The act of replacing one’s smart phone with a less capable version is a growing trend. As digital decluttering and internet detoxes become more popular, so too is making the more permanent change of having less capability in your pocket at all times. Some people will pull out an old Nokia from their drawer, some will pick up the latest flip phone (they still make these?), and some will try one of few new options available in this category (i.e. the Light phone).
Me? I’ve kicked the idea around a few times. I gave it serious consideration once again when I saw that Isaac Smith made the switch recently. But there was an aspect of my job that required me to be on call for periods of time where a smartphone and some specific apps were needed — this had stopped me from truly considering the idea.
That requirement changed suddenly a couple weeks back and I no longer have to be available after hours. So I once again thought about getting rid of my iPhone and getting something less functional, and therefore less distracting.
Truthfully, social media and a lot of the things Cal Newport talks about in Digital Minimalism are not an issue for me. I don’t use Instagram and apps of that sort. I don’t have a Twitter app on my phone. The most common “entertainment” activity I perform on my phone was reading books.
Yet I still feel the need to use my phone less. I still suffer from the “just checks”. It’s just that what I check on is all work related. And, in a house of 6 where screentime is a common point of discussion and focus, I want to lead by example.
So I looked at my phone and thought about all the things I like to do with it. These are activities that are either necessary or something I consider enjoyable and a good use of my time. The only question is when I should take the time to do them.
write in my journal (including adding photos)
documenting and reviewing my personal and professional goals
completing my weekly reviews, which includes those goals and my calendar
logging my habits
recording and reviewing my runs
reading RSS and email newsletters
looking at our photos
reviewing maps when on trail runs
reading my Bible during a church service or when travelling (I use my hard cover Bible at home, but it’s big enough I don’t want to lug it around)
paying for items when on a run
transferring funds when out and about
scanning documents and receipts
work related items (checking Slack, Basecamp, Help Scout, Intercom, and email)
I’m sure there are some other items I haven’t thought of yet. I considered how to approach all of these if I was to move to a dumb phone. I’d probably want to get a Kindle. Some activities I could switch to doing on my laptop (but with less frequency). Some might be dropped completely (reading a digital Bible, paying for items with Apple Pay). And the purpose of this exercise was to do the work related items during my workday from my computer.
But when discussing this with my wife, she had a really great suggestion:
Why not turn the phone you already have into a dumb phone?
Great idea. And I did just that.
I removed all apps that get me picking up the phone to “check”. Slack, Basecamp, email, RSS, and Strava. I reviewed the Notifications panel in Settings — things were pretty clean already, but I removed a few more. I also disabled vibrations and reduced the number of apps that could post items on the Lock screen.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out. Early returns are looking good — my phone has not been in my hand much the past week.
One other benefit of the dumb phone is not having to pay a ridiculous price for your data plan. I get a bit frustrated that we have very few options here in Canada and they’re all spendy (we pay around $200 CAD/month for 3 phones and data). So I’m still considering the dumb phone as a possibility at some point.
But for now, I appreciate the supercomputer in my pocket that lets me do most of the items I listed above. But with far less distraction now.
Derrick Reimer shares the story of his last year. He had left Drip and started working on Level, an alternative to Slack (reminds me a lot of Twist), before choosing to walk away. His desire to build a calmer chat tool is laudable and the story is interesting.
But one point leapt off the (web)page and grabbed my attention. After building an early prototype and sharing with interested users, the results were not what he had hoped:
The response did not live up to my expectations. Only a subset of people who paid booked an onboarding session. Of those who did, some never touched the product. Some who did poke around the product never gave it a real go with their team (and didn’t show much interest in following up with me). A handful did convert.
Every conversion funnel leaks, but I was admittedly disheartened. There seemed to be a curious mismatch between the sentiments I gathered early on and the actions people were taking. If people were ravenous for a solution, why weren’t most people even attempting to pilot Level?
He decided that he needed a larger sample size and invited another 1,000 people to try his product. To similar results:
I observed how people were using it for about a week. There was a lot of poking around and, once again, virtually zero evidence of anyone piloting it with their team. I reached out directly to everyone who made it into the product: are you planning to test Level out? What can I do to help?
