Always On by Brian Chen (2011)

This is a book about the iPhone and how it has created an “anything-anywhere-anytime” future and locked us in to this new world.  Annie bought me this for Christmas, and the irony is that though I have an iPhone, I probably under-utilize its capacity more than any other owner.  Perhaps she wanted me to see what I’m missing—and clearly I’m missing plenty.  At times, the book almost made me want to download a few more apps (I have 5 or 6 on my phone and my kids have added 20 or 30 others for their use) so I can do more with my phone.  But by the end of the book I decided that I’ll leave my phone as it is for now: a device to call my family and check email, with the occasional foray into maps, restaurants, and vocabulary words.  I’m simply not an “always on” person, and though I’m clearly missing out on some information and opportunities, I’m also pretty content doing lots of other things besides checking a screen hundreds of times a day.  The book is mostly pro-iPhone, pro-Apple, and pro-technology (Chen used to work for Macworld and currently writes a Wired colum on Apple), but Chen does attempt to balance the scales with some of the drawbacks such as gaming addiction, self-obsession, and data overload.  Certainly he acknowledges the frightening path of privacy violation we seem to be headed down because after all, nothing is really free.  All those free apps and free sites with free data and free services are funded by ads, and ads make money when they’re personal to us–users of the free stuff.  And to get personal, they need personal information which many sites share and sometimes sell to third parties.  So Chen makes us aware of many ‘behind-the-scenes’ tricks companies are using—and constantly developing—to get information we’re not aware they’re getting.  At times, though, Chen’s research is a bit suspect.  For example, he cites a study by researches at Abilene Christian University which found that students who had more Facebook activity—more friends, more groups, and more wall posts—were more likely to stay in college than those students who were less connected to social networking sites. Of course, Abilene Christian also provides every student with an iPhone, so research results like this support their decision to enable every Abilene student to be “always on.”


This book is definitely interesting, and it covers a wealth of information: the iPhone and the other smart phones, vertical business strategies, liability, privacy, virtual worlds, concentration and multi-tasking, the “me” generation, the Amish, and a variety of other topics.  Near the end of the book, he offers an analogy that I like and I’ll use—“Attempting to generalize ‘the Internet’ as good or bad is like saying ‘food’ is good or bad.” Since I eat organic, healthy food and my kids prefer Pop Tarts, I get that analogy.  All food is not equal.  And all Internet use is not equal either.  I just hope  I their favorite sites are healthier than their favorite foods.  (non fiction)

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