The Future of Mobile Technology

September 20th, 2012
[ Geek ]

I was lucky enough to have spent last weekend at another instance of Alistair‘s Bitnorth conference. Core to Bitnorth is that everyone contributes. I gave a short talk with no slides. I figured I’d do my best to share it with you here.

If you’ve been following along here you’ll likely know that I began an experiment almost two years ago in ditching my smartphone. That experiment continues and likely can’t be called an experiment any longer.


What I did was get rid of my smartphone, which at the time was an android device, and moved to an old school, voice only cell phone. Previously I was a blackberry user for years. An interesting side note is that my android device was only a few months old, had cost me $99, and I had signed into a three year contract with rogers. I figured that would be my biggest challenge. I posted on kijiji that I would be willing to give my almost brand new device away as long as the person taking it took on my contract. I had dozens of responses within an hour. I had no idea it was that simple.


I bought a John’s Phone along with a 3G Kindle. The 3G Kindle gave me free 3G access, allowing me to check my webmail on the road, in a pinch. No data plan, more email away from desk, no SMS.

This Isn’t For You…This Isn’t A Crusade

Since doing this, I’ve taken on a part-time role as smartphone therapist. When I explain my odd phone situation, most people explain to me their setup and how they’ve tamed their smartphones and it isn’t an issue for them. That’s great, I’m not on a crusade here, I’m not saving the planet, I’m not asking anyone to get rid of their smartphone or change their usage patterns.

A large majority of people also express their wish to ditch their smartphone and explain to me why that’s not possible for them. Again, you can’t live without your smartphone, that’s cool, keep it.


So why do this? I had a few reasons to try this. One was to simply be less connected, less open to interruption. For me, a smartphone had opened the door to hundreds, possibly thousands of people to interrupt me 24/7.

I also wanted to be more present and place more value on the people physically around me. If you took the time to come out and meet me for a coffee then I want to be present. My lazy buddy who couldn’t get off the couch can’t text, twitter, or whatever me and take my attention away. He can get off his ass and join us.

I want to solve big problems. I believe that requires something other than direct, conscious work. Solving the big problems in my life requires lot’s of time for me to daydream and stare at the wall. A smartphone stole most of that time from me. I filled in all the gaps with junk from my smartphone.


In my case, I make myself highly available by phone. My phone number is on all my sites and in every signature. You do have to ‘train’ others. That requires responding to so-called urgent emails by letting them know you don’t have a smartphone and to please phone you if it’s urgent. I only had to send a few of these emails.


I don’t have any upgrade stress. I don’t care about the latest device, app, game etc. I have no idea what number of iphone I should be buying next. For some people, removing that from your life will free up a couple of hours a day.

I really do believe I regrown, or repaired, my ability to focus and my attention span.

Being more present has allowed me to develop stronger relationships with the people around me, including my family and kids.

I have a chance to be curious again. When around others, that requires stopping people from checking their phones for an answer. People, it’s okay not to know something, it’s okay to be curious about something and enjoy that for a bit.

I’ve likely read more books since making this change than my entire life before that.

I do not get more phone calls. My sense is that people take a moment to reflect on their *urgent* email. They consider whether a phone call is required and my guess is that most of the time they decide it can wait. I don’t believe I get more email either but I didn’t measure any of this.

The biggest reason I have no interest in a smartphone is I do believe it’s increased my ability to solve the big problems. So keep your smartphone please! I’ll keep tackling the big problems and keep that advantage to myself.