7 ways you can learn to love reading ebooks


About a decade ago, somebody gave us our first crock pot, also known as a slow cooker. For months we feasted on the remarkably easy, delicious dishes it could produce: chicken tagines and chilis, beef briskets and vegan stews. Then I made the mistake of discussing our love of slow-cooker food with a fellow crock pot owner, who observed: “yep, it’s handy — but have you noticed that everything comes out tasting the same?”

I hadn’t noticed, actually, but once it was pointed out to me, the spell was broken. Yes, it was a delicious flavour….but it was always the same flavour: goût de crock pot. My embrace of the Kindle — and ebooks in general — has been hampered by a similar phenomenon. Yes, I can use the Kindle to read a literary novel, or a business bestseller, or a sci-fi thriller, but they all come out tasting like Kindle. The authorial voice that forms a large part of my reading experience is somehow flatted and homogenized such that even books I expected to love — Anathem, A Short History of Women, Generosity — left me lukewarm….until I gave up on the digital versions and switched to paper. While I’ve done lots of work with and on ebooks (including writing my own series), it seemed like a medium that could usefully accommodate my professional reading, but not my desire to disappear into a novel.

At least until this past November. Faced with a long-haul flight and eager to read a novel that was not yet available in Canada, I downloaded Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch onto my Kindle Paperwhite. Somewhere over the Atlantic I realized I was no longer noticing the Kindle. I tore through the book as furiously as I’ve read many a paperback, and lost myself just as completely. To test whether this was the exception, or a breakthrough, I looked for another well-reviewed book, and landed on Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers: another winner. At that point I realized I was halfway through the four novels on the New York Times’ list of the 10 Best Books of 2013, so I moved on to Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — completely fascinating, totally engrossing. Yesterday I wrapped up the quartet by finishing Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, again without experiencing Kindle-itis.

So here I am, a convert to digital reading. My on- and offline conversations with friends and colleagues had led me to believe such a conversion was highly unlikely, since readers seem to fall into two camps: those who have readily embraced ebooks for their convenience and features, and those who (like me) found that it fundamentally altered their reading experience. Now that I’ve crossed the chasm, and can enjoy the benefits of e-reading without diminishing my reading experience, I want to share my tips on how you can learn to read ebooks, even if you’ve faced similar challenges:

  1. Evaluate your commitment. There’s no intrinsic reason you need to become an ebook reader, especially if you’re old enough that you expect to predecease the printed book. (At age 42, I’m not sure I will.) If you’ve had a hard time taking to ebooks, you may find that learning to read on an e-reader is a little bit like learning to read in the first place: it takes time and practice to move from reading as work to reading as pleasure. Unless you’re really committed to reading digitally, you may not be able to get over the hump, so think carefully about how much you’re prepared to invest in acquiring this skill.
  2. Find a use case. If reading an ebook were no more useful than reading a printed book, I doubt I’d ever have gotten over my antipathy. What kept me trying were a few compelling use cases: situations in which an ebook is much more useful than a printed book. For me, these are travel (especially longer trips in which I might otherwise haul multiple titles), and bedtime (unlike a lamp or even a booklight, the Kindle is dim enough that it doesn’t keep the kids awake, so I can read while they drift off).
  3. Try multiple devices. The Kindle Paperwhite I now enjoy reading on is the fourth or fifth device on which I’ve tried digital books (two earlier Kindle models and two different iPads). The first- and second-generation Kindles really were too sluggish to enjoy; the iPad too harsh for my eyes. The slim size, adjustable contrast, e-ink and responsiveness of the Paperwhite made happy e-reading imaginable, if not immediate, so if you haven’t taken to e-readers, try a few different models until you find the one that seems like the best fit.
  4. Tweak your settings. A friend who is a professional designer attributed some of my e-reading travails to the difference between digital and print line lengths, and adjusted my iPad reader’s line length, font size and margins to something that felt more book-like.  When I was first adjusting to my Paperwhite, I tweaked the same settings, using a paper copy of the novel I was reading as a reference point: I played with the font choice and point size until the line length closely approximated the layout of the printed book.
  5. Switch it up. When I was last bemoaning my trouble getting into ebooks, a number of people advised trying a wider range of titles. While the four books that finally converted me are all very much the kinds of books I enjoy on paper, I know that what I look for in an audiobook is different from what I look for in print, so it’s easy for me to understand why some people make similar distinctions between paper and ebooks. If you’ve had a hard time enjoying digital novels, try nonfiction, or try reading trashier (or more challenging) books than you read in print. Try multiple genres and forms until you have a few reading experiences in which the e-reader is no longer front-and-centre, and then try reading the kinds of books you enjoy on paper.
  6. Share your book. Passing on a well-loved book to an equally loved friend is one of life’s great pleasures. And while it’s theoretically possible to lend a Kindle title, it’s not quite as simple as handing over a physical book. That’s why I’ve needed to find other ways to own, and share, what I’m reading: by embracing the highlighting feature (now as much a part of my novel reading as it is my nonfiction reading, since I can finally hold onto the lines that resonate) and by sharing my very favorite passages on social media.
  7. Buy fresh. When I have fallen out of the reading habit as a print reader, it’s usually because I’ve had a hard time transitioning from one book to the next. While I’ve stockpiled tempting novels so that there’s always something on hand, I want to read what I want to read….and if nothing on my own shelves catches my eye, and I don’t have time to hit a bookstore, I may go weeks or months before I next pick up a book. Stockpiling digital titles creates the same problem, so unless I expect to be offline for a sustained period of time, I try to buy at the time I plan to start reading. That way I can buy something I’m eager to dig into immediately, often because it’s an intriguing new release.

