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Why your phone is not a tool

Do you think that your phone is a tool or do you think it's an instrument? Now I know it soundsweird but think about it. When you go out to buy anew phone you're like ah, I really wish it tookbetter pictures and so you go get a thing thatsolves that problem better than the thing you had beforebut what if that's all wrong? You're thinking of yourphone like this thing, like a hammer but whatif it's not like that. What if it's more like thisthing (ukulele playing), an instrument? (calming music) I've been obsessed withphones for like 20 years, actually oh God, 22 years. My first phone was a Mountain Dew extreme network pager when I was in high school. Oh, God. Okay, anyway, I've been obsessedwith phones for 20 years. I've been writing about'em for like 15 years and in that time I have learneda lot about phone specs. The Snapdragon processor and megapixel that and color gamut andblah, blah, blah, blah.


 I do believe that specs matterbut I also think that we probably spend way too muchtime arguing about them. Specs make your phone a bettertool if you've got a better camera, it's going to take better photos. But dealing with a tool isyou use it to solve a task and then you put it awayand then you get a different tool to solve another task sothe best hammer in the world isn't gonna help you cut down a tree. Just like the best, mostbeautiful screen in the world isn't gonna help youif you drop your phone. You might need a different tool for that. So what you wanna do whenyou're picking out a phone or any technology is don'tthink of it as just a single thing to solve a problem,think of it as something that you kind of need tohave a relationship with. Look, the tool thing, it'snot a very good metaphor but I think there's a better metaphor, one that can help you havean actually good relationship with your phone and hell, with most tech. And that metaphor isthe one I said earlier. Think of your phone asa musical instrument. I think the first thingthat happens when you think about your phone as aninstrument is that you tend to care about it more,the way that a musician cares about their instrument,it's not some foreign thing to you that's likebeing inflicted upon you. It's actually somethingthat you participate in, that you actually enjoy using. The first time you pickup any musical instrument, you suck at it, I meanyou are deeply, deeply bad at playing that thing and you know what, the same is true with phones.


 You have to learn how to use it and you can get better with it over time. So if it feels awkwardand annoying to you, you can just practice with it. The other thing aboutinstruments is you have to keep them in tune, they don'tjust work all the time without a little bit ofcare and maintenance. Look at your storage, if the thing seems slow maybe it's full. Look at your battery and we've learned with the iPhones if thebattery is kind of old and crappy the phone's gonna slow down. I hate to say it but Androidapps tend to have more crappy little tentacles that sneakout into the rest of the OS and getting rid of the weird, crappy games that you downloaded whichyou maybe don't need. Just periodically cleaningstuff up can really help keep the thing running fast. The other thing, we could go back to what I was saying earlier about specs. If you think of your phoneas an instrument then specs sort of like I don't know it's weird, is there such a thing as the best guitar? There's lots of differentkinds and they make different kinds of music so whyshould you be worried about necessarily having thequote unquote best phone. The truth is that there'sreally no such thing. Now, if you're anything likeme, you're probably thinking you know this metaphor isn'tthat great, it's kind of broken down, actually yeahthat's what metaphors do, they break down, words have gota wide array of meaning, so. I don't know instruments canbe used to just measure things and tools can be used tomake beautiful, amazing art. Are you gonna use yourphone to just consume junk, just endlessly scroll Twitter and feel bad about what your friendsare doing on Instagram?


Would you sit and listen to really crappy music that you hate? No, what you do on your phoneshould make you feel good or if it's work stuff it shouldmake you feel productive. And here's maybe the most important point. If you really think aboutyour phone as an extension of your mind, then thethings you do on your phone are an extension of whatyou are and who you are. The technology doesn'tabsolve you from your actions. So if you're using your phoneto leave hateful comments or say hateful things, orjust generally be terrible on the internet, that's you doing it, it's not some separate thing. You should use your phoneto improve humanity, not make it worse and thesame way that a musician doesn't pick up a guitar tolike make you feel like crap, they do it to make musicthat makes people feel good. The metaphor of aninstrument is more useful because it makes you feeldifferently about the phone. You should think differentlyabout it or more importantly, you should have a different attitude when you're using your phone.

 As long as we're talkingabout metaphors and words and whatever, here's one for ya. Phone, it comes from the Greek for voice and it's for communicating with other people but more than other people, it's for communicating with culture. So when you play a game onyour phone it's an instrument for experiencing a new kindof art and when you take a selfie with your phone,it's an instrument for putting a picture of yourself out in the world. Phones are pieces of culturethat also create culture. If you treat your phonelike a tool, like a hammer, you're just going to pound nails with it. You're going to dehumanize the person on the other end of the phone. But if you treat it like an instrument, you're going to recognizethat it creates culture, that it has a place inour culture and so do you because that's what instruments do. And I'm really curious, youknow this is my metaphor but maybe you have a betteridea of how we should think about these phonesso that they feel better in our lives, please let me know down in the comments and we'll have a chat. 

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