What’s next

on May 13, 2016

Move swiftly and boldly towards what's next.

Many people are asking me “what’s next?” in my life and the answer is that there isn’t a clear, cut and dry answer YET. I just left what’s arguably the world’s best company to work for after an amazing five years where I learned a ton and made proud contributions that improved people’s lives in broad ways. But I’m in a very different place than where I was five years ago. I’ve developed a strong set of skills, not just professionally but also in the physical arts. And although I was very well taken care of while working for a corporation, it meant bringing to life someone else’s dreams. I’m happy for the person I’ve become thanks to those opportunities. And now it’s time to apply this new self to my own passions.

The place I’m at right now is in some ways similar to where I was the year before I started working at Google. 2010 was full of uncertainty but diligent exploration and discovery. I was at some crossroads in life and decided to take my time to be smart about what I was doing next. At the time, my plans for med school had fallen through and although I was doing astounding research in human evolution, I didn’t see a solid future from it. After much introspection, reading, writing, and experimenting, I established that the “mindful application of technology” was core to what I cared for, and I worked my way into the then rocketing software industry.

Today I’m at the crossroads again, and it’s time for another round of concentrated exploration and discovery. It’s a lot different this time around though. Instead of looking to break into something new, I’m doubling down in areas where I’ve found great passion, like the physical arts  and especially skating. There’s a handful of recent trends that I find particularly noteworthy:

  • Many people are into or getting into fitness and wellness.
  • Technology is becoming involved in these fields and in health care too.
  • The office job world has changed – more demanding with the rise of fast-paced, competitive startups, and less stable with increasing work becoming automated or replaced by machines.

I’m spending this summer doing three things: The first is to figure out some “pieces” that would help me make the most of potential opportunities between my passions and these trends in fitness, wellness, and tech. Like six years ago, that involves a lot of reading, writing, research, trying out things, and slowing down life so I can actually reflect. The second thing is to follow through and develop myself. While the concrete aspects of that are yet to be determined, there’s one area that stands out: becoming a face of the physical arts world as a world class roller blader. And to get myself there, I’m traveling all over the country, teaching workshops, developing my skills in different skate disciplines, and advocating the art of skating. The third thing is to get a feel for the sort of of lifestyle I’d like to live down the road. I’ve done the 9 to 5, salaried employee thing and pushed it to its limits. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I’m incredibly curious to know whether there’s another manner that’s a better fit for me. Being in charge of my own day-to-day and week-to-week life will give me a good sense of my entrepreneurial desire and range, and opens the possibilities of starting my own business or doing contract work for when it comes time to pay bills.

It might seem ironic, but I expect to work harder in the coming months than I have during the last five years where I had a full time job. I wouldn’t have it any other way though, cause this time it’s for me and not anyone else.

Embrace the World of Knowledge

on Sep 6, 2011

I feel very fortunate to live in this ever evolving information age – that attaining knowledge has become so easy. There’s a story I love to share that really illuminates how amazing our time is. It is about encyclopedias.

When I was a kid growing up in the ’90s, I saw advertisements on TV for print encyclopedias. It was knowledge in a condensed form, but not condensed enough. It took up 3 bookshelves and cost quite a lot of money. In the late ’90s, when I was around twelve or thirteen years old, I had a personal computer in my house – something fairly rare among my peers. And with it, I had a CD with an encyclopedia on it. How amazing it was at this time, to have a boatload of knowledge in my home – I recall how awesome it was to look up information about the Hindenburg disaster, even watching video of the event itself.

Flash forward to today. There are three very interesting forces coming together. The first is the addition and organization of information. We have Wikipedia. We have YouTube. We have TED Talks. We have online video lectures. We have e-books. We have web access to newspapers archived into decades. We have Google to help us sort through all this. Nearly all of this is free. Almost none of this existed back in 1998. The second astonishing thing is the ease of access of this information in our modern world where high speed internet is common and, in metro areas, we have ubiquitous internet access between cell networks and wifi hotspots. The third is that the “computers” we use to access this information fit in our pockets. App phones are part of our daily carry. Tablets and netbooks are litter our travel bags and living rooms. There is little standing in the way to learning – neither time nor space.

