Got an app for that?

I have been called a ‘luddite’ before. Luddites were those English textile workers in the 1800’s who protested because they were being displaced by machines for their labor intensive jobs. The luddites, as well as I, knew that technology can be a wonderful, time-saving tool, but we still somehow resist learning and using it. Yes, I am typing this on my Optiplex 390 pc and not an IBM Selectric typewriter, but only because I have to. I’d much rather be outside in the woods where there are no electric outlets around at all.

Then a new iPhone entered into my life. And it doesn’t need to plug into an outlet when I am out in the woods. All that I need is a signal (I actually prefer the places that don’t have good cell signals). The reason that I bought the iPhone was because I kept seeing my students fiddling with these things during my lectures. I figured if I can have my lectures made available on the smart phones, they can fiddle with it and maybe learn something at the same time.

So I made an app. Luckily, a company here in the southeast offered the chance to host an app at no cost for demonstration purposes. The app was to be used by visitors on a trail at a nature-based facility to provide information at certain stations. The process to create the app was pretty easy. I had to write the content and collect the information that would be on it. This included creating the route along the trail, writing the script for the individual stations, taking photographs or videos that would be part of the app, and even writing questions for a nature-based game. I entered the information into a template that the company supplied, and within a week the app was made available to be downloaded for free from the iTunes store.

How did this work out? Not bad. The app looked beautiful and professionally done and was pretty well received. It even was scored 4.5 out of 5 stars by the people who rated it. The problem was there were only 12 ratings. Yes, even though I am a luddite it is apparent that there are plenty more out there like me. Those are just the people who took the time to rate it, mind you, there were probably plenty of more people that used it. The facility that the app was written for didn’t have a free wireless signal for its visitors, and I am sure that this limited the numbers of people who would use the app. People don’t want to waste their cell signal minutes. I’m also sure that there are people, like me, who don’t necessarily want to use their smartphone when walking along a nature trail. But then there are people who don’t walk along nature trails because there aren’t any interesting technologies to use along it. One feature of smartphones that I have become reliant upon is the GPS technology.  Googlemaps (which is part of the app) shows where I am on the trail, where my next destination is, what the surrounding features are, and it keeps me from getting lost. It’s also very cool that if I find a plant, or a word on an interpretive sign that I am unfamiliar with, I can Google it very quickly. We are truly in the age of information. Smartphone apps are a current trend that will continue to grow. Web-based technologies have the advantages of being easily updated and it’s relatively inexpensive to provide a lot of information, as compared with traditional interpretive signs. Yes, I now carry my iPhone with me wherever I go. But that’s okay–because it has an off button. —Bob Brzuszek, Mississippi

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