I wish I could remember exactly when I said that the Golden Convergence was going to happen not in your living room, but in your pocket. Time was, there was the thought that the PC would be your computer, your answering machine, your entertainment center, the focal point of your smart-device Internet life. And then, the iPhone kickstarted the new world. The phone has pared down everything, even stuff that replaced other things – the iPhone X does for the iPad mini, the Kindle, and the paper notebook in the hip pocket, never mind the pager and iPod and point-shoot camera and GPS. Now the question becomes: could it be the One True Device in a 5” size? I rather think it could be, but we’ll never know at this rate, will we?
The problem is, when this phone is everything, you have everything happening to you all the time. At least email was asymmetrical; with the coming of Slack and its ilk, you’re now potentially in the office whenever the phone is on. And given how many companies expect you to provide your own phone, you can’t go out with your friends (or at age 46, sit at home in the recliner with a quiet pint) and have the soupçon of connectivity you do want without opening the floodgates to everything you don’t.
With the coming of iOS 12 and the proper use of the new Downtime tools, you can limit the phone to be just what you want. You can lock out Slack, Outlook, messaging apps, social media, anything you don’t want distracting you – limit it to music and streaming radio and Kindle and maybe a note-taking app, and you obviate the need for everything I might take down the pub – no need for a separate Kindle or Moleskine and pen or a whole different phone with a different SIM and a different number. The daily phone has become its own shutdown night device, and if I like, 6 PM to 9:30 every night can be cut down to not let in any more of the world than I can cope with.
The smartphone, in its way, was a bait and switch of the same sort as Google or Facebook. It was awesome until you looked down and realized it had too much of your life – and was letting too much in. This is a very necessary and very welcome step back in the direction of reclaiming our time, of rebuking a world that wants to shovel shit at us 24/7, of pushing back without having to master some absurd fan dance of app arrangement or notification bonsai or just turning off and giving up all of it at once. I want to read books, hear RTÉ in Gaelic, look up fleeting thoughts in Wikipedia and be spared intrusion without simultaneously having to block all notifications and delete Slack, Instagram, Reeder and every messaging app.
Just three hours to have a quiet pint and pretend that things are all going to work out OK eventually. Is that too much to hope for?