I imagine the 14 year old version of me living today. He encounters something he’d like to know more about. So he pulls out his iPod Touch, connected to a free wifi hotspot, and finds what he’s looking for on Wikipedia. Then he finds a related video on YouTube. Then, when he gets home, he incorporates this knowledge into some project he’s working on. This kid, because he has such easy access to knowledge at an early age, has the potential to be smarter than anyone that has come before him.

In a sense, this principle applies to each of us, regardless of age. We are each presented the opportunity to become more knowledgeable today than anyone had just a few years ago. And as interesting as this world is today, I’m even more excited for what’s to come in the future. Imagine knowledge, in the pervasive and accessible form we have available now, multiplied across billions of individuals. Some amazing things are in store.

The Beauty of ‘The Cloud’

on Jan 30, 2011

Imagine having a second brain – one that’s not just limited to the knowledge and information from your own self, but also has the collective knowledge of the world. This is no dream – it is real, here, and now – thanks to the emergence of cloud computing.

I’ve been speaking obsessively about the cloud for well over two years now. Yet it seems that not everyone understands what this means (someone may not be so technologically adept or they may be mixed up with the broad and different usages of the term cloud). This became apparent a month ago when I stopped using AOL Instant Messenger, citing incompatibility with the cloud as my reason – which resulted in a lot of questions from friends. So let me provide a clear definition of what I see as the cloud.

In a nutshell, the cloud is about having information (in its many manifestations as discussed below) universally accessible. The internet and all our various computers (with net access) are the tools that make this possible.

Access to the Cloud

In developed parts of the world and especially in urban areas, the internet is ubiquitous. Most people of at least moderate wealth can afford to own an internet capable device that fits inside their pockets (and can carry it with them at all times). I’m talking about app phones like the iPhone and Android devices as well as the iPod Touch and the plethora of tablet computers coming this year. This is the future – try and find a teenager that isn’t carrying one of these things. From the dedicated data lines available on these devices to the WiFi hotspots all over the place, all these devices are connected to the internet and its arsenal of information.

Types of Information

First, we have the world’s collective knowledge. Something like Wikipedia is astonishing in its own right. When I was a kid, I was among the few of my peers to have a computer at home and be able load up an encyclopedia on CD. So I had instant access to mostly up-to-date information while in my household. For anyone that was older than I was, the hunt for such knowledge as a child involved a trip to the library or bookstore (excluding the minority of folks that had expensive dead-tree encyclopedias in their homes). Jump to today – you can look up something on Wikipedia in an instant with your app phone and from any urban area. What I find more exciting is that we’re way beyond just encyclopedias of knowledge. You can see incredible people discuss world-stirring ideas on TED or learn an academic subject for free through the Kahn Academy. The collective knowledge of the world spreads further since any individual can share his or her insights through blog posts (such as this one you’re reading right now).

Another form of information harnessed into the cloud is media. TV shows and movies are available via Hulu and Netflix streaming, while more personal videos are seen on YouTube. Online news, from large news presses to bloggers, is instant – in accessibility and coverage. Print news is old news. Cloud music has made strides over the years, from online “stations” like Shoutcast, Pandora, and Slacker Radio to more collection style like mSpot (lets you upload your music online and access it from an internet connected device) to Spotify (pay a monthly fee access the world’s music library on any internet capable device [not yet available in the US]). I’m most excited for the recent rise of ebooks, which will overtake purchases of all dead-tree books in just a couple of years, if not sooner. I’ve waited my whole life to carry a library in my pocket; an added bonus is that with certain ebook platforms (like Kindle), even my highlighting and notes are stored in the cloud and accessible on all my devices. Even video gaming has moved on to the cloud. Steam is pretty popular among PC gamers since one can simply purchase and install games without leaving their chair (similar to how most other software is now acquired). Even more intriguing is the service OnLive, which doesn’t require any installation as the game lives and runs on their servers (in the cloud). Their box serves simply to bridge their servers to your TV and controllers.

