Everything we design, in turn, designs us back
I first saw it in 2005, at the age of 12. My cool cousin removed a silver V3 from their pocket and I fell in love. Like most teenage crushes, it was a romance that existed only in my dreams.
I’m not sure how common cellphones are among the children of India now, but when I was growing up, no one received a cellphone until High School. That first phone was often passed down from someone in the family, as it was already nearing the end of its life. The phone I received came from my sister. No one remembers their 6th-grade crushes once they advance to High School. I certainly didn’t. After four short years, I accordingly had no memory of that first burning desire to own a Razr. Touch screens were the coolest new feature, and I was more than happy to own an obsolete Moto Ming A1200 with no battery life (A Stylus in 2009! Hipster AF.)
Now, I’m a grown-ass adult (I think) attending graduate school. Prior to now, I was very active on social media and found myself using Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat every hour. Most of it involved silently judging former classmates, stalking crushes and ex-girlfriends, and perusing the works of my favorite creators. Life was good.
And then, I missed a bus which only arrived on my route once every hour. I missed it because I was too distracted by the evilly designed ‘Infinite Scroll’. I spent that hour mentally designing an app that alerts the user when their bus is approaching. But was another app really the answer? I began to investigate what drove my social media use, and I realized it all came down to FOMO: Fear of missing out. In retrospect, FOMO was simply anxiety that was essentially created by the designers of these platforms. In order to prevent being “out of the loop,” I found myself willing to give up my time and independence for knowledge of social media in an electronic Faustian bargain.
Later that day, I saw a photograph of the Razr V3 on one of my many social media feeds. You know that feeling when you see your teenage crush in college who is still incredibly gorgeous? The feeling that makes you question your perfect relationship for a second and sends you into a daydreaming sequence of ‘what if you and they had ended up together?’ I had a brief resurgence of that deep fondness for the V3 and found myself thinking “How did I end up here in the first place?”
Uncle Ben once said to Peter Parker “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’m not qualified to dictate the direction in which technology should advance. However, while I’m not a philosopher, I am a designer and a strong believer in ontological design. Ontological design means everything we design, in turn, designs us back. More technically, the process in which humans affecting change in technology causes technology to effect change in us. This involves everything from plastic cognitive processes to fine motor skills that develop through the near-constant interaction of humans with electronic touchscreens.
I took some time to reflect on how my life had changed in the past few years and realized how much of my time involved my phone. I found the most detrimental effect of my addiction to technology was that I stopped reading books for my own benefit. The last few books I had read either to impress somebody or to fulfill educational requirements. Social Media browsing had filled every bit of my free time at the expense of my other interests.
To be fair, the phone was not the only problem. I was equally addicted to my computer and spent my time bingeing on FineBros and Neistat vlogs on YouTube. The phone, however, was a more insidious player, as it offered portability and ease of access. Quora would send me an email digest of popular answers from topics I had not even subscribed to. The digests were incredibly interesting, and I fell into the trap of reading them, with each topic followed by its own lengthy thread. I was weak, and FOMO was winning. Quora was the first of my social media platforms to be uninstalled.
Perhaps I wasn’t addicted to social media, but, I could certainly feel the pull towards addiction. The last thing I did before going to bed was pull-down-refresh endlessly on Instagram’s Explore tab and watch the multitude of Stories by strangers. Upon waking, I would peer through bleary eyes at Snapchat stories by friends from the other side of the world. Okay, yes, I was almost addicted to social media, but I wasn’t in denial and I acknowledged the problem. Acceptance, so it’s said, is the most important step in recovery.
I made a mental note of each important activity I used my phone for. Each of the apps I needed for work had a web/OS X client. In fact, I didn’t even use the mobile apps as much as I used the OS X clients (which included Spotify, Evernote, and iMessage). The only exception was Lyft, which I used once a month, but I knew I could find alternative transportation providers. After this lengthy review, the decision was made. I was going to ditch my iPhone to live my teenage dream.
The next 2 hours were spent finding the perfect deal on a Razr V3 on e-Bay. Five days and an overtly suggestive unboxing post on Snapchat later, I finally held the object of my desire. I won’t describe in detail the next 15 minutes I spent facing the mirror, flipping the phone open, and raising it to my ears. I also won’t rant about my two worthless trips to the AT&T store, in which I learned that AT&T doesn’t support 2G devices anymore (F*@# #!u At&t).
What I will tell you is how I feel without my iPhone. It’s been 4 days and I don’t miss it at all. I have more free time at my disposal. I finished an entire book in under 3 days. I spend far less time in the loo. The only downside to downgrading (upgrading) to Razr is parting with my iPhone case. It carried both my identification and debit cards, which I now carry in a real wallet like a real grownup.
The transition has been smooth. The cohesive app Franz allows me to use Slack, GroupMe, and Messenger on my computer. iMessage, Spotify, and Soundnode (an open-source desktop client for Soundcloud) work just as well. I access my email through Newton (literally the best email client on the Planet). And Tinder? I think a Razr on the bar countertop is enough of a conversation starter 😉