Have you had trouble reading on an e-reader, or have you taken to ebooks with immediate enthusiasm? I’d love to hear your experience, and your tips for having a great e-reading experience.

Work Smarter with LinkedIn, published today

A LinkedIn profile is more important than résumé, more useful than a business card and more permanent than an email address. As essential as LinkedIn is to today’s professionals, many people still struggle with the question of how to use it or what makes it useful. That’s why I’m delighted that today marks the publication of the latest book in my Work Smarter with Social Media series for Harvard Business Review Press: Work Smarter with LinkedIn.

work-smarter-with-linkedin-cover-250Work Smarter with LinkedIn takes you through exactly what we’d cover if we sat down together to get you powered up on LinkedIn. If we had an hour or two together, we’d talk about your near- and long-term professional goals, and then we’d focus on how LinkedIn could help you achieve them. I’d show you how to:

  • Ensure your LinkedIn profile positions you effectively, which includes finding an easy way of keeping it up-to-date
  • Build a LinkedIn network that actually helps you get your work done, instead of notching your bedpost with as many connections as you can get
  • Identify and connect with the people who will make a big difference to your business or professional goals…which is the miraculous power of LinkedIn, once you know how to use it
  • Travel smarter (or less!) by making smart use of LinkedIn and related social tools

Work Smarter with LinkedIn is that coffee shop visit. It’s the conversation I wish I could have with everyone I’ve every met who is a bit fuzzy on what LinkedIn is for, or is unsure whether they’re tapping its full potential. When I tell people about a few of the ways LinkedIn has dramatically affected my own career — some of which I share in the book — there is usually an aha! moment when LinkedIn starts to make sense.

I want you to have that aha! moment by reading Work Smarter with LinkedIn, and I’d love your help in spreading the word. Please let your friends, family and colleagues know about this short guide to making LinkedIn an effective business tool, and if you really want to get your business partner, kid or colleague turned onto LinkedIn, consider giving them a copy yourself.