The last major form of information is the kind we use personally. Communications are one part of this. Web based email (do people outside of corporations use anything else?) is ubiquitous and has served as a cloud based dumping ground for thoughts and files for years. Instant messaging, besides being always accessible, like via app phones, also allows us to store our chat logs online (AIM wasn’t good about this so I stopped using it). It’s incredibly handy to be able to reference a digital conversation from earlier when out and about. The same applies for other personal records like contacts, voicemails, and bank records. Even our productivity has moved to the cloud. Services like Google Docs put an end to losing your work if your computer crashes and the hassle of carrying work around on flash drives. A real interesting item in the cloud is our location. My app phone transmits my location online where certain trustworthy individuals can find out where I am at any given time (this has proved helpful in streamlining my communications). Likewise, this bit of information is very useful when combined with other tools, like to find nearby restaurants.

Where the Beauty Lies

The amount of information available today is tremendous and it’s only growing. Likewise, every single one of these forms of information is instantly accessible. Knowledge, TV shows, reading material, emails, documents – it takes mere seconds to get to this stuff and from anywhere there’s internet. There’s no need to print out stuff. There’s no need to spend unnecessary effort remembering every little thing. I’ve offloaded quite a lot to the cloud – which allows my brain space to do more advanced things.

Some Potential for Disaster

Now of course there are risks inherent in all this. Ease of access for us also means others can potentially have that same ease of access to our information. It’s a tradeoff but there are plenty of safeguards in place, should we use them wisely. Likewise, we do have to trust all these cloud services to respect our information. Transparency in these policies is important and we should insist on it. Also, by using the cloud heavily as I do, one does become dependent on it. Losing access to it can spell trouble or at the very least might be unnerving (I admit that I feel strangely uncomfortable when riding on the subway, where the lack of internet cuts me off from my article feeds, streaming music, and chats). Still, most systems are pretty reliable and we should still be smart about things. For example, I often memorize driving directions and use my navigation unit more for backup guidance. Again, it’s all a tradeoff and I feel I’m gaining significantly more in taking what the cloud has to offer.

The Future is in The Cloud

The handiness of the cloud is expanding in so many ways. Information is but one tool we find essential in our daily lives; there are other tools that the cloud has reached out to. Web applications are among the most interesting of these. Programs live in the cloud and sometimes offer usefulness beyond their desktop counterparts. For example, the aforementioned service, Google Docs, brings the ability for multiple individuals to collaborate on a document in real time. More of what we use on the desktop will move to the cloud. Other paradigms will shift for the better. Installing and maintaining software will no longer be a burden of the user. Printing out stuff will become passé (if it isn’t already). Powerful computers for personal use will be a thing of the past (except for specialists that really need it). It’s no surprise that anemic devices such as app phones, iPads, and netbooks are wildly popular – they offload their need for power to the cloud, where there is neither idleness nor wasted CPU cycles. Isn’t that just beautiful?

How I Landed the Dream Job

on Jan 17, 2011

As you may know, I’d been looking for work for a while and recently started at Google. Many friends are astounded by this news and are so happy that I landed the dream job. Likewise, I know many folks that are looking for work so I’d like to share the things that helped me get to where I am now.

