The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler


It’s been sad to watch what started as a very focused and very well designed tool try to be something more. I lamented about this change this week:

Dropbox Paper started off as a focused tool: a collaborative writing tool with version control. Now it feels that features are added for the sake of adding features.
Example: the persistent menu now takes up precious vertical space on my laptop screen:

Paper was an excellent tool in its early days, focused on one thing: helping teams write together.

Over the past year to two, the Paper team has added a lot of features that detract from the writing experience. Elaborate timelines, nagging requests to add documents to folders, integrations with dozens of services. And that annoyingly persistent toolbar that takes up precious vertical space.

Maybe there are a lot of teams out there that use these features. Me? I just want a nice environment where our team can work on written materials together. My appreciation for focused tools only increases as the web and all our tooling options seem to grow more complex.

However, a product does not become bloated simply because new (unwanted) features are added. It’s only when those features get in the way of the core value that it’s a problem.

Launchbar is a great example. It’s an incredibly powerful tool with hundreds of different features. I probably use 10% of what it can do. However, my use of it to open applications, manage my clipboard, resize images, and various other things are not hindered at all by all the other features it offers. They’re there if I want to try them out, but otherwise, it all just stays out of the way.

Launchbar isn’t trying to force me to use it more. But the Paper team? It feels like there’s a push to get people to make it the hub of all their work, rather than just write collaboratively. Helping people get more value from a product is fine and understandable.

But it should never be done at the expense of the very thing that got people using it in the first place.


One month with a dumbed down phone

It’s been one month since I turned my phone into a device that, for the most part, does not give me any new content. No email, no social media, no RSS, and not even any work communication. A few people have asked how it’s going.

In a word, lovely. Absolutely lovely.

Since iOS debuted Screen Time, our family has reviewed the numbers for anyone who owns a device (4 out of 6 of us). I’ve been tracking this since October and we mostly use it for talking about screen usage and addiction, not telling our kids how they have to use their devices.

Looking at my own numbers since dumbing down, there is a small shift. The 4 weeks before starting this exercise, I was averaging 96 minutes of usage, 64 pickups, and 25 notifications per day. Since the change, the numbers have reduced to 83 minutes of usage, 44 pickups, and 17 notifications per day. Not a huge reduction at first glance.

But there is more to these numbers than what you see on the surface. First, those numbers are probably not that high compared to a lot of folks. Second, picking up my phone 20 less times in a day means there are 20 times when I choose to put my attention into something else. Last, my book reading comes into play. I tend to switch back and forth between paper and digital books and I happened to start a new digital book that bumped up my averages over the past couple of weeks.

And I’m definitely ok with reading books on my phone.

But the more important aspect of this entire exercise is not necessarily made obvious by the numbers. It’s the feeling. After the first week of getting used to the change, the compulsion to pick up the device to check something, anything, starts to fade. I've had plenty of moments where I realized I'm not sure where my phone is.

And so the number of pickups drops, yes. But the feeling of not needing to constantly find stimulus far outweighs the change in statistics. That change started to dribble into my work day. But the distractions are still present in that space (or habit field, as Jack Cheng called it) so I still have to fight the urge to shift screens and check something when I bump into uncertainty or switch between tasks.

So the changes are positive. But there is still room to grow.

Related, Isaac Smith posted an update about how his own experience has been going.