Thank you in advance for your help, and here are some links that can help you spread the word:

  • Click to tweet this: Are you ready to Work Smarter with #LinkedIn? Then check out my friend @awsamuel’s new ebook from @Harvardbiz Press: http://amzn.to/wswli
  • Click to tweet this: The next best thing to a coaching session with @awsamuel: her new ebook, Work Smarter with #LinkedIn: http://amzn.to/wswli #readthis
  • Click to tweet this: Want to know who to connect with on #LinkedIn? Read Work Smarter with LinkedIn, just published by @HarvardBiz Press: http://amzn.to/wswli

And one more great way to spread the word: by sharing this ecard from Rob Cottingham:

Cartoon: Connect with Lenny (in prison)

Find Work Smarter with LinkedIn on

Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite, new from Harvard Business Review Press

Work Smarter With Twitter and HootSuite coverDo you feel like you could get more out of Twitter? Or are you a passionate Twitter user who wants to help your colleagues, friends and family use it and love it the way you do?

Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite is for everyone who wants to get more out of Twitter, whether as a newcomer or a longtime user who wants to make smarter, more strategic use of this platform. The second in my Work Smarter with Social Media series for Harvard Business Review Press, this short guide focuses on how Twitter can help you build the strong, meaningful relationships that can support your work and your career.

And I’d like to ask for your help spreading the word about this new ebook. Please buy a copy for yourself or as a gift for a colleague or a friend (it’s the perfect way to help that Twitter newbie or skeptic get serious about how to use Twitter). Once you’ve had a chance to take a look at the book yourself, I’d be delighted if you would post a review on Amazon, iTunes or Goodreads.

My community of Twitter pals has been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement in the writing of this book — in fact, in all my writing for the past five years. If we’ve ever exchanged so much as a tweet, believe me when I say that you are part of the extraordinary experience of Twitter that I tried to capture in this title. Thank you for helping make Twitter such a valuable part of my own professional practice, and for any help you can provide in tweeting, blogging or otherwise sharing news about this new ebook.

Where to find it

To jump into the conversation on Twitter and Facebook

Tweetable links

Click to tweet this: New ebook from @harvardbiz: Work Smarter with #Twitter and @HootSuite, by my friend @awsamuel. http://amzn.to/wswevernote

Click to tweet this: How can #Twitter and @HootSuite build your professional relationships? Find out in @awsamuel’s new ebook. http://amzn.to/wswtwitter

Click to tweet this: I love @HootSuite! This new ebook from @harvardbiz will show you how it can help you tweet smarter, too. http://amzn.to/wswtwitter

More ways to share

If you’d like to talk about the book in more than 140 characters, here are some short descriptions that can help you get started:

You know you could make good use of Twitter — if only you had a roadmap of exactly how to use it. Now you can get that roadmap from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite, the latest ebook in the Harvard Business Review Press series, Work Smarter with Social Media. It’s like looking over the shoulder of a social media pro to find out how to keep up a lively Twitter presence in just a few hours a week. In this case, you’re looking over the shoulder of Alexandra Samuel, VP of Social Media for Vision Critical, as she shows you how to use Twitter and HootSuite to build the professional relationships that can make a big difference to your work and your career.

If you have ever felt overwhelmed by Twitter, a new ebook from Harvard Business Review Press may have the cure. In Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite, Alexandra Samuel shows how to use Twitter lists to focus on the relationships that can really make a difference to your work and career. Her methodology relies on a multi-column Twitter client like HootSuite, which makes it possible to focus your attention on your key lists instead of on your home feed, and makes it easy to maintain your own Twitter presence with a combination of scheduled tweets and real-time conversation. Check it out here: http://amzn.to/wswtwitter

Shareable quotes

These short excerpts from the book are ready to share as summaries or sample tips:

Even Twitter enthusiasts are often paralyzed by the sheer volume of tweets and the velocity of Twitter conversations, both of which increase quickly once you follow more than a handful of people. Twitter newcomers are often so overwhelmed by Twitter’s size and pace that they tune out altogether…[T]o make the most of Twitter, you have to focus on individual people, not individual tweets….You’ll stay focused on these relationships and get away from the dilemma of “keeping up” only if you embrace Twitter not as a news site but as a social network, which is, after all, how Twitter bills itself. — from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

