The Joy of Single-Purpose Tech

What is it about smartphones that make them the most useful technology ever created, while at the same time being the single-largest source of brain drain and anxiety in existence?

I'll admit, my relationship with technology has always been borderline unhealthy, at best, but it wasn't until I started keeping a bonafide supercomputer on my person at all times that I crossed whole-hog into the land of addiction.

But, I'm not alone. I know this.

Having access to the world's information (and misinformation) at the touch of a button (or, more conveniently, the swipe of a finger) has cultivated in me a slowly depleting attention span, hair-trigger emotional response, and a general sense of unease about the "real" world.

It's awful.

Thanks to 2020, the year where everything and nothing happened all at once, we got a new word added to our collective lexicon that made it clear just how bad things have gotten: doomscrolling.

Now, everyone knows what doomscrolling is by now, so I won't get into it (and, in case you're new to the 'ole webbed site, I've written a bit about my own experiences with it before), but my point stands that we are simply too connected, and have too much access to information to stay sane anymore. Our technology simply does too fucking much to be healthy.

Don't get me wrong, I love the internet (or, at least, I love what the internet represents), but I reveled in the excitement of technology for the first 25 years of my life without devolving into a tightly wrapped ball of anxiety that spent an embarrassing amount of my waking hours hours staring at the glowing rectangle surgically attached to my hand.

The thing is, I'm starting to realize that the problem isn't the device, but rather it's lack of defined purpose. Back in my day (ugh), a phone was just a phone, the TV delivered most of my video entertainment, the internet was quite literally chained to the family computer, and music came on tapes, then CDs, and (when we got really fancy) MP3 players.

You know what all these things have in common?

They each do one thing, and do it well.

Over the last few months, I've started falling back in love with my single-purpose tech. If I'm not reading a physical book, I reach for the e-reader rather than the tablet. The television is the destination for entertainment again, not my phone. I make an effort to listen to music on dedicated devices with intention, instead of always going straight to <insert streaming service here>. I even revived an old laptop for the purposes of writing, which requires nothing more than a terminal and vim installed. I can't replace everything in my life with single-purpose solutions, but I am sure as hell trying to be more intentional in my choice of tooling.

While I've good and kicked my doomscrolling habit thanks to content blockers, life hacks, and some self-discipline, the smartphone is still an ever-present threat to my inner peace. It's always there, begging to be picked up and used. Only by putting it in a drawer and walking out of the damn room can I silence its siren song, which is great, but makes owning a phone effectively useless.

And, you know what?

There's almost no middle ground anymore. You can't just own a phone. Believe me, I've tried. I spent the better part of the summer of 2021 with nothing but a Nokia feature phone, and it was almost great. You know what you can't do without a smartphone in the 2020's? Pay for parking, pick your kids up from school, or read a damned restaurant menu.

But that's a problem for another post.


This is post 002 of #100DaysToOffload


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