Cartoon of Author


Owning a phone is a bad user experience.


Phones are invaluable, that's undeniable. They're great because they keep people connected from a distance without needing to wait for a letter to arrive or show up on my front door on horseback to ask me something simple, I'm grateful for that. (especially the second part)

HOWEVER I feel like the transition from stationary phones to cell phones created a pretty awful user experience for everyone -- at least with the culture that surrounds them.

Now hold up, it's not what you think. I'm not complaining about people being on their phones, not being "present", or any of that jazzzzz. Let's be clear I love having my phone and data connection. I'm talking about phone calls and the experience of owning a little box that rings whenever somebody else wants it to.

Think about it -- with stationary phones sure people could call you whenever they wanted but there wasn't ever an expectation that people would answer every call. No reasonable human expected you to be within earshot of the phone stuck to your wall 24/7. They'd call once, if you didn't answer they'd assume you were not home and would try again later (or leave a message, depending on how far back you're going). Missing a call wasn't to be taken personally.

That does NOT ring true for the cell phone (RING true, get it?). People typically expect that you have your cell phone on you all the time - or - that if you don't you'll be near it in the very near future. The expectation and culture around a phone call these days if someone calls you, you should answer right away. If you don't answer or call somebody back, they take it personally and/or really read into it. That's kinda lame, we shouldn't be expected to answer every call all the time. It shouldn't be viewed as suspicious if somebody doesn't answer their phone. Maybe they're out on a bike ride and didn't feel it ring, perhaps they're out at dinner and don't want to be bothered, or maybe they just don't feel up to chatting on the phone right now (which is a totally reasonable and valid).

I'm just saying if you went back in time 100 years and offered somebody a little pocket box that would make noise at them whenever somebody else wanted their attention - and - the expectation was that you were to immediately stop whatever you were doing when that little box rang and give whomever made it ring your full attention I just feel like, who would be game for that? That sounds like a terrible product.

I feel like that's the expectation / culture we have around phone calls -- at least when you know the caller personally.

It's interesting to me because it seems like the issue that most people take with phones are that they're distracting or overload you with information to the point of causing anxiety -- so much so that people have built products around making a "dumb" phone like The Light Phone.

Those products sort of make me laugh - because - imo they highlight the exact thing I don't like about smart phones - which - is the phone app itself. It strips out all of the things I love about my phone that increases the quality of my life, such as:

All of those things improve the quality of my life infinitely - and - phones like The Light Phone don't have any of that, they only have the part I loath. (Though I do love the physical design of that product, very 👌nk 👌nk)

Information overload can easily be fixed with a little self disipline and good software. Apps like "Screen Time" and "Focus" on iOS are good examples of this because they both give you insight into what your relationship looks like with your phone (Screen Time) and a way to help shape it (Focus) -- but how do you fix the "always connected" cultural expectation? Not sure you can, definitely not with software.

Until we can solve that I think the user experience of being a phone owner will always suck, we can blame it on social media or bright and colorful apps all we want, but I think the issue is a cultural one. 🤷‍♂️