There are 2 kinds of phones: The Smartphone, those highly addictive pieces of glass we carry around in our pocket, that keep us glued to the screen and are the source of many hours of entertainment, games, text messages, videocalls and more ( oh yeah, and sometimes people actually « call » you ) and the « Dumbphones », classic communication devices with numeric keyboards that are mostly geared towards « calling » people and where typing out a text message requires a certain amount of patience and muscle memory that if you want to learn how to do it, you need to look for any cave paintings in the area that depict this.
Those Smartphones are highly addictive. We spend hours scrolling the net and social media sites, and this has led many to re-think the way we interact with these devices. We do not control them, it is like they control US. Rows of « phone zombies » on the train or waiting in line can attest to it. That is why the #nosurf movement (who wants to re-capture the moment by stepping away from your phone) goes towards a dumbphone. A silly flip-phone in your pocket that is so boring, you only use it to call 911 when you are on the brink of bleeding out.
But what if you realise that having a « dumb-phone » just does not fit your connected lifestyle anymore. A lot of the services we use today require an internet connection (Music, Gps etc), the same internet connection that pumps social media sludge into our brain like its Soylent green. So isn’t there an in-between? A device that allows us to « connect » without becoming an attention-sinkhole? I went on a quest to find out.
Immediately I was drawn towards the Unihertz Titan and Titan Pocket. These devices remind me strongly of my Blackberry. A small, rugged and portable device that was ideal for communicating but sucked at webbrowsing or doing any of the internet stuff with a high-visual-octane. The smaller screen and the handy keyboard is very alluring. But the size of the Titan (the pocket is smaller but also has a smaller keyboard) and the poor android support (Android 11 on the Pocket, 10 on the Titan) might speak against them on the long run.
Another weird little device on the Unihertz website is the Jelly. A 3 inch android smartphone that is so tiny, you wouldn’t even WANT to surf on it for hours on end. One way to still be connected without suffering from a screen addiction is to downsize the screen? The downside is that using this device for any kind of GPS would require reading glasses with a high perscription
Neuter your Smartphone
The last alternative of course is to « dumb down » your existing phone. By restricting apps and access it is perfectly possible to « scale down » the digital possibilities of your phone to give you JUST the the things you need. This does require a fair share of self discipline because you can easily « switch your phone back to full addictive mode » at the press of a button.
Not quite there yet.
Looking to make your Phone less addictive and more ‘productive’ is more of a thought exercise. I’ve started to figure out it is less about the hardware and more about the things we want to DO with it. Having addictive apps on your phone is a matter of what apps you allow, not what your phone can (or cannot do). I’ve recently moved things like Vinted (I can search for Retro Transformers for hours on end) to my iPad and haven’t used it since. So maybe the same can go for other apps. I need to re-baseline the smartphone I have and determine what I want it to do for me. And if that answer differs in different situations, then maybe I need to start using different profiles and settings to « transform » that black slab into something that does what I need it to do at that moment.
It all comes down to you
In the end? It all comes down to us, the user. We decide how we spend the « attention calories » of our day. Scrolling aimlessly on 9gag or writing up a blogpost that goes around the world in 50 minutes. That is up to us. Our devices enable us to do a great many things, but the way to fight the attention economy might not be with MORE hardware, but with a re-thought approach on how we want to use the technology we already have. So let’s veer away from the umph-teenth Youtube video on some new gadget, keep the money in our pocket and start thinking like like « smart » geeks.