion’s share of skyping is between college students and their close friends at other schools, long-distance boyfriend/girlfriend and parents. Surprisingly, kids don’t just talk on Skype, they hang out. Skype is free, after all. One time Katy and Michelle were on a 2-hour Skype call, mostly doing their own schoolwork, and just occasionally taking a break to check out a funny YouTube video.
(Beware of empty rooms with laptops – your roommate might have stepped out during a Skype call and left her boyfriend waiting on the coffee table.)
Email is for parents, business and serious stuff
“I don’t email anyone my age,” said Rebecca, “email is for parents, tech-savvy grandparents, work, professional things and school stuff”. “I use email to contact professors and for business opportunities,” said Tommy.
“I don’t email anyone my age,” said Rebecca, UT Electrical Engineering junior.
When they do use email, it’s Gmail. Students will sometimes email themselves a document for later printout (most don’t have their own printer), or as a way to back up a document if it’s important.
Occasionally, Jack uses YouTube for a quick “how-to” lesson and Alexis said her professors have required students to post videos for projects. But overall, YouTube is just fun and entertaining. Michelle said it’s also good for testing new music before buying it.
Some college kids use Twitter, fewer blog, still fewer use Foursquare
Twitter had mixed reviews – some kids use it, some don’t. Those who have “a Twitter” (how some referred to it) usually don’t actually tweet, they just follow news sources or funny people. Few students blog – mainly study abroad students relaying their travel experiences. Justin said he had a blog briefly, but took it down because “expressing opinions about politics and culture on the internet could only come back to bite me in the tail.” Each of the seven students knew no one who uses Foursquare.
Stay tuned for Part 2: PCs vs Macs in College: The Great Divide?
Does this sound different from your college experience? Do you see other trends on different campuses?
* To those actuarial science majors out there who say these seven students are not a representative sample, I say “uncle”.
Other blog posts you might be interested in:
Why to Sign Up for Twitter Even if You Hate It
Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv Apply to Your Clients Too
Why We’ll Always Ask Social Media Strategists About Tools – Because of Game Changers Like Vera Wang
QR Codes – What They Are and Why to Use Them
Our goofy family loves April Fools’ Day. Here are our four most memorable pranks, some of which were devised by our two daughters, the others by me and Jeff.
1. Our Furniture is Where?
When Jeff and I were out, Katy and Michelle moved most of our living room furniture into the garage. When we came home and opened the garage door, there they were, two innocent girls, just sitting and knitting. (We still can’t figure out how two scrawny middle-schoolers moved that huge purple Barney couch – Jeff and I had a pretty tough time moving it back.)
2. Yummy Dog Poop
We took advantage of the perfect storm of 1) having a not-quite-potty-trained dog and 2) making chocolate fudge for bake sale duty. Let’s just say that fudge can be shaped, and then placed where a puppy sometimes has her accidents. Our kids recoiled in horror as they saw mom and dad picking up the fudgy surprise, smelling it, and OMG tasting it.
3. Our Car is Where?
As kids get older, they get more difficult to fool. We saw our chance when Katy began driving to and from high school a few years ago. We moved the car in the middle of the day, changed the seats and turned up the radio. (Kudos to the alert and vigilant high school security officers in the parking lot, but it was actually our car.)
4. Yours, Mine and Ours
Though now in college, the girls’ spring breaks coincided last year on April 1. They thoughtfully switched our clothes in the closet, taking all my hanging and folded clothes and putting them neatly onto Jeff’s side, and vice versa. More impressively, they waited hours without spilling the beans, before we finally discovered the switch that evening.
We played smaller pranks when they were younger – making meatloaf cupcakes with mashed potato icing, and setting all the clocks forward – but the kids’ antennae are officially up this time of year. So please, if you have any great ideas for pranks on remote college students, leave a comment. (They don’t read our blog.)
Cedar Sage Marketing