It became clear pretty quickly that the gap between interest and implementation was of canyon-like proportions…
Small teams (who have a much easier time making the jump due to their size) didn’t seem that compelled by Level. In follow-up conversations, I discovered that Slack was at most a minor annoyance for them. Suboptimal? Yes. Worth going through the trouble of switching? Probably not.
It turns out that his message resonated with people. But the pain they experienced in their current toolset was not enough to prompt change. This is where the forces behind the jobs-to-be-done framework are so key.
Our work with Conveyor feels similar to what Derrick experienced. We’ve had multiple rounds of user testing and I’ve learned to not trust the exact words people say to you. Their actions speak much more loudly.
Building a successful product is no easy feat.
My thoughts have turned back to independent publishing on the web of late. It’s something I think about a lot (obviously), but sometimes other people bring it front and centre when sharing their own related thoughts. Alan Jacobs lamented getting plain text into Wordpress. Cal Newport wrote about indie social media. Craig Mod walked hundreds of kilometres across Japan and published a daily entry over SMS — and shared a strangely enjoyable podcast of sounds to boot.
All not merely about blogging, some maybe even a little weird, but all tangentially related to publishing on the web. And owning your stuff.
Most important, my pal Rian Van Der Merwe finally (finally!) started up his newsletter once again and launched his own site membership after 10 years of writing. We’ve talked about this frequently over the past months and I’m super excited to see him finalize a direction and run with it. Please consider joining — he writes mostly about product management, but also a lot about how technology affects us. If you enjoy this newsletter, chances are you’ll enjoy his as well.
So this is all top of mind for me. But the reality is, I don’t really have time for much publishing these days. We’ve been having some hard times in our home and the mental health of my family comes before hobbies such as this (more on that some other time).
But when I’m short on time for writing, I’m thankful for the work of others providing good reading!
Back to Craig Mod and his walking+publishing experiment. Not everyone is into walking; I can get that. But good writing? I think we can appreciate it even when the topic is not normally of interest.
For 25 days I woke up to this kind of thing waiting in Messages:
Day 18. Thirty-seven asphalt slammin’ kilometers. What are pinkie toes anyway? Not necessary, right? Mine have become meta-pinkies, shadows of pinkies, mere charcoal sketches of pinkies. Somewhere, below the blisters, there are pinky toes and they are fully ready to bow to evolutionary desires and leave this material world. I write to you from Denny’s. The most popular place in the known universe. I have left the forest and reentered Pachinko Road.
There’s a lot of negativity about what the internet turned out to be after 25 years. But it’s not all bad … some people are still having fun.
This was a featured story on Medium last summer, but I stumbled across a few posts recently that brought this to my mind. Paris Marx makes gives astute commentary on our current obsession with a nomadic lifestyle, opening with the allure:
In an era of increasingly precarious jobs, ever-longer working hours, and declining social mobility, it’s no surprise that digital nomads are gaining a sizable following. Office dwellers lack happiness or hope in the daily grind. They know there must be something better. After enough time spent in an office chair, it’s easy to aspire to become one of those people with a MacBook on a beach in a foreign locale.
And who among us hasn’t spent a 15 minute session scrolling through some “van life” Instagram feed? But he quickly hints at the darker reality:
Many digital nomads had significant privilege before pursuing such a lifestyle, privilege that allows them to avoid the potentially negative aspects of location independence.
Later in the article, he states his case — and the problem with this movement — more clearly:
The fierce individualism embedded in the culture of digital nomadism ignores (and can damage) communities, both at home and abroad. People who feel “liberated” from space have no stake in improving the space around them. To them, local communities are as valuable as co-working space. Digital nomads are far less likely to work toward positive local change, fight for the rights of disadvantaged peoples, or halt the gentrification that displaces long-term residents — to which they usually contribute — because those issues don’t affect them.
I’ve been making my way through A Field Guide For Everyday Mission with other members of our local church. It’s been a good read and I recognize changes I need to make in my thinking. This post resonates in a similar way.