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Using Twitter lists means that when you take a five-minute Twitter break, you’ll be able to quickly home in on the updates from the people you really want to hear from, simply by looking at your two or three most crucial lists. When you’re taking the time for a deeper dive into the Twitterverse, you’ll see each tweet in a context that reminds you why you’re tuning in to that particular person. — from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

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Putting your top relationships into lists and streams [in HootSuite] is the key to helping you filter out the folks you don’t want to spend your time on, even if you want to keep following them out of courtesy or so that they can message you privately. If you’re scrupulous about focusing on tweets from folks in your top lists, you may be just fine following all sorts of other random feeds, secure in the knowledge that you won’t be distracted by the detritus. — from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

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If you do want to build a significant following—whether you define “significant” as a hundred thousand followers or a hundred leaders in your immediate field—you need to think about defining a focus for your tweeting that you can lead with a sustainable level of effort. If you’re willing to put in several hours a day to managing your Twitter feed (something I’d recommend for very few people), you could take on a broader topic or one that already has some serious tweeters. If you’re going to keep your Twitter time to a few hours a week, you’ll need to define a fairly narrow focus. A good way to do that is to locate your tweeting at the intersection of two or three lively fields, or a couple of fields plus a geographic location. While you may not be the top tweeter in the field of human resources, you could be the top tweeter on recruiting young people in retail (which lets you tweet a mix of content about retail, Gen Y, and recruitment) or retail recruitment in Dallas. — from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

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To sustain a consistent pace on Twitter, while leaving yourself room to engage with people in real time, make tweeting easy and schedule a certain number of tweets in advance. By setting up an efficient process for consistent tweeting at roughly predictable intervals, you ensure that the people you want to connect with know not only what you’re about but how often they can count on a little nugget of wisdom or news. Better still, you free up your spontaneous tweeting windows for replying to the people who want to engage with you, engaging with the people who you want to know better, and thus building important relationships. The next few sections show you how. — from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

Thank you

This page was inspired not only the brilliant example of Lee LeFever, but by the amazing generosity of the friends, colleagues and readers who spread the word (and shared their reviews) on Work Smarter with Evernote. Your enthusiasm has been the key to its success, and your constructive feedback has helped to shape Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite.

Thank you in advance for anything you do to support this new book and series, whether it’s with a Like on the Facebook page, a review on Amazon or sharing your feedback with me directly. Most of all, thank you for reading.

Twitter & HootSuite stories wanted for next Harvard Business Review ebook

FROM AN EVERNOTE USER: I largely use Evernote to clip news articles, academic articles, and journal articles. I use separate Evernote notebooks for teaching, for material relevant to my book, and one for my next research project. I also created a notebook when I was writing a piece for The New Yorker about the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek. I wanted to make sure I gave proper attribution to the ideas that I was building upon, so I clipped links to analyses of media coverage of Oak Creek or details about the shooter. I didn’t want to plagiarize anything by accident, so anytime I made an argument that had been made before, I linked to it.—Naunihal Singh, assistant professor of political science, University of Notre Dame

Work Smarter with Evernote features a number of great tips like this one. One of the best parts of working on the book was hearing all the creative ways people use Evernote to be more productive, smarter and taller. (OK, maybe not taller, but possibly thinner.)

Now that I’m working on the next ebook in the series, I’m eager to hear more great stories from creative social media users. This time, I’m looking for your best examples, tricks and tactics for using Twitter or HootSuite. How do you decide who to follow? How do you read tweets and follow people? How do you structure and organize your own tweeting?

If you’ve got suggestions on how people can get more from Twitter, examples of how you’ve used Twitter or HootSuite yourself, or stories about how Twitter has rocked your world, I’d love to hear them via Twitter (to @awsamuel), in the comment thread below, or via email to alex[at]alexandrasamuel[dot]com. Thanks in advance for your help!

Please help me launch my new Harvard Business ebook, Work Smarter with Evernote

On December 18th, Harvard Business Review Press will release my first ebook: Work Smarter with Evernote. This short guide shows how Evernote can help you become more focused and effective on the job—and get ahead in your career.

