Phones are bad for us. But don’t worry — phones are here to save us. From phones.
That appears to be the message behind the new , a tiny smartphone that functions as a kind of smartphone lite, intended as a companion to your main phone, which, if we’re being real, isn’t a phone anymore and hasn’t been for a while. It’s a portable device that sucks you into its world like nothing that came before, not even TV. Turns out Newt Gingrich was — we really need a new word for them.
The idea of buddy for your phone that’s also a phone sounds ridiculous at first, but it actually becomes more credible the more you think about it. Because chances are you’re thinking something else every time you unlock your phone when you didn’t mean to, every time you catch yourself “zombie scrolling” in an app, every time a bubble pops down from the top of your screen that you didn’t need or want: “I’ve gotta stop this.”
The thing is, we can’t. Quitting and like they’re cigarettes is definitely a hot trending topic these days, but the ever-growing active-user numbers in company tells a different story: Tech, we just can’t quit you. Unlike cigarettes, there are clear advantages to what tech offers, and we’d rather not throw out the access and abilities it grants along with the digital bathwater.
Enter the Palm. Yes, it’s a phone. Yes, it’s a smartphone. But it’s also a throwback: It has a tiny 3.3-inch screen and dialed-back specs specifically to make it less compelling as an immersive experience. It has a good camera and can run apps, sure, but you won’t want to on something so small and relatively slow. So get on with your life, human!
Contrast that with the , the other big phones of the moment. The screens are big, making videos and games really pop. They’re fast, which means content loads lightning-quick and games have virtually no lag. And they’re super smart, which theoretically frees up more of your time… to most likely be spent in other apps on the phone.
Mat Honan’s , while not great on information, is a virtuoso rant on what smartphones have done to our attention spans and psychology. It touches on something : that these tiny devices are superb windows into our digital lives, but what’s on the other side of that window is often unhealthy, and we’re just starting to come to grips with what it means to have so much negative content put literally right in front of our faces.
At least there’s a consensus on the antidote: keep more of our time rooted in the real world instead of the digital one. Many advocate turning our backs on social networks and digital services, or at the very least . The major platforms now provide to measure just how much time you spend in various apps and devices, which seems to be Big Tech’s equivalent of “first admit you have a problem.” Some people have even resorted to carrying around feature phones (AKA ), so there’s simply no chance of getting sucked into their devices.
But, again, if we’re being real, none of this seems all that promising. Quitting services or even apps is clearly too extreme a solution for most, since there haven’t been the significant drop-offs in active users or engagement that you’d expect from a massive exodus. Measuring your own behavior is a fine first step, but without actionable directives it remains just that. And carrying a feature phone these days is sort of like taking a horse-and-buggy ride — it’s a fun thing to try out, but sooner or later you’ve got to get back on the road.
Which leads us back to the Palm phone. It’s not the first phone to try to suss out a happy medium between being hyper-connected and disconnected, but it may be the most promising. It’s not cutting you off from your digital self so much as it’s making it less alluring: apps run smaller and slower, it’s designed so notifications are easily muted, and it even lacks volume buttons. Using it isn’t seamless, but that’s the point.
The best feature of the Palm, though, might be turning the act of leaving the house with your phone into a decision. Do you need your main phone, with its huge screen and serious power, or would you rather take its mini-me, something that keeps you connected but doesn’t tempt you with digital delights. Just forcing you to think about it feels like progress.
Can tech save us from tech? I think it can. Because quitting anything cold turkey almost never works. Because I don’t see how you can look at how 2018 compares to 1918 and not think technology, for all its flaws, is a net benefit to society. And because smartphones — or whatever you want to call these little computers we carry around with us — isn’t something most of us can just divorce from. Ironically, being open to multiple partners might be the best way to save that relationship.