Marx finishes the article with a scathing judgement (understandably so), but sadly doesn’t offer any solutions.
Privilege allows digital nomads to ignore all these things. It allows them to live in a fantasy world where they need only worry about themselves. They take full advantage of their positions, increasing their satisfaction while avoiding their responsibility to contribute to the society that granted them their privilege in the first place. Their lifestyle actively augments the forces displacing locals. Digital nomads evidently do not care about the places where they happen to live and, for that reason, they have no place in the future.
That’s where the book I mentioned above comes in. It encourages followers of Christ to open our eyes, see the mission field right where we are, and to start to make changes by serving others and sharing the Good News of Christ.
This is one I’ll read through, then go back and go through it again. The second time making notes and picking practical changes to make in my daily life.
Our church recently held a seminar with a guest speaker who specializes in a few topics dear to my heart. Specifically, parenting in our digital age, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It was an intense weekend that covered a lot of ground. And it was time well spent.
These kinds of topics can be hard to address — and can be hot button topics for a lot of people. But we need to talk about them, constantly, for our kids are growing up in a world far, far different than the one we grew up in.
I wanted to share a few of the key ideas that I took away from the sessions.
God is still in control
God is for us
God has called us
We don’t have to fear these things. While culture is changing greatly — good in some ways, bad in others — he is still a sovereign God. And he has called us to such a time as this.
It’s crucial to remember these points on any issue where we feel passionate as it’s far too easy to focus on our own efforts. Or worse, to feel like things are “going to hell in a hand basket”. And when it comes to facing how our culture is changing in regards to technology and sexual orientation and identity, the seminar speaker (Sid Coop) put it well:
There were no good ol’ days. They’re a myth!
It’s easy to look back and think, “Things were so much better when I was a kid.” But culture is not wrestling control away from God. Everything happens under his sovereign eye.
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding
Our session covered a lot of material and some good discussions. Our take-home was the following list:
Think about technology in a Christian way
Evaluate our (adults) personal use of technology
Create and re-create boundaries for your family
Delay smart phone / social media use (don’t get them phones before grade 9/10)
Where appropriate, engage your kids in their digital world (text them)
Invest in shared experiences and activities
Make character development a priority
Remember, relationships win
Pray, like crazy
Some of my thoughts on this list:
2 D’uh. Remove the speck in your own eye first, right? Of course, you don’t have to be perfect with your own usage before you set limits.
You’re not going to get this right the first time. Or the second or third time. So it’s a good habit to talk about our screens and our habits using them over and over. And, as your kids grow and circumstances change, so too should your boundaries.
There’s likely no perfect time as kids are all different. But grade 9/10 (14–15 years old) feels good to me. Our daughter was slightly younger and our son even more so. Looking back now, we’ll be waiting a little longer for the next (and precedent can be thrown out the window — again, the kids are all different).
I can’t recommend this enough. We preach the value of face-to-face interaction as the best form of communication, but it’s important to interact with our kids with the tools they love as well. Example: my wife follows our daughter on Instagram and checks on her content regularly. We refrain from commenting though — we save that for IRL.
This is so well said. Sid made the point that we can’t just take things away — like it or not, our kids social lives will run though these devices. If you choose to withhold, you have to replace it with something. Shared experiences are key.
It was reassuring to see from an expert that we’re already on a good track in our home. And back to the title of this section, it’s all about conversations. Lots, many of them long. I often have to battle my desire to just head to be and instead engage in listening.
Sam Hernandez doesn’t write all that often for his site. But when he does, he does it so very well. This time he’s sharing about his dog, his next dog, and becoming a dog lover.
I used to say goodnight to Bear every night. I’d hold his face in my hand and say in my best Texan accent, “Quite a wondrous creature you are, Bear, made by the hand of God himself, I swear. Go to sleep pretty boy.”
Sam does a great job of sharing his experiences, but he has a knack for dropping dollops of wisdom along the way. Like this one:
I’m fond of saying that you love what you love. I mean that you feel love for what you love on purpose, and you become a better person because you love on purpose rather than by some serendipitous accident.