I’d like to ask for your help: please buy a copy of book for yourself or as a gift for a colleague or friend (you’ll be able to gift the Kindle book as of tomorrow; you can’t gift a pre-order). The book is aimed at people who’ve always want to try Evernote or have given it a try; even Evernote power users will find lots of ideas about how to use it to strengthen their professional focus. Once you’ve got your hands on a copy, I would be delighted if you would post a review on Amazon or iTunes.

And if you share my passion for Evernote, or if you are one of the many kind people who have shared my work from this site or HBR over the years, I hope you’ll also consider sharing news of this book on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or your own blog. Some links to make this a little easier are further down this page.

Where to find it

You can find Work Smarter with Evernote available for pre-order:

Work Smarter Facebook badgeTo jump into the conversation on Twitter and Facebook:

About the book

In the past five years I have spoken with dozens of friends, thousands of social media trainees and the occasional random stranger about how a digital notebook like Evernote can not only transform their productivity but also support their professional growth. It only takes a quick demo to leave them eager to start using Evernote right now, usually after seeing the way all my meeting notes are just a click away, or how I created my own tablet-ready Paris guidebook using the Evernote web clipper, or after the mind-blowing moment when I show them how Evernote’s character recognition means that typing the word unique brings up the horribly scrawled whiteboard I snapped three years ago.Word "unique" as highlighted on a whiteboard snapshot in Evernote

Once I’ve got someone fired up by Evernote’s transformative potential, what I really want to do is sit down with them for an hour or two so that I can walk them through all the ways it can save them time, sharpen their professional focus and give them instant access to just about everything they have read, written or discovered. Work Smarter with Evernote is a short guide that walks you through everything I’d show you if we had that hour together.

Work Smarter with Evernote is the first in a series of short ebooks that I will be publishing with HBR over the next year, all of which help you use key social media tools to be more focused and effective on the job, and take your professional life to the next level. Like some of what you’ve seen on my blog over the years, these ebooks are a hybrid of tech help, self-help and productivity how-to. Thanks to the hard work of Harvard Business Review’s editorial team — and especially, the brilliant Ania Wieckowski, who is editing this series — Work Smarter with Evernote is a resource I’m proud to share both with fellow Evernote fans and would-be Evernote users.

Tweetable links

Click to tweet this: New ebook from @harvardbiz: Work Smarter with @Evernote, by my friend @awsamuel. http://amzn.to/wswevernote

Click to tweet this: Is 2013 the year you’ll work smarter with Evernote? @awsamuel’s new ebook can help. http://amzn.to/wswevernote

Click to tweet this: I love @Evernote! This new ebook from @harvardbiz will show you how it can help you work smarter, too. http://amzn.to/wswevernote

More ways to share

If you’d like to talk about the book in more than 140 characters, here are some short descriptions that can help you get started:

Evernote, which helps you capture and organize all your digital notes, is one of my favorite apps. If you want to understand how it can help you make your own work more effective, check out Work Smarter with Evernote, a new book from Harvard Business Review Press. It’s a short guide by Alexandra Samuel that you can buy today at http://amzn.to/wswevernote

When you capture everything, and organize your work so that your top priorities stay front-and-centre, you can be more productive and more creative. In Work Smarter with Evernote, a new ebook from Harvard Business Review, Alexandra Samuel shows you how the free Evernote app can transform the way you work. Check it out here: http://amzn.to/wswevernote

Productivity books can help you make better use of your time. Software manuals can help you make better use of technology. In Work Smarter with Evernote, Alexandra Samuel brings time and tech together by showing you how to set up and use Evernote so that you can be more focused and productive. It’s the first book in a new series from Harvard Business Review Press, available on iTunes and Amazon: http://amzn.to/wswevernote

Shareable quotes

These short excerpts from the book are ready to share as summaries or sample tips:

