Two Voices, One Idea: Disconnecting To Focus

I kind of hate phones. They have the brief to ring whenever they want. They haven’t gotten significantly better at being phones by getting smarter. Oh yes, I love Google Maps (and can’t wait to get it back), and I take a lot of photos. But as a comm device, phones are still fairly dumb.

But I (thankfully) live in a world of my own creation, so I don’t have many people trying to call me by phone. So, I am relatively disconnected, toiling in my home office, and communicating with people asynchronously mostly, and otherwise in scheduled calls. Others are not so lucky.

Two pieces caught my eye today. Daniele Fiandaca and Brad Feld both wonder is we’re not better off disconnecting more:

Daniele Fiandaca: Why We Need To Disconnect In The Workplace

This issue of constant connectivity is turning into a malaise of digital dependency. Addressing this malaise in the workplace is something I’ve been pondering on for a while. Is technology now making us inefficient? Is being permanently connected, and in an ongoing state of continuous partial attention, making us less effective in our work?

Fiandaca and colleagues at Cheil UK experimented with Samsun Tectiles, a pad to lay phones on that control their settings:


This allows the user to place the phone on the “red for off” side of the tectile, and disconnect, to get things done.

Feld is going through a sort of rethinking of everything after way too much work and the gall bladder surgery: 

Brad Feld, My Smart Phone Is No Longer Working For Me

There’s some magic peace that comes over me when I’m not constantly looking at my iPhone. I really noticed it after two weeks of not doing it. After a few days of withdrawal, the calm appears. My brain is no longer jangly, the dopamine effect of “hey – another email, another tweet” goes away, and I actually am much faster at processing whatever I’ve got on a 27″ screen than on a little tiny thing that my v47 eyes are struggling to read.

Now, I’d love for there to be a way for me to know about high priority interrupts – things that actually are urgent. But my iPhone doesn’t do this at all in any discernable way. There are too many different channels to reach me and they aren’t effectively conditioned – I either have to open them up to everyone (e.g. txtmsg via my phone number) or convince people to use a specific piece of software – many, such as Glassboard – which are very good, but do require intentional behavior on both sides.

I’m suddenly questioning the “mobile first” strategy.

I agree.

Once again, what may seem like a quibble: I have a mobile phone that also acts as a proximal device. It is the computer I have with me all the time – in the car, in a line at the bank, in the kitchen – but we are constrained because hardware and software developers and the phone companies think of it as ‘just a mobile phone’. 

We need to radically rethink proximal devices, and their use as communication tools, not just perpetuate a stupid metaphor of ‘mobile phone’. I don’t want a mobile phone. I want a new, smart way of communicating with other people through my proximal device, one that fits better into an intentional approach to work and play. And part of that would be a device that ‘knows’ when I am too busy to be interrupted, and takes action accordingly.

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