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Qiaochu_Yuan comments on Boring Advice Repository - Less Wrong

56 Post author: Qiaochu_Yuan 07 March 2013 04:33AM

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Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 08 March 2013 06:12:29AM *  34 points [-]

Obtain a smartphone. It will make your life better. (If you don't have one because you feel like they're overhyped, remember that reversed stupidity is not intelligence.) Here is a list of things I use my smartphone to do, in no particular order:

  • Record things I want my future selves to do in RTM on the go
  • Record sleep data using Sleep Cycle
  • Take notes on conversations using either voice memos or Evernote
  • Record various kinds of things in Workflowy, e.g. exercise data
  • Respond more quickly to emails (people I know have debated the value of doing this, but I get really annoyed when other people take a long time to respond to my emails and don't want to do that)
  • Receive calendar alerts, alarms, and Boomerangs from my past selves that remind me to do things
  • Look things up, e.g. on Wikipedia, on the go (e.g. when I am waiting in line for something)
  • Read academic papers on the go
  • Search my email for important information on the go, e.g. the location of some event or an ID number of some kind
  • Look up directions on the go, e.g. to the location of some event
  • Look up places on Yelp on the go
  • Look up prices and reviews of an item I'm considering buying IRL on Amazon

There is a possibility of wasting large amounts of time playing games which I curtailed early on by refusing to download games except during breaks from school.

Comment author: taelor 13 March 2013 07:56:02AM 8 points [-]

Look things up, e.g. on Wikipedia, on the go (e.g. when I am waiting in line for something)

Upvoted for this. I think possibly the single biggest impact of the existence of smartphones is that in a world where its possible to carry device cappable of accessing Wikipedia in your pocket means that no one ever has an excuse for being ignorant of basic facts about any subject that they had a reasonable amount of time to prepare for.

Another thing: I've found that listening to podcasts while doing mindless, repetative tasks (mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cleaning) makes the process much, much more enjoyable.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2013 01:17:59PM 7 points [-]

(And having a camera good enough that text in pictures stays legible is sometimes very handy IME.)

Comment author: therufs 08 March 2013 04:37:08PM 8 points [-]

My main objection to smartphone use is that by putting anything you want to pay attention to at your fingertips, it can introduce a certain distance from what is actually going on. I would not advocate, say, spending your 4 hours at the DMV observing your surroundings (that would be a waste of time). But I am concerned that time spent with portable Internet corresponds to ever thicker-walled and less-apparent echo chambers. Is this an issue you have thoughts on?

By way of example, I'm trying to think about the difference between reading a novel on the subway and reading the internets on the subway; the main distinction is that when I'm reading the novel, I'm aware that I'm not actually paying attention to my surroundings.

Comment author: handoflixue 08 March 2013 11:34:24PM 3 points [-]

If I'm interacting with people, I treat it as rude to pull out my phone without asking.

If I'm already not-interacting-with-people, I don't see why it would be any worse than a book. So many other people have smart phones that "socialize while waiting" is dying off regardless of what I do, and a book generally kept people from trying to strike up a conversation anyway.

As to the "not aware I'm not aware"... I've always felt equally towards books and smart phones. Possibly a bit more aware with my smart phone, actually, since dropping it or having it stolen is a much bigger deal.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 08 March 2013 06:25:43PM 2 points [-]

it can introduce a certain distance from what is actually going on.

This is probably true, but I think this is a small negative and is outweighed by the large positives. If you decide you want to pay more attention to your surroundings with a smartphone, you can add an RTM item or use calendar alerts to remind yourself to do that periodically.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 22 March 2013 08:22:52PM 2 points [-]

Indeed, one of the ways in which owning a smartphone has improved my life is by reminding me to do things which I need to do regularly in order to change a trait or habit. For instance, I used to have bad posture, which I corrected after setting A HIT interval timer to vibrate every 10 minutes, and interpreting these vibrations as reminders to improve the way I was standing or sitting.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 08 March 2013 05:40:05PM 1 point [-]

I infer that when you read the internets, you aren't aware that you aren't paying attention to surroundings.
I have trouble understanding why that is.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 08 March 2013 03:57:28PM 1 point [-]

The only feature I regularly use on my phone is the alarms. They're absurdly useful. Advanced alarm functionality alone is worth the price of admission.

Comment author: tgb 08 March 2013 04:41:57PM 3 points [-]

What exactly is 'advanced alarm functionality' and how do you recommend using it?

Comment author: OrphanWilde 08 March 2013 06:14:15PM 2 points [-]

I'd hesitate to pin it down to any particular feature set, but the following two features have been very useful to me:

Date-based alarm scheduling - I don't want a feature-heavy calendar application running on my phone, so this has been useful.

Custom text for alarms - Useful for gym reminders; I can plan exercises for each day in advance, rather than deciding what to do in advance. (Again, I stay away from feature-heavy applications. I like lightweight.)

Day-based alarms, and multiple alarms, while trivial features on most smartphone alarm apps, are in fact quite useful, and weren't present in my pre-smartphone phones. I have two alarms set for waking up, for example; the first tells me to down an energy drink (Xenadrine drink mix, supposedly for dieting but my favorite energy drink, or Redline energy drinks, are both awesome for this) or extra-large cup of coffee. Thirty minutes later, when the second alarm wakes me up, I wake up easily and without grogginess. (Alternatively, you can use an alarm application that wakes you up in the ideal part of your sleep cycle. That's a bit... feature-rich for me, however.)

Comment author: handoflixue 08 March 2013 11:35:35PM 0 points [-]

How do you have a cup of coffee ready to go before you wake up? I'd think it would be cold and unpleasant...

Comment author: OrphanWilde 09 March 2013 02:58:43AM 1 point [-]

...cold and unpleasant? You mean perfect?

Yes, I like my coffee cold. I like my soda and beer warm, too. I'm just that kind of guy.

Comment author: handoflixue 11 March 2013 06:03:40PM 2 points [-]

I suspect that the vast majority of coffee drinkers disagree with you, and thus your advice is probably inapplicable to most people there. I could be wrong, but you're the first person I've ever met who considers 8-hour-old coffee to be a good thing.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 11 March 2013 06:12:21PM 0 points [-]

8 hour old coffee is insufficiently aged; it has yet to achieve peak bitterness.

Comment author: handoflixue 11 March 2013 06:23:39PM 0 points [-]

You missed the point...

Comment author: OrphanWilde 11 March 2013 06:33:28PM 1 point [-]

You missed that I already acknowledged other people don't share my tastes, which was the point about liking warm beer and soda. You can substitute in your own preferences, even if it's a coffee pot set next to your alarm clock/phone scheduled to turn on shortly before your alarm goes off; it's unnecessary to copy the specific implementation to get utility out of the general concept.

At that point I was merely being amusing; missing the point was rather the point.