Woke up way too early this morning with uncomfortable dreams. Rather than fight sleep, I decided to pick at my phone.
Yesterday my family had a good discussion about the invasive contact tracking that seems to be heading towards us all like a loaded freight train. We’re considering our options (Light Phone is the current front-runner) but in addition to the potential security gain, there’s also the quality of life gain and that’s what I was considering as I lay there, not sleeping, this morning.
Our phones have become useful companions over the last decade or so, but are they really meant to be companions? Additionally, has society shifted significantly enough to make going offline an extremely radical choice? Is that a choice I want to make?
In thinking about these questions I decided to start rearranging all those little icons on my own device (currently an iPhone 6s). This generated new questions that I tried to answer in this experiment.
What does the Light Phone provide out of the box?
- Phone (includes Contacts)
- Clock (includes Alarm functionality)
- Texting (plain text only)
I moved these apps to the pinned items bar. These are what I would have if I switched right now. This is a workable, usable device. The only hurt I feel within what’s available here is not having rich media texting. My family and friends make significant use of the ability to send photos.
What are the Light Phone folks planning on adding?
I moved everything else off of the home screen at this point. This honestly fills a LOT of my daily use, though it doesn’t match my personal workflow. All of these apps could be replaced relatively simply with analog equivalents. Having them available is just handy and make it possible to leave the house with just wallet, keys, and phone without much inconvenience.
What else does the iPhone provide out of the box (or nearly so) that I actually use?
- Voice Memos
Now we’re looking at some meat and potatoes apps that I would genuinely miss. I was surprised to find that if I were to delete every single 3rd party app on my phone I would still feel like I had a very useful, dare I say magical, device.
Along with the others mentioned above, I truly do use every single one of these apps on a daily basis. Some of them, such as Reminders and Voice Memos, have significantly improved my quality of life as an autistic person. Others, such as Camera/Photos and Podcasts, genuinely spark joy.
What 3rd party apps do I genuinely use on a daily basis?
- Habitica (todo list)
- Trello (project planning)
- Bear Writer (all my personal notes)
- Slack (work and side project communication)
- Recycle Coach (because holidays muck up the pickup schedules)
- Clue (reproductive systems are weird)
- LastPass (login all the things)
- Threes (game as fidget spinner?)
- myNoise (meditation and focus)
- Workouts For Women (7 minute stretches)
- Duolino (Sprichst du Deutsch?)
Yes, for the most part I don’t need to have 24/7 access to these things. When I’m out of the house some of them won’t get any use or they’re only touched a couple times a month or when a spontaneous question or thought comes up. They wouldn’t get replaced. See caveat two below.
What would be highly inconvenient to go without when I’m out of the house?
- Bank and Car Insurance apps
- Take out ordering apps
- Additional GPS tools
- Goodreads (I track stuff I want to buy when going to the bookstore is possible again)
I won’t keep listing all the apps in detail. We’re into truly utilitarian territory here. But this is the stuff that makes the difference between having a smart phone and a simple phone. These are the “hey I have the tool, might as well use it to its full advantage” apps.
What the hell else do I have on here?
There are about 45 additional apps I have on my phone. Social media, some more games, media and streaming players, some self care stuff, and various other tools. I shoved these all into folders on the last “page”. This is the stuff I could remove and probably not notice they were gone once I break the habit of using them.
Okay, so what have I learned?
I could definitely be content with a Light Phone with a couple caveats. The tools that are currently available for it fulfill a surprising chunk of my needs when I’m out of the house. When I’m in the house I have a laptop and don’t need a phone much.
I would need to carry more analog tools until the other apps the Light Phone folks have in development are completed. A GPS for the car, my old iPod Nano, a paper notebook and calendar would all get added to my bag.
In addition, to get back functionality I find vital, I would add a camera, voice recorder (or leverage my iPod), a puzzle book, and fidget toy. (or that old Gameboy I bought last year)
The only thing I would really feel I was missing that isn’t covered by this caveat is Reminders. Perhaps the coming calendar and the existing alarm would fill that void?
All in all, that’s not really too bad. This could all easily fit in a decently small bag. So what about the other apps I’d be losing in the move?
I would likely switch everything else over to my iPad. There’s a lot of stuff that I use my phone for that I don’t need to have all the time but I do like having. All those tools like Habitica and Trello and Clue do have desktop OS counterparts, but I work as a programmer and sometimes I want to get away from my desk. Sometimes I want to sit outside on a park bench, just for the fresh air. Or I want to curl up on the couch. Sometimes I work on paper but use those digital tools for references. For various reasons, it’s just nice to have the option. The other nice thing about this option is that the iPad can stay home.
The result of this experiment is pretty straightforward. Yes, I can use a Light Phone. Yes, I can switch to using analog tools for the stuff it doesn’t provide either currently or ever. Having solidified the hypothesis here, I also don’t have to wait to try it out. I can move everything optional off my phone now, strip it down to a simulated version of a Light Phone and see how it goes.
One thing I kind of knew already but was truly shown in this process was that, most importantly, yes I can make my choices about screen time more intentional than they currently are. Reducing trackability may have been the spark behind this exploration, but the outcome is that I’m thinking more about how I use my technology and ways I can reclaim some personal power and intention in my usage of it. It is a tool and should not be using the user.