Tag Archives: smartphones

Smartphones or Smores? Summer Camps Stand Firm Against Tech

When I think of summer camp, I think of toasting marshmallows by a campfire, stepping in the mud on the bottom of a lake, and itchy mosquito bites. But for a lot of kids these days, summer camp has a new meaning. Brought up on a daily diet of texting, Snapchat and Facebook, they are steeling themselves for the anxiety of going up to eight weeks without access to technology!

In response to what many believe is a severe digital overload for our children, both modern and traditional camps are being encouraged to remain tech-free. Smartphones are universally banned; personal computers and gaming systems are also excluded; and even iPods and other music players are severely restricted.

Camp supervisors – and many supportive parents – argue that kids shouldn’t need these gadgets if camps are successful at keeping kids busy from sunrise to lights out. “The dilemma for camps is that if they do allow technology, the kids will likely plug in and tune out,” said Gary Rudman, founder and president of GTF Consulting, a firm that helps companies advertise to kids and teens.

Most summer camps have had some restrictions on cell phone use in place for years, either banning them completely or only allowing calls at certain times of the day. But those restrictions are being extended to other forms of technology as well. Although almost all camps now have some form of Internet access, use of computers is usually granted only to staff.

Other camps take a slightly different approach, prohibiting the personal use of gadgets but incorporating them into structured programs. At Camp Marist near Ossipee Lake, New Hampshire, traditional camp activities like swimming and archery are accompanied by a few hi-tech options like digital photography classes.

If you know your child just won’t be able to cope without technology, there are other options. Plenty of camps offer specialized technology programs. iD Tech Camps, for example, has programs for film and computer programming, as well as game creation and design. And Microsoft, through its two-day DigiGirlz High Tech Camps, provides hands-on tech experience for girls, in the hope of dispelling some of the gender stereotypes of the high-tech industry.

Many experts agree that giving your child some time to unplug is a good thing. They will get more physical activity and interact with friends in the real world as opposed to the virtual one. But separating a child from his or her smartphone can cause some anxiety, and brings up some valid safety issues for concerned parents.

How do most kids cope without constant access to their tech gadgets? Quite well, according to most camp counselors. Besides, they often learn another new skill during their few weeks away from home: the lost art of letter-writing!

Should summer camps continue to ban smartphones and other technology? Let us know what you think!

Have Smartphones Become Our New Bed Partners?

By Stacey Ross

No pun intended, but in doing a bit of research on the topic of sleeping with smartphones, I had an eye-opening experience: there is not only growing pressure to be available to peers and colleagues 24/7, but this particularly addictive habit is compromising the health and well-being of mobile phone owners everywhere.

Do you take your mobile phone into the bedroom? I myself have fallen asleep with my phone far more times than I can count, and it appears to be a particular problem among young phone users. A HuffPost/YouGov survey revealed that 63 percent of smart phone users aged 18 – 29 sleep with their cell phones, smartphones or tablets in the bed with them.

Studies tell the story

We sleep in cycles of 1½ – 2 hours, with brief moments of waking in between that normally go unnoticed. However, if we train our brains to take a late-night peak at our gadgets, we are doing ourselves a great disservice. A 2011 study at Stanford University tested the effect of a total of just 0.12 seconds of light exposure during the night. Participants were exposed to pulses of light lasting two milliseconds each for an hour. This delayed the body clock and the participants became more alert.

And because of the way we sleep, having a mobile device by the bed means that  if we do wake up in the night we’re more likely to stay awake. And if  we’re expecting a phone call, a text, a reply to an inquiry, etc., this is going to make us less prone to relaxation and a good night’s sleep.

The absence of quality sleep can result in increased irritability, anxiety and depression, as well as reduced concentration, stifled creativity, depression and many more negative symptoms. The bright, high-quality screens on modern phones emit artificial light, which is considered a melatonin inhibitor and a cortisol stimulator, hence keeping us awake longer.

It’s also interesting to note that neuro-imaging has shown that back-and-forth texting floods the pleasure centers of the brain, the same area that lights up when using heroin or other addictive drugs! Not only might texting disrupt crucial sleep patterns but it might also bring on insomnia, headaches and other health issues. Who wants to be a smartphone junkie?

