I have a new smartphone. One that I am particularly excited to possess. Before you start wondering the make and model of this latest advancement in technology let me share some of the features. This smartphone has every possible bell to be rung and ever whistle you could ever find to blow. A fully digital keyboard, Touch ID, and App Store are available. It easily connects to the World Wide Web and puts the world at my fingertips. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ve shared anything that can’t be found in any other newly released tech device. Here’s the best part. All of this is wrapped up in an incredibly small 4” form factor. This powerhouse of a phone is roughly the size of a deck of cards. Oh, and one more thing, I picked it up for under $200. Are you dying to know who produced it? I’ll let you in on the secret and if you’re lucky you might be able to snag one for yourself.
I am now the proud owner of an iPhone SE. That’s right, an Apple device. But not just any iPhone. This is the miniature marvel produced in 2016. Now, before you start thinking I’ve lost my mind let me give you a bit more background behind why I undertook this digital transformation.
I read a book recently entitled “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newton. The concepts and thoughts he proposed were a refreshing alternative to the common thinking of today and in many areas articulated my feelings on the subject of technology and specifically social media. In fact, I read this book at an interesting point in time as I undertook a personal digital minimization journey. I am a strong advocate for technology. I use it in my daily life. I put technology to work improving the lives of others. I know the latest trends and I consistently push the envelopes on what technology can do. I do this because I believe technology is a tool to be used by humans to improve our capabilities.
However, contrary to this belief our world seems to use technology too frequently as an escape from our fully realized potential. We warn against digital addictions and the devastating effects of social media. We caution our family and friends to beware of technology and its power over our lives. But we are thinking about the entire situation incorrectly. It’s not technology to blame. Instead it’s the attitude and behavioral traits we exhibit when we do not consciously consider technology to be a tool to allow us to accomplish something greater.
I know at this point you’re probably wondering what this has to do with my recent upgrade to my smart phone. Please allow me to explain my thinking. There are many examples and stories (however anecdotal) of individuals who have taken various extreme views of their mobile devices. On the far end we have those who have eschewed the technology all together and foregone any mobile device all together. Next in line are those who have downgraded their technology to the flip-phone era. These extremists are often admired publicly and scorned privately by the world at large. While we consider this approach noble and valid we each internalize this approach as unviable for our own situations. (Regardless of the quality of the justifications, the hurdle is simply too insurmountable for most.)
The next stage of this digital spectrum encompasses those individuals who have used or consider using limited devices, such as the Light Phone, and other alternatives. These devices offer limited “smart” capabilities while restricting the user from many of the common mobile device pitfalls which suck their time and life away. This is also a noble approach and while it may be appealing to some still feels very impractical for most. (The human brain is truly remarkable in its justification abilities.)
This brings me to my current position in the widespread gamut of smartphone usage. The small phone. Here’s my hypothesis and early findings. I believe we should take advantage of technology. I believe we should use our tech to the fullest. But we do so to advance our world, our lives, and our capabilities. We should consider digital devices as a means to augment our abilities. For this reason we shouldn’t block, limit, or shy away from technology. At the same time we have to be able to overcome the extremely addictive nature found subliminally in social media and technology in general. I believe the size of the device can play a monumental role in achieving this goal.
I believe you’re probably beginning to understand my idea but I’ll spell it out for you. I’ve taken my wonderfully compact smartphone and I’ve eliminated a majority of the apps I used to have installed. No social media, no news aggregators, no games, no media sources exist on this device. I believe this phone is a tool. I’ve removed the apps from displaying their shiny little chiclets on the screen and ‘folderized’ everything. This means I am not distracted by an icon or mindlessly click on something simply because I see it. This was step one, but I had accomplished this with my previous phone (the stunningly beautiful and powerful Pixel 3 XL). You can read my previous post when I deleted social media and removed my icons from that device. The next step involved the necessity to switch devices.
I believed the smaller screen would limit the desirability and temptation to turn to my phone at any lull in my day. I believed while the full power of modern technology would be available the smaller screen would make the experience less attractive. Understand me on this point, it’s possible to still abuse the technology and fall into the same trap, but in combination with a minimal approach to apps and a conscious effort to maintain the right mental posture towards tech the smaller screen size is a ridiculously powerful ally. And this belief is proving to be correct. The slight encumbrances of the smaller device limit my natural inclination to whip it out at a moment’s notice and get sucked into mindless activities. But I love the smaller size. I personally enjoy the feel of the device in my hand. I marvel at the ability to pack so much power in the palm of my hand (literally). I feel better.
In conclusion, I am a staunch supporter of digital minimalism. I believe we have a problem and without direct action we will never be able to overcome the trap we find ourselves in. The alluring aspects of social media, new shiny apps, and persistent, 24/7 digital distractions will crush our future selves from achievements and success. We will turn into digital addicts always seeking the next dopamine high. Along the way we’ll sacrifice productivity on this portable altar of entertainment. I would encourage you to take a moment and evaluate your own use of technology. Are you using it or is it using you? Are you a better person: socially, intellectually, relationally, emotionally as a result of how you put technology to work for you? Don’t fool yourself that surfing Facebook, Twitter or Instagram connects you to others - call it what it is - entertainment. And then ask yourself, are you entertaining yourself to death?