If you have ever wasted a minute looking for the notes you jotted down last week, wracked your brain for the name of that supplier you met last month, or wondered what you really accomplished in the last year, a web-based notebook can be a transformative tool. Getting hung up on questions like “where did I put that?” and “what should I really do next?” doesn’t just waste time and energy; it can actually keep you from achieving your full potential. By capturing all your work in one place and organizing it to keep your top priorities front and center, a web-based notebook can help you take charge of all of those thoughts and ideas—and let you take control of your priorities and get ahead in your job—in a way that works for you. — from Work Smarter with Evernote by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)

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[O]rganizing your work into notebooks helps you anticipate and structure what you should pay attention to so that you stay focused on what matters most. Think of your notebooks not as folders for cataloging each note that comes along; think of them instead as buckets for you to fill. If you’re trying to get out of the weeds of individual sales calls and instead think about the new markets you want to tap into, don’t just create notebooks labeled “Smith Account” and “QLN Account.” Create notebooks like “Key Industries” or “West Coast Prospects.” — from Work Smarter with Evernote by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)

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Saved searches can…help you resist the urge to turn everything into a notebook. If you’re working on a short-term project, it may be easiest to gather the relevant notes by searching for a particular keyword (like the name of a client) and then saving the search results, rather than creating a separate notebook for that project. You can access your saved searches anytime, and all the notes that include your keyword or search string will appear in your notes window just as they do when you’re browsing within a notebook or tag. — from Work Smarter with Evernote by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)

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Many companies and organizations use a customer relationship management (CRM) system to track contact with customers, supporters, or vendors. If your company doesn’t have a CRM, try Evernote as a lightweight alternative. Create a separate notebook for each client or lead, and keep notes on each time you have contact with that company. Encourage your colleagues to do the same, so you can all see one another’s notes. — from Work Smarter with Evernote by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)

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To be a leader today, you have to let go of the fantasy of keeping up with social media. Instead, you must focus on becoming a social leader, someone who can truly contribute and thrive in a professional world that has been reinvented by the advent of social media. That doesn’t mean getting special training so that you can succeed in social media. On the contrary, it means using social media to develop the skills, habits, and mind-set that characterize today’s successful leaders.
Making thoughtful use of a web-based notebook like Evernote is one of the best ways to train yourself to think and act this way. — from Work Smarter with Evernote by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012)

How did I create such a clear explanation of how you can help promote this book?

By drawing on the example of the master of explanation, Lee LeFever. His new book, The Art of Explanation, gives you direct access to his genius at explaining everything from RSS to how to prepare for an emergency. No wonder his book page is the clearest explanation I’ve ever seen of how to support a book!

Thank you

Thank you in advance for anything you do to support this new book and series, whether it’s with a Like on the Facebook page, a review on Amazon or sharing your feedback with me directly. Most of all, thank you for reading.

5 ways technology can reduce the family stress of business travel

When you’ve got kids, business travel is especially stressful. It’s hard for them to have mum or dad away, and it’s hard for you to miss them. Here are 5 ways that technology can help:

  1. Google your trip: Before you hit the road, spend a few minutes showing your kids where you’ll be going. Google your destination and show them a few images so they can picture the city you will be visiting or even the hotel where you will be staying. Use Google Maps to show your child where you will be and how it relates geographically to your hometown. This is a great way to make geography real and meaningful to your child.
  2. Download a bedtime story: Maybe you don’t want to lug the complete Beatrix Potter collection, but you can download one of your kid’s favorite books to your e-reader or laptop. Call or Skype at bedtime, and ask your spouse or babysitter to turn the pages of your child’s storybook while you read the words on your virtual edition.
  3. Make a movie: When my husband is on the road, he often shoots a short movie for the kids with his phone or webcam. It might be a walk down the Vegas strip, or a puppet show he puts on in his hotel room (don’t forget to pack the finger puppets!) It lets the kids know he’s thinking about them and helps him feel like they are along for the ride.
  4. Make a playlist: Our family bedtime features a now-standard set of bedtime songs. The kids prefer it when we sing for them ourselves, but in a pinch we can pull up their favorite bedtime songs on the iPhone so they won’t object when (unlike their dad) I forget the words to U2’s Pride.
  5. Yelp a souvenir: You can count on the airport newsstand if you want to return home with a plastic airplane or a stuffed mascot for the local sports team. But it’s much nicer to bring the kids a small souvenir that relates to one of your passions. If you’ve got even a 20 minute break in your meeting schedule, use Yelp to find the nearest art supply shop, toy store or hobby shop and pick up a gift that reflects your child’s latest interest. Or better yet, Yelp before you leave home to find a really outstanding craftsperson or toy store in the city you’ll be visiting so that you can return with something that is unique to your destination.