Bring back the teddy bear

Experts across the board suggest that mobile phone owners move their phones off the bedside table and out of bedrooms altogether. Sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley says: “In order to get a good night’s sleep, you have to feel safe and not worried about anything. By having your phone close by at night, you’re subconsciously saying you wish to attend to that phone. The brain will monitor the situation and your sleep will be lighter and more likely to be disturbed.”

Balance is always a key factor. It is up to parents to set smartphone guidelines that go beyond the topics of safety and privacy. Creating a healthful pattern of turning off our phones and storing them in another room is a vital move for the well-being of not only our children, but ourselves as well!

P.S. Thanks for calling ME on this, Mom. I’ll call you after I catch up on my sleep! (Just kidding!)

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

7 Ways to Reduce Your Data Usage

Smartphones are no longer just about voice, text and e-mail. They are work tools, entertainment devices, social media hubs, and mobile links to the web. But there is just one thing holding us back from freely enjoying all these activities: our data plans.

As unlimited plans go the way of the woolly mammoth, staying within prescribed data limits has become the key to an affordable phone bill. This is even more important as we continue to add devices and share data among various plan members.

Fortunately, phone manufacturers and wireless carriers are starting to add tools that can help us manage data consumption and avoid those costly overages. Here are a few suggestions on how to slow down your data usage and stay within those strict monthly limits:

Download (and upload) on Wi-Fi only

If you regularly download movies, songs, or any other large files, wait until you can use your home Wi-Fi or another alternative to your cellular network. The same applies to uploading all those photos and videos to Facebook and Twitter. Uploading or downloading 10 photos a day can use as much as 1GB of data a month. Most smartphones will now ask you whether you want to wait until Wi-Fi is available when you try to transfer files. Take the hint and get into the habit of saying “yes.”

Update apps on Wi-Fi only

Apps are constantly updating themselves and, if you have a lot of them, those updates can make a difference to your monthly data consumption. Most smartphones will allow you to select the option of only updating apps when a Wi-Fi network is available. On Android phones, visit Google Play and go to Settings. Make sure that the auto-update option is set to “Auto update apps over Wi-Fi only.”

Turn off auto-sync

Most smartphones are set to automatically sync with a number of different external services. These can be cloud storage services like iCloud, Google Drive and Dropbox, or individual apps like Google+, Calendar and Facebook. This auto-syncing can start to use up a lot of data, particularly if it involves syncing photos and other data-heavy files.

While turning off auto-syncing completely defeats the purpose of cloud storage and backup, temporarily disabling auto-sync when it’s not required can be a good data saving option. On Android phones, select Settings, Data Usage, Menu and then uncheck Auto-sync data.

Understand which apps use the most data

The key to managing your data usage is understanding which apps are doing all the data guzzling. Sometimes it will be obvious, like when your kids decided to watch a movie in the back of the car, but sometimes it can be less clear. All recent smartphone operating systems now offer a data usage summary, which details which apps are using the most data. If you are not a chronic movie-watcher, music-streamer, or Facebook updater, then it’s likely to be something as mundane as e-mail or web browsing. Whatever app turns out to be your #1 data guzzler, make a mental note to change how you use that app,  either cutting down on overall use or, again, waiting until a Wi-Fi network is available.

Pre-load streaming apps

A number of data hungry apps now offer the ability to pre-load content, so you can download on Wi-Fi rather than stream via cellular network. Nokia Drive and Nokia Music are just two examples of these pre-loadable apps. With Nokia Drive, you can pre-load maps to save data during navigation, and with Nokia Music, you can download your favorite playlists to listen to along the way!

Set up data notifications

Another key to managing your monthly data is knowing how much you have used at any given moment. Most carriers now allow you to set up notifications when you have reached 50%, 75% or 90% of your monthly allowance. Even if you can’t cut back on your data, it gives you the opportunity to retroactively move to a higher data tier, which is a lot cheaper than paying overage charges.

