New smartphone, or, learning and change

As I was saying, I needed to replace my PDA.  Last Saturday, just ahead of 6 or 8 inches of “a light dusting of snow,” my wife and I each got the Verizon HTC Droid Eris.  (She meanwhile received a BlackBerry for work; we now have more smart phones in the house than we do smart people.)

The good news is we were able to make a call on the way home from the store, so the phone part was easy to master.  That was the prelude to four or five hours during which we both tinkered with our phones.

It was a good reminder that people who say “learning is fun” are usually talking about past learning, rather than future.

At a particularly high level of stress, I wrote down some comments we were making:

  • I know I came across it at one point…
  • How do you…?
  • How did I…?
  • Where was…?

…which helps explain my original delay in getting the phone in the first place.  Cost was one factor: Verizon’s data plan adds $30 to your monthly phone bill.  On a two-year contract, that’s $720 dollars (in addition to your voice plan, even though ours is relatively cheap).

In retrospect, I think the more important factor for me was transition cost (which a couple of friends might phrase as “resistance to change”).  I see three potential sources of trouble from a shift like the one I’ve made:

  • You’ve got to learn some new things.
  • You’ve got to learn how to do some things differently.
  • You’ve got to leave some things behind.

Of those, I think “differently” is the most troubling.  That’s the real change: to accomplish X, I used to do Y.  I knew how to do Y.  I was good at Y, so much so I didn’t have to think about it, because it had been incorporated into a larger set of behavior, the way I instinctively know when to use “the” and when not to (my sister’s in the hospital, my brother’s in college).

A certain amount of stress (or perhaps challenge) can help foster learning–we’ve got a goal, we’re looking for a way to accomplish it.  Too much, though, and we see the new practice or new technology as not just a change but a hindrance–a word whose roots suggest harm, injury, or impairment.

I’ve also noticed several instances of “intuitive cognitive strategies” (a term van Merriënboer and Kirschner use for “incorrect notions that newbies come up with”).  For example, there are seven home screens–a phrase that confused me, since I thought of the middle one as the home screen.    The other sixe were…I don’t know, helper screen.  Subscreens.  Peripheral screens.

(Why this matters: you only have so much space on the smartphone screen.  By flicking your finger across it, you can switch between the various home screens and have more real estate for applications.)

Part of that confusion might have come from the concept of scenes, which are alternative sets of home screens.  (You swap in a new scene and your home screens are different–like one for work and one for play, maybe.)

Got that?  Me, either, which is why I thought that you had to add a new icon to the “main” home screen (the middle one of the seven) and then drag it wherever you wanted it, like the offspring of the iPhone and a number puzzle.

Going back to transition cost, the highest risk for me was that I’d have to re-enter my contacts and my calendar items if the Eris couldn’t sync with Microsoft Outlook.  I didn’t want to have to switch to Google’s contacts and calendar (see above, “learn some new things” and “leave some things behind”).

Cooperative learning came into play.  I don’t recall what I was doing at the time (probably trying to create a clear path for app-dragging), but my wife made a very specific search and found a description of how to get the Eris to sync directly with Outlook on my desktop.

It was a little bumpy, but I got it done–and that payoff boosted my sense of competence on the new tool.  Now I’m having fun playing with applications, and I’m more prone to see difficulties as puzzles rather than setbacks.  I just hope that the next time I’m trying to breeze someone else through “change management,” I remember how frustrated I felt when my own change was getting managed.

Here’s a video from  Lisa Gade’s look at the Eris (at Mobile Tech Review). You can see a demonstration of those seven home screens at about the 3:00 mark in the video:

Biggest mystery about the phone so far?  It turns out that your purchase doesn’t include the 238 page user guide (PDF).  (To be fair, it’s 238 5 x 5 pages, but still…)  Perhaps Verizon has a goal to encourage discovery learning.

Peculiar mystery: if you visit Android Market (the Google source for Android applications) with a computer rather than a smartphone, there’s no search function.

[Here are] some of the more popular applications and games available in Android Market. For a comprehensive, up-to-date list of the thousands of titles that are available, you will need to view Android Market on a handset.

No search?  From Google?

Onetime English major mystery:  Eris was the goddess of strife.  At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, she lobbed a golden apple inscribed “to the fairest.”  Squabbling among goddesses led to the Trojan War, an event somewhat more frustrating than switching to a smart(er) phone.

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