Unconventional {Methods, Companies, People}

Much of what I discuss here is unconventional and even backwards seeming. Bear in mind that consistency is important: while the process below is unconventional, so too are the companies I targeted and the kind of person I am. What I did would not work for most potential jobs. Likewise, these methods may not work for many people. Let’s get a few definitions straight for the purposes of this article: the dream job resides at an unconventional company (and the world would be better off if we had more of these). This is the sort of company that offers much freedom (like work hours, working conditions, and projects), a nurturing environment (one that promotes learning, growth, and little bureaucracy), and solid compensation (salary, benefits, perks). By the same token, this job expects incredible work out of their employees: solving hairy (but interesting) problems, using creativity and thought to make significant decisions, and taking responsibility for getting stuff done and done well. I consider it more than a fair tradeoff. (Note: the dream job is not something that is easy where you can just cruise around on your managerial chair, raking in the dough.)  I feel it takes an unconventional person to take on this role (I could be wrong, but the description that follows won’t suit everyone). These are the sort of people that are go-getters. They’re the ones that like challenges and may take on difficult work (like in school) for fun. They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They’re troublemakers for sure, but they also make the impossible a reality. They’re the ones that want to do work that matters. If this applies to you, then read on.

Think Long Term

Pretty much everything I cover here involves a long term approach. I can almost guarantee that you won’t find any instant results. This entire process took about one year for me – but it was well worth it and my success would have been impossible if I didn’t invest in building for the future at the cost of the present. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t work out. Keep pressing on – your efforts will compound and at some point you’ll pass the tipping point.

Some Good Reading and Great Ideas

It seems I’m not alone in these unconventional thoughts. Desire for meaningful work has grown in the past few years. Seth Godin, marketing genius and someone who has his head on straight regarding good work, has discussed this for at least a year. His book, Linchpin, chronicles his thoughts and offers unconventional advice to practically do work that matters. Many of the strategies below were inspired or solidified by what he says. I highly advise checking it out, along with his blog, which is filled with succinct yet insightful posts.

Know Yourself

What is it that moves you? What is it that drives you to get up every morning? Knowing what you care for gives you a strong foundation for every part of your work and approach to finding work. It’s surprising how elusive it can be to determine what exactly this is. Having been involved in so many disciplines myself, I was especially unclear on this. I had so much in my head, but it was a jumbled mess. So I began organizing it, in the form of a blog. As I discussed in detail in my previous post, this helped immensely. The blog also helped to establish other attractive traits: from exhibiting my unique thoughts and insights to showing communication skills. A blog presents a great opportunity to show what you can do as I discuss below.

Show What You Can Do

A common error is to spend a lot of time polishing a resumé and not on much else. While having an acceptable resumé is important, it rarely makes someone stand out (resumés actually serve to weed out applicants more than anything else). Instead, focus on showing off your work and abilities in a tangible, visible, and lively way: through a portfolio. Unconventional people, without a doubt, have an arsenal of work, past and present, that they can show off. These don’t have to be anything outrageous or complicated – most of the larger projects on my own portfolio are from my university courses. Conversely, a portfolio is an opportunity to show off your original style and personality.

Learn at Every Moment

We’re surrounded by information – way more than we ever possibly consume. The upshot is that there’s more opportunity to learn than ever before. Will you take advantage? Or will you spend your time watching tv and playing video games? In 2010, I read more than 30 books, most of which were non-fiction. I watched many TED Talks. There’s no doubt that these things drastically improved my understanding of the world. Likewise, I invested much time in broadening my technical knowledge, whether it was learning the tried and true (through computer science algorithms video lectures) or the new hotness (iPhone development and jQuery). These were things I started doing long before I seriously considered delving into the tech world – I understood that the knowledge would prove useful in some regard.

Do Interesting Things

Perhaps you find a lot of what I mentioned above less than exciting. That’s fine; there should be space for fun – there’s plenty that’s also “productive”. Over the past five years, I took up two forms of martial arts (Kyokushin karate and capoeira) and joined the NYC inline skating community. What did it cost me? A great deal of time and effort, along with some money. What did I gain? Enjoyment, discipline, good friends, good health, and character. People like to be around (and work with) interesting people. You have nothing to lose by taking on some interesting hobbies and it’s another thing to make you stand out.