Set data limits

If all else fails, setting strict data limits will make sure you never go over your agreed allowance. You can usually do this through the Settings option on your smartphone or by setting up a pre-paid account with your carrier. If you set data limits on your smartphone, make sure you are using the correct usage cycle, as it’s your carrier’s monthly usage cycle that’s important, not the calendar month or any other cycle assumed by your smartphone’s operating system.

How To Shoot Better Smartphone Videos

More video footage is shot today than ever before. The reason? Smartphones. They are always with us, they are easy to use, and an increased confidence in our ability to take halfway-decent still shots has led us to believe that we can also be the next Steven Spielberg when it comes to video!

But sadly, most of our smartphone videos are destined to disappoint. The shaky and grainy images are usually played back straight away and forgotten, gathering digital dust until it’s time for a smartphone upgrade. And if we do have the nerve to post the video to Facebook or YouTube, it’s usually with the hope that the cuteness of a baby or a cat will be enough to distract viewers from our technical shortcomings.

To be fair, a lot of the problems with smartphone videos are caused by the equipment. Smartphone cameras have much smaller sensors than regular cameras or camcorders, meaning that they will have difficulty picking up images and colors in poor light and be overwhelmed by too much light. The devices themselves are also small and therefore very sensitive to any kind of movement.

But all is not lost. Smartphone manufacturers are starting to include helpful features and editing tools that minimize some of these weaknesses. And there are some steps that we can take behind the camera to make sure those videos are ready for primetime Here are a few suggestions:

Keep your smartphone steady

While zero shutter lag is helping to eliminate camera shake on still shots, this isn’t going to help us with video. Make sure you grip the smartphone firmly with two hands. Turning the camera sideways to shoot in landscape mode will help with this task. Avoid sudden movements. Take a firm stance and anchor your arms to your chest for additional stability. If you are moving the smartphone to capture off-screen activity or panoramic views, turn your whole body and not just your arms.

For a much steadier video clip, use a tripod. Although few phones currently come with a tripod socket, it’s relatively easy to manufacture one by inserting a small screw through the edge of a smartphone case. After that, you can attach the screw to a regular tripod or any other device that will give you the desired stability.

Try to regulate the amount of light

Too much or too little light can dramatically impact the quality of a smartphone video. If possible, shoot outside on a cloudy day, so you have natural light but not too much glare. Indoor conditions can be far trickier, with artificial light impacting both the color and sharpness of the video images.

Newer smartphones like the iPhone 7 have a larger aperture to let in more light and tools like auto white balance to make colors more accurate, but they can still be overwhelmed by too much light or a dramatic change in light from one frame to the next. Consistency is the key. If you are shooting something more formal like a wedding video, then try out a few locations and angles to make sure you optimize whatever light is available.

Follow the basic rules of photo composition

Although video gives you much more license, you should still follow the basic rules of good photography to make your video more interesting. Divide the picture frame into a 3×3 grid and position the main subject somewhere other than the center. If a person is facing left, then position him on the right of the frame. Anticipate your subjects’ actions and give them room to move.

Also, be careful with the audio. Countless kids’ sports videos have been spoiled by the videographer chiming in with his or her comments or encouragement, totaling overwhelming the background audio. Let the scene speak for itself.

Use editing tools

Even if your smartphone video isn’t quite what you had in mind at first glance, it’s amazing what can be done with a little bit of editing. Again, some of the newer smartphones come with a suite of built-in editing tools, which will allow you to cut out certain scenes or add some limited special effects. But for a proper makeover, you will need to upload the video to a PC or Mac and use an editing tool like Windows Movie Maker or iMovie.

With these professional-style tools, you can enhance the color, eliminate unnecessary footage, blend the video with stills or slideshows, add full-blown special effects, and even add dramatic or background music.

Publish your video

OK – your video is now ready for an audience. Get it out of your smartphone (or off your PC if you have been using editing tools) and post it somewhere it can be seen. Most smartphones now allow you to post your video directly to Facebook, YouTube or other sharing sites. If you find yourself taking more and more video and are pleased with the results, then it might be worth starting your own YouTube channel so friends and family can subscribe.

Whatever you intend to do with your video, make sure it’s your best possible work. Hopefully the above tips will help!