Ok, Google; Hey, Siri — transform yourself into a StarTAC

Fabio Fidanza
May 15, 2017 · 4 min read
The Motorola StarTAC – Status symbol of the mid 90s —edited from https://www.flickr.com/photos/rosenfeldmedia/7668810962

“I sent you a picture of Tina building our IKEA bed on WhatsApp, but it looks like you never got the message.”
“I don’t have WhatsApp, sorry.”

— cinematic strings vibrato and timpani —

This was a true story.

My friend didn’t have WhatsApp on his phone.
Well, he actually couldn’t, as it was a good old Nokia feature phone, where Snake was the most sophisticated “app”.

Five years ago he would have been called a dinosaur.
Today he’s a pioneer.

Rock stars and VIPs are sporting flip-phones.
(I bet they have a golden iPhone in their pocket for emergency selfies)

What’s going on with *smart*phones?

Almost every day I meet someone who’s about to throw their $699 phone away after getting 27 notifications in a row from the “Relaxation class” WhatsApp group.
(They have a $99 non-Newtonian-fluid case, so it wouldn’t break anyway).

Companies like Nokia understood they could address this emerging market niche of frustrated users and leverage old feelings of non-smart relaxed times.

Here’s the (new) Nokia 3310! (click, it’s really new. And old.).
– By the way, I have a vintage one, if you’re willing to pay a few grands –

Someone got even further — in the past.
“The Light Phone is your phone away from phone.”
Uhm, ehm.
“…that works with your existing phone”. WTPHONE?
I think we went a bit too far here.

— cinematic drum roll —

I think I have a technological breakthrough idea.

What’s the problem with our smartphones?
We use them too much, and they use us too much.

We get a notification from a WhatsApp group, we mute the group, text from Mom, group we muted 1 week ago gets unmuted, we mute it, you got 1 free diamond in Frenzy Frush, Svetlana liked your Facebook status, 3 likes on your Instagram photo (still have to reply to Mom), Justin Bieber is now live on YouTube — gimme a Nokia 3310, NOW!

Some techie will tell you that you have all the features to contain the notification armageddon: configure apps to not send notifications, create a VIP list of contacts that would override any “do not disturb” setting and have a rock-solid willpower to not grab the phone every five minutes.

I hear you thinking “Turn off the ringer volume”.
Haha, you’re kidding me, right?
After 90 seconds your arms engage the automatic “let me check the phone” anti-FOMO behavior, which in turn engages the “no notifications! I’m a lonely human being!” reaction.

Nokia would say “Buy a 3310”.

Wait, wait.

I do want to get my friends’ WhatsApp messages; I do want to know when my favorite YouTube cooking star puts out a new video.
But I want to decide when that’s going to happen.
Every 30 minutes or when I deliberately push a button.

What about urgent things?

Let’s define urgent things:

1 — Mom’s call
2 — Mom’s text that includes the words “dinner”, “cat”, “bbq”
3 — Mom’s WhatsApp image that an AI would classify as a pie

Getting rid of 2 and 3, I’d dare to say that any urgent thing is always a call.

Now for the breakthrough idea.

A Phone-Only mode (!).

What would it do?
Well, receive and make phone calls.
Stop.
All apps, sleeping.

We might have a setting to decide at what interval we’ll get notifications, all at once.
And, properly covered like a missile launch switch, a “get notifications now” button.
(In case of extreme need you can always unlock the phone, open WhatsApp and check for Kim Kardashian’s good morning message.)

I think the benefits on our sanity would be huge.
No mundane distractions, more focus.
You grab the phone — because yes, you will for a few days — no notifications, you put it away.
After a while, you’d lose the phone-grabbing habit.
After a few weeks your brain will shut down the is-there-anything-new-on-the-phone task, that was taking 3% of your CPU (your brain, for the non-nerds).
Your brain will revert to the old “grab it if it rings or I have to make a call” habit.

So, please, Google and Apple, write that few hundred lines of code that would make the world better, literally.

And you could sell a Pro version for companies, with a centralized Focus Clock. Every 45 minutes everybody will be checking their phones and then, everybody back to work (seismographs would probably register the event).

Apple is already selling mindfulness gizmos, so I bet their marketing champions can’t wait to package the brand new phone-only mode as a life-changing feature (by the way, it would be true).

Productivity heaven? I bet so.
A time machine to the good old 90s when a phone was annoying like, well, a phone.

Telegram, WhatsApp, Instagram, they will all slow down to a more human pace, and when you grab the phone, there will probably be some notification to warm your heart.

(Please don’t share this article with The Zucko. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t like.)

Fabio Fidanza

Written by

creative designer, artist, engineer— www.fabiofidanza.com

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