Try Different Things (and accept that some things won’t work out)

In one of my earliest blog posts, I discussed how it takes many bad ideas to come up with good ideas. This process applies well to finding the right calling and job. Don’t be afraid to try different and interesting things. There’s a good chance that some things won’t come to fruition. Don’t let that discourage you. One – you never know what might work out to an incredible project or experience. And two – just about anything can be a learning experience. Over the course of last year, I had several projects that didn’t pan out. It seemed that I’d wasted time and energy. But I can’t say that I didn’t learn anything. Likewise, I did manage to add a few pieces to my portfolio and also had solid things to discuss at job interviews.

Tell a Story

Another critical error is to skimp on the cover letter (or not have one at all). I followed the generic advice on cover letters and found that this pretty much didn’t work. So I tried something unconventional (naturally). I told my story. I was honest and real and personal. Go ahead and read the one I sent to Google. It teems with something that can’t be quantified. The meat of it (the second and third paragraphs) don’t even pertain to the position! And I actually copied this section nearly word for word in cover letters for other places I applied to. Note that these words couldn’t be “copied” by anyone else. It stood out as unique to me – no one else shares my story. I conveyed competence, curiosity, and leadership skills in a subtle way (which is often more convincing than a direct approach). This cover letter was the tipping point for me. This is when I started getting callbacks and interviews. The cover letter is a legitimate chance to wow someone; don’t throw it away.

Go Above and Beyond

Going the extra mile is effort; most people don’t bother doing more than the requirement when it comes to applying for work. Hence, there’s a big opportunity for those willing to put in a little more (also an easy way to stand out). What I covered so far (like the portfolio, blog, and cover letter) are a part of this. Is there room for more? I think so. I snuck in some unconventional material (see above) in my LinkedIn profile. I’m sure that this is a turn-off for many hiring organizations – probably the very type of companies I wouldn’t want to be a part of anyway. Conversely, this can grab the attention of organizations in which you’d have a good cultural fit with. Strikingly enough, a recruiter from Google reached out to me after seeing my LinkedIn profile. The potential cultural fit “visible” in my profile did play a role in this. There’s a thousand other ways to go. At a job fair, I snuck in a general version of my cover letter with my resumé. One company I interviewed at told me that this made a profound impact.
With Google, I pressed harder. I knew they wanted references at some point, so I included them with my resumé and cover letter. Not just names and phone numbers, but also a photo of each of my references, a short description of their incredible work, and a description of my work with each of them. Even more: I included a picture of myself in my home workspace (which I felt matched their culture very well). I have no idea if this helped, but considering that I got the job, I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

Prep, Practice, and Be Real

Know the companies you’re applying to inside and out. For technical positions, know your stuff and be ready. I spent a few solid weeks going over computer science stuff after receiving contact from a Google recruiter. I was sure to practice writing code by hand. Let your potential future employer know how important this is for you and how deeply you’ve prepared. I asked my Google recruiters on what to expect so that I could prep. On the interview day, I brought my own whiteboard markers (it helped immensely to have thin, functioning markers considering the amount of code I wrote that day) and was unashamed in telling my interviewers of this (at least one of them seemed impressed at my “unusual level of preparedness”). I learned from my progress – every interview with a company inadvertently served as practice for following interviews (the Google one was the last one I had so at that point I was pretty comfortable). Lastly, it helps to get along with those you meet. If you’re the interesting, knowledgeable, and capable person you claim to be (according to the unconventional advice above), then you should have little trouble connecting on interview days.

Don’t Be Shy to Ask for Help

Too many of us have this idea in our heads that we have to make it on our own – that we must prove ourselves this way. Not only is this a terrible way to approach things, it’s also potentially damaging. I’ve had support from so many people in the years it took me to figure out direction in life. My parents unconditionally gave me a home, meals, gas money, and trusted my judgement. Two professors I worked with fought bureaucracy to help me get some pocket money in exchange for helping them on their university course. They also allowed me to be a part of their own organization. Another two professors, in technical disciplines, offered their advice in career matters (one of which truly understood my creative nature and helped to shape my portfolio). All of them offered fruitful discussion without imposing judgement. Friends provided great emotional support (and sometimes covered my tab so I could come hang out with them). A mentor like friend helped me meet more folks in the tech world and offered his wisdom in looking for work. There’s no question that all this support went a long way. I was sure to take whatever help I could get, while giving back as much as I could – I still have unpaid debts to many of them; I’ll be sure to reconcile these in time.