Of course, the number one way technology can reduce the stress of business travel is by keeping you at home. These 10 ways to use social media to get the most out of business travel can help.

Locative technologies help us redefine what presence means

Simon King has a provocative blog post about the relationship between using technologies on-location, and actually being present in the location where you’re checking. He begins by comparing e-readers and smartphones to books or magazines:

In my experience, there is a huge social difference between using an iPhone and physical media such as a book or magazine. The numerous possible activities afforded by an iPhone creates a “down the rabbit hole” effect that draws the user deeper into their own self and projects an unapproachable air to others because they can not gauge the purpose, or level of intensity, in which you are engaged. In contrast, a book or magazine projects a temporary, non-transactional activity, and the trivialness of interruption is obvious.

Then he moves onto those technologies that are explicitly focused on tying our net use to our physical location — which is a far different thing from physical presence:

What strikes me about locative media today is the weakness of connection to what is actually present….Our devices may always be connected to the internet, but they are rarely aware of each other or connected directly with technology embedded in the environment…. A Four Square check-in is the digital equivalent of an “I was here” graffiti tag. It establishes territory, but does it connect you more deeply to a place?

Anybody who walks into a wifi café or observes the number of Blackberries & iPhones amusing people on a public bus can tell you that here ain’t what it used to be. We’re getting used to e-mail, texts and tweets that ensure our colleagues, friends and lovers are always at least a little distracted — whether in the boardroom or the bedroom. “Locative” applications that tie our virtual presence to our geographic presence only ensure, as King points out, that we are always a little bit absent.

But focusing on how our mobile devices take us out of where we are ignores how they take us out of where we were. I remember what it was like to move to Vancouver, almost 13 years ago, while working for a Toronto-based company; for the first 6 months I stayed conscientiously within the 4 walls of my home office until it got to be 6 pm, Toronto time. It was a recipe for isolation, depression and borderline agoraphobia. Then I got a cell phone and a laptop, and gave myself permission to work from cafés or just to go out for a walk! My office could still reach me, and I could re-enter the world.

More recently, my husband and I braved our first serious travel with kids…and iPhones/iPads. We were daunted by the prospect of Paris with a 4- and 6-year-old, and 12 hours into wicked jetlag, we struggled to keep the kids awake. Then we settled into a café, and handed them our iPads: they stayed happily gaming and awake until it was bedtime in their new time zone. That hour of iPhone gaming might not have been as present as an hour of strolling by the Seine, but it was key to a transition that let them (and us!) settle into Paris much faster than if we’d had to endure another hour of tearful pleas to go to sleep.

And those are just the extremes. Think about all the little restaurants you’ve discovered because they popped up as nearby on Yelp, the events you’ve attended because they were tweeted with your city’s hashtag, the beaches or neighborhoods or cities you’ve discovered because you read about them on somebody’s blog. Social media pulls us off out of our chairs and out into the streets because it’s a constant stream of tidbits that act as teasers for the world outside.

Chances are, a good number of those tidbits were added to Yelp or blogged or tweeted by someone sitting in a café, touching their smartphone instead of being “present”. Instead of scorning, pitying or worrying about our culture’s shift away from 100% attention to the present place and moment — a kind of presence that was pretty rare even before smartphones, by the way — maybe we can start embracing a new way of looking at where we are at any given moment. Partly here, with the friends who are sitting close by…and partly floating in the ether, calling our other friends to come out and play.