Can you imagine interacting in the world without a mobile phone?
This isn’t a trick question and instead of casting your mind back (if you are old enough) to when the smart phone didn’t dominate our lives, I am asking you to cast your mind into the future.
The trigger for this piece was a conversation that I had with a friend yesterday whom I hadn’t seen in a while. He is an Apple fanatic and I was surprised that he hadn’t yet acquired the new Apple Watch Ultra.
It’s a question and thought experiment that has been in my mind since September when the watch was revealed to the world. A thought experiment that I am extremely tempted to turn into a IRL experiment. I have watched a number of Youtube videos where people have attempted to test the watches capabilities as their primary mobile device for a day and have left they phone at home while they have been out and about. I have also read various reviews which speculate that while it might be possible to use the watch without your phone for a day or so, the tech isn’t at a level yet where we could full replace our phones with it.
While the investment in an apple watch isn’t a small one, the idea of being able to leave your phone at home and still remain connected to the world is an intriguing one. The watch can handle the majority of things that you throw at it — payments, texts, emails, calls, navigation, and loads more. It’s also at a level now, where it can go head to head with other activity smart watches like the Garmin Phoenix.
Recently I had an experience that reminded me of the power of being fully present. I attended a destination wedding on farm that had no cell service/signal. As we headed out of town into the hills we lost signal and I consciously turned my phone off and put it into my bag, I didn’t touch it for a full 48 hours.
Sure, I didn’t capture any photographs to remember the occasion (there was a professional camera crew and many other friends with their phones) and this felt a little strange. But the experience of not touching my phone for the entire weekend and being full present and in the moment is one that encouraged me to think more broadly around the relationship that we hold to technological devices.
Human’s are social and sensory beings, it’s why we value social relationships even if you are an introvert like myself. When remove a distraction and free up our sensory experiences we are able to relate to our environment in an entirely new way. Without being locked in to our phones our hands are freed, and our eyes can look up.
What might it mean to live in a world where we aren’t tied our mobile phones? Where we don’t reach for our phone when we are bored, but rather sit and take in the context of our surroundings. One where we make more eye contact with others rather than letting our phones capture the attention of our eyes?
One last question for today as I draw my rambling to end and shift my attention back to some conceptual strategy and applied research work.
What’s the one piece of tech that has changed or influenced our behaviour in physical social spaces the most since iPhone launched?
On a personal note, I think the AirPods have triggered the biggest behaviour change. Next time you’re in a public space or on public transport, take a moment to look around and observe how many people have some form of wireless headphones connected to their ears. It’s rather crazy and has definitely shifted our relationship to the experience of hearing.
I am curious to see and hear what others think. Are we on a path towards a phone less future?
As I write this, sitting in Johannesburg South Africa, connected to a fibre line and on a Mac. I am fully aware that this thought experiment is only relatable to a specific environment and then are a multitude of other challenges that we need to solve in order to make something like this a reality for the many and not just the few. Looking at this question from an African perspective — what becomes possible when more people are able to participate in the full utility that the mobile phone economy offers? This is why many people think that once you provide access to ideas, relationships and potential through the internet, Africa has the potential to leap frog into the future. What do you think is the next piece of hardware that will radically change the way we as African’s interact with one another? It might be a watch, it might be another type of wearable, I don’t think it will be AR/VR glasses though. One thing is for sure though, the interface design space is full of possibility as we explore how to build solutions that offer us to utilise the ever growing utility of technology. Bridging the digital and physical divide to enhance our social senses.