We need less mobile technology

mobile everywhere 2

In the past 3 months, I lived without a mobile phone. I was led to this situation more than I chosed it, but I went along with it to see where it would take me, perfectly knowing that mobile phones grew like cancer recently.

At first, living without a mobile phone is stressful. You always think that something important is happening and you are not in the know. Then you realize that this actually never happens. In 3 months, not having a mobile phone only mattered when dealing with people who just assume you have a phone and things can get planned at the last minute. They just got disappointed, and I could rightfully justify my unavailability. Otherwise, with a little planning like we used to do back in the days, everything went smoothly.

Once you understand that, you reach a first threshold. That’s the breaking point, where you took the blue pill and now stand on the other side of the screen. That every service has been digitalized sounds kind of a great thing, but that people are now obsessed with their portable screens and their never-ending flow of notifications is not that great. Mobile phones are used on any type of transportation and sometimes while driving, in the bathroom, while having a drink with friends, while there’s seemingly nothing else to do… This adds up to a lot of hours of attention for mostly noise. Most of the time, what we do with mobile phones is useless : Chatting, snoozing on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, looking through contacts and latest sent texts over and over, playing popular games, even checking spam messages in email inbox because what else… Picking up a phone and do whatever has become the new void-filler.

mobile everywhere 1

Yet, when you don’t have a phone, you gain more thinking time: in an age when information has become a permanent attention-grabber, we spend a good deal of our free thinking time getting informed: news outlets, social networks and the mobile phone have made us zombies staring at a constant stream of info. Notifications keep us captive. With less mobile phone comes more free time, more thinking time, more self-made opinions, thus more autonomy overall. Quoting French TV vet Patrick Le Lay, head of TF1 “we sell available brain time to brands”. Reading posts on social networks and news articles is not the same intellectual gymnastics as reading a book. It’s usually easier and related to opinion news in general.

After 3 months off the hook, I did purchase a brand new phone. I only set up the following apps:

  • Android’s native: Google Docs, Keep, Calendar, Music, Maps, Photo, Chrome, Hangout. I also have YouTube but I never watch YouTube on mobile.
  • I downloaded Whatsapp because it’s widely used as a replacement of the phone in Latin America, Feedly because I’m an old school RSS geek, Skype and my printer’s app because they won’t work properly on my Chromebook, and Wemo to remotely manage some of my house’s electric devices.

No more Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, banking apps, blogging apps, analytics apps, gaming apps, Netflix, Soundcloud, … Truth is, I don’t need those apps in the palm of my hand. I use them on my laptop, this way they don’t feel invasive. I’ve been an Android fan for a long time. I bought the G1 when it came out, and always lived with Android since then. Just like any long-time, tech-curious mobile user, I tried an infinity of apps. I know how it feels to be a vibrant mobile consumer, but that ship has sailed.

The smarter the technology, the dumber the user (do we need all those apps ?)

Smartphones brought something pretty incredible to our daily lives : an infinite source of artificial intelligence in the palm of our hands. Clearly, in the breakthrough of technology, smartphones stand at the cornerstone of our transhumance.

In 2017, a lot of us will reach 10 years of unpaused smartphone usage. What conclusions can I take as an individual user with a light early-adopter bias ?

A smart-apps world clouded my brain

It has become obvious to most of us that our mobile has made us dependent of the machine. With technology always at reach, I do not need to foresee much as I can do everything right in the momentum: No plane ticket ? I can buy them in the taxi on my way to the airport. Where will I meet my friend and make sure we don’t miss each other in a crowded place ? Instant messenging. How much money do I have in my account ? Online banking. What’s happening in Gambia right now ? Gogle News, Twitter, thousands of others… How do I cook this ? Google. It’s becoming really hard to find something that doesn’t already have an app for that.

