The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

The dumb phone I already own

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.

My requirements

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
  • reading books
  • logging my habits
  • memorizing Scripture
  • recording and reviewing my runs
  • reading RSS and email newsletters
  • taking photos
  • 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.


Independent Publishing

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.


Long conversations

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.

  1. God is still in control
  2. God is for us
  3. 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:

  1. Think about technology in a Christian way
  2. Evaluate our (adults) personal use of technology
  3. Create and re-create boundaries for your family
  4. Delay smart phone / social media use (don’t get them phones before grade 9/10)
  5. Where appropriate, engage your kids in their digital world (text them)
  6. Teach discernment
  7. Invest in shared experiences and activities
  8. Make character development a priority
  9. Remember, relationships win
  10. 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.
    1. 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.
    1. 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).
    1. 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.
    1. 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.