Odds, Ends, and Some Final Thoughts

I haven’t really mentioned resumés. I don’t consider them as important as the other factors I discussed. Likewise, there’s plenty of good advice around for resumés. I’ll mention a couple of things: Avoid buzzwords and don’t blast your resumé. If you’re gonna go for real, meaningful work, then go all out. You won’t be able to apply to as many places, but your success rate will be higher, and it’ll be with interesting organizations. Quality over quantity.

Another thing to mention is that having a good academic record helps, especially if you don’t have much experience. I’ve had many classmates consider me silly for really pushing for solid work in every one of my courses. This is a testament to show that it did make a difference: my GPA and transcript was looked over during my job application process.

A little bit of luck always helps out. I was fortunate that interesting companies were hiring and that I wasn’t blown away in some important interviews. Still. you can make your own luck by being prepared – tip the scales in your favor.

Overall, I was determined to not compromise and not sell out. I was fortunate enough to have support so that I could stand by these principles. Not everyone has this option and I don’t hold it against anyone that’s trapped in this position.

I hope you enjoyed the story I shared above. Likewise, I hope you find some of the ideas helpful. There’s no right way to go about landing the dream job, but I’m sure there are plenty of wrong ways. There are other great ideas to consider still. I didn’t follow every one of them but I did find a path that worked for me. No matter what the process, expect it to take great effort and time – it’ll be worth it.

What It’s All About (One Year Later)

on Jan 3, 2011

It was about one year ago that I decided to start this blog. It was an interesting and difficult time for me – I was at the crossroads of life. I understood that I had something special – between my abilities, knowledge, and desires to better the world – but no clear direction. This blog’s purpose was to help rectify this with two specific goals from the beginning:

One – to figure out who I am and what I care for. To me, everything in the world is interconnected. My formal and informal education provided me with knowledge the spans the natural sciences, the social sciences, and engineering; from life to people to technology. One goal in this blog was to take all these interconnected thoughts – a huge and jumbled mess of ideas and insights in my head – and organize them in tangible ways.

Two – to build a repository of my thoughts, opinions, and insights that can be shared with others. Every single article I posted here was a conversation. As someone who spends many hours absorbing the world’s knowledge and even more time thinking over all I come to learn, these posts represent a window to my mind. But even beyond that, nearly all the posts are conversations I’ve had with other folks. I’ve found myself sharing the same insights with many people, retelling what’s on my mind. They connect me to others in deep ways and I understood that exposing my thoughts would help to forge connections with others that may help me find direction in life.

So what does this all mean a year later? Quantitatively, I made 75 posts in 2010 – most of them in the first half of the year, but the latter posts being significantly deeper (and longer). My writing and communication abilities improved manyfold – it was not easy to transform my unorganized thoughts into readable words but the practice has helped immensely. Most importantly (and qualitatively), I accomplished my goals – of both the blog and of finding direction in life. Many of my posts seemed of disparate topics. But as time went on and the number of posts grew, a pattern emerged. Seemingly unrelated discussions such as those involving antilock brakes and eating better actually have something in common – along with every other post I wrote: it is the mindful application of technology (in a broad sense) to better people’s lives. This is what the blog is about. This is what I am about. It’s about the intersection of humanism and technology. Perhaps the greatest insight regarding myself is that I am every bit an engineer as I am a scientist.

