Digital Minimalism #2: Single Use Devices

Consider, for a minute, all the daily-use tools that your smartphone has replaced: alarm clocks, digital cameras, music players, game consoles, wrist watches, even pocket notebooks among other things. Heck, in the absence of more powerful devices, most of us can work and study on our phones quite well too. The all-powerful smartphone has replaced all these and more to become the ultimate one device to rule them all. But should it, really? Maybe it’ll strain our minds (and pockets) much less if we start dividing up these tasks and brush off the dust from some of those antique devices again.

Although I strongly dislike the fact that all smartphones are pretty much the same today, this can be a good thing. Sure, I know the days of early 2000s are behind us; when you could have a very different phone from someone sitting next to you on the train. Flip phones, slider phones, touchscreens, qwerty keyboards and the basic candybar T9 keyboard phones all had so much personality. We had many colours too. It is sad that phones have become so bland but there is a silver lining.

Phones have reached homogeneity and that can be a good thing. Let me explain:
Because all phones are now powerful devices that can do so much while being ultra portable, they can fulfill different usage cases. Instead of one device multi-tasking all the time, perhaps it would be better to assign a specific purpose to individual devices.

Obviously it is more practical to have everything you need and may need right in your pocket, accessible at any moment you want. It would be cumbersome to have to carry a lot of stuff around. But I think it would be better to have that separation whenever possible. It is super convenient to have one device in your pocket that can make calls, get travel tickets, respond to work emails and watch a movie. But at what cost?

In this article, I want to make a case for using different devices for different purposes. This may seem anti-minimalist or too materialistic or consumerist or whatever but that’s not the theme I’m trying to explore here. My intention is to make our relationship with technology more deliberate and this is one method of achieving that.

Think about the impact of environment design: you are more likely to get work done on your desk, more likely to workout at a gym and highly likely to watch TV in the living room with the remote at an arm’s reach.
Why should our devices be any different?
Environment design does play a big role in our habits and this can be a great thing, when used wisely. It can make our relationship with these devices more meaningful as tools to be picked up for specific purposes and not for compulsive use.

Think of it as a fun weekend experiment. The point is to have individual devices to perform specific functions, making them single-use devices. Think back to the old days when we carried separate devices for music, for taking photos and for making calls. It was more deliberate because each had it’s own function.

Here’s what works for me:

Phone: BlackBerry KeyOne
This is my daily driver smartphone. The primary reason I bought this was to write more, portable and otherwise. My defined usage for it is: a calling, texting and email, note-taking, music & podcasts and other essentials (travel and payment apps).

E-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite
If I’m carrying my backpack, my kindle is in it. I love this thing and it has been functioning perfectly for the past 7 years now. It is truly the best device for reading, period. With the week long battery and good storage space, the light to read in the dark and ability to sync my bookmarks across other devices; it does only one thing and does it perfectly: just read. Nothing else can be done, even the “experimental” browser works slow and crashes a lot.

Watching Videos & Light Internet Browsing: iPad 6th gen
With my phone having a smaller screen and keyboard blocking one part of it, the iPad is what I use for media consumption. It reads Manga quite well, runs all the streaming services and has good web browsing thanks to iPadOS where the browser (Safari) is able to load full desktop webpages (as opposed to mobile web pages) this means I can take full advantage of Netflix, Prime, YouTube, etc on the browser, online, instead of downloading the apps and clogging up the already limited storage space on it.

Music & Podcasts player/Portable Video player: Samsung Galaxy Note 3
I retired this phone because it had calling and WiFi issues. Otherwise, it is still a capable phone. Before the covid-19 situation, I carried this phone to watch movies and series while standing in the crowded trains (BB screen is too small and iPad is too large to hold while standing). Now, I use this at home as an exclusive audio player for Apple Music, Spotify, and Castbox. It is truly amazing to have a dedicated device if you enjoy listening to music. There are no interruptions from calls and texts. I download the music and podcasts I want and keep it switched off when not in use. It is slow for other tasks as it has outdated software and hardware but it still fulfills my criteria perfectly.

Writing and Heavy Internet Browsing: Laptop
Nothing special about my laptop: it is about 5 years old and not very powerful for gaming but it suits my purpose perfectly. I write on this using a mechanical keyboard and really enjoy it. With the work from home requirement, I can get work done. Any browsing I do here does not include video streaming

Gaming: Sony PlayStation Vita
I don’t play much games but the ones I do are on my PS Vita which I bought used for very cheap, a few months ago. It’s great. It’s portable, compact and has excellent buttons with a good variety of games to play. I play a maximum of 2-3 hours per week on it.

So dig out those old devices in your drawers and give them a long hard look at them. What can you repurpose them for? Maybe you can also use an old phone as a dedicated alarm clock to keep your phone away from your bedroom. If you don’t have any old stuff lying around, ask someone to loan you their old device. By having a specific purpose to each, I have maximised my enjoyment out of each one. Let me know what you tried in the comments below! It is crucial to sincerely think about what matters the most to you, then find a more enjoyable way of doing it.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Great article! I definitely agree with the idea of wanting to be more deliberate with your tech choices, especially in an age where practically every function can be replaced with a smartphone. I think many would misconstrue this approach as being anti-minimalist, but by choosing products that do a better job at what they are designed to do you are embodying a quality over quantity approach, and chances are they’ll yield a better experience overall!

    Liked by 1 person

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