Smartphones should not be this nice

by | Mar 7, 2023 | Technology

Takeaway: The nicer the smartphone, the more time I want to spend on it—and this isn’t something I want. Any device we consider “great” should make us feel better, not worse, about the time we spend on it.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 45s.

When I started my most recent experiment to use only a flip phone for a month, my wife almost immediately said something I didn’t expect: “I don’t think you dislike smartphones, I just think you don’t like your newest iPhone.” (She echoed this same sentiment on our podcast the other week.)

As usual, she’s right. I can’t stand my newest phone, Apple’s “greatest phone ever,” the iPhone 14 Pro.

Here’s the problem: it’s too nice.

When I bought the phone last year, I went all out. I got the 1 terabyte model (a ridiculous amount of storage space, in hindsight), because I expected to have the thing for a while. But I’ve come to resent this phone. The camera is the only day-to-day improvement from my iPhone 11 Pro. (This camera and group texts are the only features I missed during my flip phone experiment. For the latter, I used iMessage on my iPad/laptop and am switching to a different feature phone so I can join text-based group chats again. The phone is called the Punkt, which I’m genuinely excited for.)

Other features of my new iPhone feel boring. It’s no surprise that phone updates today are less interesting than in the past: it’s been more than 15 years since the original iPhone, and the improvement between models is leveling off.

But in a weird way, the device also feels somewhat icky. The “dynamic island” feature that displays notifications and alerts in the pill at the top of my screen is neat, but you get used to it in a day or two. The stainless steel edges make the phone feel more like an oversized piece of jewelry than a functional everyday device. The huge screen makes information on the device feel more important and urgent than it truly is.

Plus, for reasons I mentioned in the original article for this experiment, I don’t want my phone to be a big part of my life, because:

  • When I look back, most of what I do on my smartphone doesn’t matter.
  • I’m already connected to the digital world for 8+ hours a day on my laptop.
  • I rarely feel elated, or even happy, while using my smartphone.
  • I often lose control of my behavior while on the device.
  • I enjoy life more when I do things the analog way.

Overall, I have come to realize that much of the time on my smartphone is, as writer David Cain put it recently, a loss of time and a “loss of life.”

Increasingly, I want my phone to get out of the way and let me live my life—hopefully (and preferably) in the analog world. When I think back, this is the source of my most meaningful experiences and memories.

The nicer your phone, the more time you want to spend on it—and this isn’t something I want. I’m generally a fan of the stuff Apple makes—even though their products are pricey.

My iPhone 14 Pro is the opposite. The device hijacks my attention, overstimulates my mind, and leads me to waste time—urging me to pick it up and fill the gaps between tasks that comprise my day. Features like “focus modes” help, but they don’t go far enough.

Smartphones that are this “nice” should make us feel a hell of a lot better about the time we spend on them.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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