Having direction in life is not only comforting, but also deeply empowering. It allows one to apply his or her abilities in a precise manner – one that bears fruit. I am no longer at the crossroads of life; rather, I’m about to embark on an incredible journey. I will be surrounded by other incredible minds. I will work on interesting projects. I will be offered financial security. Most importantly, I will be in a nurturing environment that will help me to develop myself while simultaneously allow me to contribute to something that makes the world a better place. (To be specific about all this, I’ll be working as a Front-End Software Engineer at Google in NYC.) I’m excited.

Life has always been meaningful to me, but it’s enthralling to see meaning in a concentrated form. Much sweat, support, and luck has helped me reach to this successful place in life. Finding myself. Sharing my mind with others. Staying positive and proactive about the journey of life. Getting that encouragement and wisdom from friends, family, teachers, and colleagues when I was down and confused (I’m so thankful to have these people in my life). Having the stars align. Perhaps the unexpected shouldn’t be so surprising.

It’s now time to set some new goals, in life and on this blog. With life, it means forging along this direction, scaling up, and doing some incredible things. As for the blog, the first goal is officially complete. The second goal – while it’s done its job of getting me noticed for meaningful work – is also one of greater aspirations. It’s been a long term goal of mine to share and record my unconventional approach and insights (and this blog is certainly not my first attempt to do so). There are many things I wished to discuss but was [mentally] preoccupied with figuring out direction in life. It’ll all be out in coming posts; so many ideas have been churning in my head. It’s also now appropriate to set a goal to build the readership on this blog. It’s been near zero so far (which is fine since that wasn’t a goal the past year and also so I wasn’t pressured to produce). However, my network is about to expand; best I make the most of this opportune moment. This means I’ll have to post regularly; probably a good thing. I’ll do my best.

Consider this the real launch of this blog. See you soon and thanks for reading!

Mobile Phones and Social Etiquette

on May 19, 2010

In discussing the benefits and pitfalls of adopting technology, one solid example is the mobile phone. These devices have become an essential part of our lives and just about everyone in modern society has one, including kids. Yet the social etiquette has been slow to follow.

All too often we see two people having a face-to-face conversation only to be interrupted by a ringing phone and the subsequent answer. How is it that someone calling the phone, potentially many miles away, has precedent over someone a few feet away? Well the calling individual doesn’t know this and that’s a big factor cause she may get offended if left unanswered. (Another factor involves our desire for social connection.) The social etiquette has been catching up though. It’s not uncommon for people to just silence the phone, or quickly answer to say “I’m busy now, I’ll call you back later”, or at the very least apologize to the live conversation partner: “I’m really sorry, this is an important call”. Social etiquette has also improved in callers understanding that people might be busy.

At the same time, newer technology has aided in improving social etiquette. Texting is [fundamentally] less intrusive than a voice call since it’s passive. It’s easier to check on a text later than to check on a voicemail [that was hopefully left] or end up playing phone tag. Still, texting brings about its own set of social etiquette issues. Over time, the etiquette will catch up, assuming texting isn’t replaced by another technology before then.

Yet another technology is reducing the need for calls or texts – location reporting services. Consider Google Latitude, which informs a set of your friends of where you are at all times. Since I began using Latitude, phone calls and instant messages (which I receive on my phone (I skipped over texting entirely)) from certain friends have dropped to half. Why? Because half the calls have to do with where I am and if I can hang out. Now, friends just use Latitude to see where I am and know if I’m off somewhere far away or busy at martial arts class.

As this technology gets adopted (and I assure you that it will), we’ll face more social etiquette issues. People don’t like being tracked and are reluctant to give up privacy. All sorts of social strains will crop up. But over time, people will adjust, and perhaps even newer technologies will come to the rescue!

Bonus Observation:
People have become more respectful in silencing their phones at proper times. If you recall the earlier part of the decade, whenever a phone would ring and cause a disturbance at some event (like a meeting), the speaker would stop to announce “please remember to silence your phones” as if people needed to be informed of what the social etiquette is. Nowadays, this intrusion is less common, and when it does happen, the speaker and pretty much everyone else ignore it.