The technology is making my life simpler, yet I keep wondering if this is a good thing : Every time I find myself without an internet connection or a mobile device, I realize that I’ve lost some autonomous abilities: Driving to unknown places without Google Maps is more stressful, finding a place to stay in an unknown city feels impossible, my social life requires more planning ahead of time and I do not have the phone number of most of my contacts, I won’t know how to find a specific store in the city, the list goes on, but I think it’s safe to say : THE SMARTER THE TECHNOLOGY, THE DUMBER THE USER.

Google has become really intelligent over the years, but can we say the same about us (looking at you, US of Trump) ? Technology enables access to quasi-infinite knowledge, but it changes my attitude towards this knowledge : instead of retaining it as much as possible, I just consume it when I need it, and pretty much forget it right after I’m done consuming it. My brain knows it’s there, so it’s not flexing the memory muscle. Whenever I need something, I “Google it”, so why memorize anything at all ?

einstein technology generation idiots

Thus knowledge is not in my possession anymore, it’s in the hands of technology (but it was in other hands before too, so my point is not that we’re going backwards), and I access it when I need it. In 10 years, Google managed to cloud my brain.

Google did to knowledge and the service industry what pharma companies did to health, what food companies did to cooking, what the fashion industry did to clothing, … They engineer everything, making my own knowledge unnecessary, unsollicited, thus deprecated. I don’t need to know anything anymore because it’s already manufactured to me.

Low-tech is not dumb

On the first mobile OSs, the app market was essential to fill the gaps. There was always a developer that had thought of an app to patch a missing feature. With today’s latest versions of Android and iOS, all the must-have features are native, making my need for other apps and the app market less important.

I realize today that I do not need to do the following on my phone (some people do) :

  • I do not need to do mobile banking on the go, I can do it on my laptop
  • I do not need to watch a Netflix movie on the go, there’s books and other ways to entertain myself
  • I do not need to be informed in real time of everything that is going on, even if it concerns me, I want to access that information when I am mentally available for it
  • I do not need to be connected to everyone I know permanently : with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, I’m directly connected to thousands of other people, do I need to know everything they’re up to in real time ?

While I can clearly see that I do not need those services on the go, thus on a mobile phone, I can anticipate that it will be the case for everyone pretty soon. With connected homes and screens, a lot of things we do on mobile will make much more sense at home on a big screen. Apps will be the same, but they will go through your home network, not your mobile. Google’s Instant Apps confirms that trend towards deconstructing the apps’ environment to clear the user’s horizon.

want smart need dumb phone

I think the true value of mobile phones are :

  • GPS-related features for enhanced traveling capabilities
  • Network-related features for enhanced human interactions

Over time, any app that does not evolve around those two axis will be removed from a mobile because it won’t be the best device to process those requests. Mobile devices fit in a pocket and can connect to local networks outside the house, and that’s as low-tech as mobile should be. All other features the internet has to offer should not go through a mobile device, because it pollutes with unnecessary airwave usage, requires complex hardware (critical pollution and economic factor), turns signals into noise (what’s your average number of push notifs in a day?), generates threats to your personal security (breach/interception and data theft), and the brain permanently outsources its problem-solving issues to the machine, making it dumber by the minute.

dumb phone smart people 1

While I was born in a non-digital world, I can still figure out what to do if the internet goes down. But new generations are doomed : if the web goes down, how much knowledge will there be left in their brains to survive? Today, all you need to know to survive is how to turn on your phone and keep it charged.

Easy Transfer From Computer To iPhone – Clip2Mobile @sfnewtech


Among tonight’s SFnewtech Meetup panel was Clip2Mobile, a service that can help you transfer the content from your computer to your iPhone. The gist of it is pretty simple: copy the content you want to transfer to your iPhone, paste it in the computer component of Clip2Mobile, and it automatically syncs up on your phone.

What’s truly impressive is that the application will immediately identify the nature of the content transferred (contact info, location, media, text) and will offer you to store it appropriately in your phone. I don’t have an iPhone, so I am limited to the presentation I have seen, but the team said that they are working actively on developing a mobile component for all mobile OS.