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After writing recently that we are on the brink of a post-phone world with profound consequences for all of us, several people challenged me to put my hypothesis to the test and give up my phone for a week.
Crossing over into a post-phone world feels doable in theory. The combination of the Apple Watch Series 3 and AirPods (S3+A) means you can stay connected to the internet and be productive—making phone calls, sending texts and getting directions—without relying on a phone at all. But how realistic is cutting the cord and what does it mean for our future internet experience? I accepted the challenge to get by on just an Apple Watch and AirPods for a week to find out.
On the first day of my experiment I proudly left my phone and wallet at home (who needs a wallet when Apple Pay is on your watch?) and stepped out into the world. For the first three hours, it was truly magical. Making a phone call from your wrist is the biggest personal wow I’ve had using technology in years and showcasing that simple functionality blew people’s minds all week. Maps, messaging and the watch’s other connected functionality was similarly mind-bending, giving you a feeling of liberation and empowerment a phone just can’t match. Paying for a cab with my wrist was so fast and easy I couldn’t imagine ever digging for a credit card in my wallet again.
But then it was noon: the watch’s battery died, I was completely unreachable for the rest of the workday and needed to borrow $20 to get home. The truth is that between its battery life, the lack of a browser and camera and quirks like not being able to initiate an email, we’re probably still two years away from being viably able to replace our phones with watches and AirPods.
But for those first three hours—when it was working—the S3+A combination was the most liberating, empowering device ever created; more powerful than even I expected.
To understand why, it’s important to reflect on the degree to which our phones have taken over our lives. They’ve been able to do this because the smartphone is simultaneously the best communications, productivity and entertainment tool ever made. Because the phone is so good at all of these things, we are all addicted to them. What’s more, many large companies and people in our industry (myself included) have spent years working to ensure we remain tethered.
In today’s internet-centric economy, attention is everything and in the battle between human willpower and software for our time, software never loses. Our phones and the applications that live on them are designed to occupy every second of attention we can possibly spare. From the moment we wake up until the time we go to sleep, we touch them an average of 2,600 times, logging 80 sessions and four hours a day, every day. Look up at the world around you and you’ll find yourself surrounded by people staring at their devices, whether on the subway or in the street. Just like you.
The true benefit of replacing phones with watches and AirPods is the promise of having the communications and productive effectiveness of a phone without the entertainment—and therefore addictiveness—of today’s screens.
The first time you walk into the world relying solely on S3+A you feel naked and alone. With no phone to hold, no crutch to help you mindlessly kill your time, you are forced to re-engage with the world around you. A few days later and an odd serenity seeps in. Your neck is more comfortable because you are looking around the world and not down at your screen. You can be in the moment, not buried in a digital feed. You have time to think, to relax, to just be, because nothing is there to distract you.
But you are not alone. You are not disconnected from the world or missing out. You can still do all the things you use your phones for to communicate and be productive. And that’s when you realize that a world can exist where technology is about efficiency and empowerment instead of distraction, addiction and the attention economy that has come to dominate so much of our digital life.
That’s what gives me hope for the future. Combine S3+A, intelligent agents and other advances in machine learning and it is possible to imagine an economy built around efficiency instead of attention. A move toward efficiency would re-establish technology’s purpose as an enabler in our lives by freeing up people’s time and eliminating drudgery from people’s jobs, making people dramatically more productive at work. I believe this “efficiency economy” will eventually replace today’s “attention economy” and we’ll all be better off for it.
This holiday season, my challenge to the tech savvy out there is to embark on the same challenge I just put myself through and see if you come to the same conclusion. Try to make it through the holidays with the S3+A like I did and you’ll realize the post-phone era can’t come soon enough.