What’s My iPhone For?

I’ve written before about my morning walks with my dog. They’re the only part of day when I’m up and about without having my iPhone with me (or nearby.) This offline time helps me clear my mind and see the world more clearly, without intermediation. I love being relieved of the temptation of checking in with the world. Sometimes during these walks I wonder: what if I was like this permanently? That is, what if I were to “downgrade” back to a state where I could access information environments more intentionally?

Letting go of the Apple Watch would be easy; I could go back to my old Seiko chronograph with very few downsides. Sure, it’s good to be notified when I have a meeting coming up, and it’s good to be aware of how much I’ve exercised during the day. But I’m rarely unaware of my schedule anyways, and I can’t say the exercise thing has really made that big a difference in my life. As for the other notifications I get on the Watch, I can manage them all better on the phone.

The iPhone would be more difficult to downgrade from. I mostly use it to check email, iMessages, Slack, and Twitter while on the go. (I don’t use Facebook on my phone.) These are all things I do on my Mac too, but going Mac-only would delay my replies to people. This would impact my effectiveness, but I don’t think it would be a deal-breaker.

I also use the iPhone as a camera, but this too is something I could replace. Before smartphone cameras got good, I had a Canon camera with me all the time. The PowerShot G10 in particular was a joy; I miss the tactile pleasure of operating a camera with physical controls.

Let’s see, what else? I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music on the iPhone. These are all things I also did with my (beloved) iPod Nano. I sometimes take notes on the phone, but I can easily do that with a pocket notebook. (I do so anyways.) Of course, talking on the phone — something I do rarely on the iPhone — can easily be done with an old feature phone.

I’ve concluded there are three things I do with my iPhone that I’d have a hard time without:

  • Communicating with my family through WhatsApp. Before WhatsApp, I used Skype on the Mac. This required planning ahead, thus reducing our opportunities to connect. WhatsApp allows me to stay in touch much more casually; we can just message each other at any time.
  • Getting directions using Apple Maps or Google Maps. This is a genuine superpower that has changed my relationship with the physical world.
  • Summoning a car using Lyft. This is something I could do with a regular phone by calling a taxi, but Lyft is so much more convenient that I consider it a different thing.

These three capabilities have made my life better. I’d have a hard time giving up my iPhone if it meant I couldn’t do them otherwise. Most of the other stuff would be less convenient but doable. Some could even be more fun the old way. (E.g., the camera.) So why not do it? Why not go back to paper notebooks, a physical camera, etc. alongside the iPhone for the things it’s essential for? A partial regression to a more analog way of being. Some inconvenience in exchange for a more equanimous demeanor. I may try it as an experiment.