A couple of months ago, I disrupted my household by going on a treasure hunt. Drawers ransacked, closets deconstructed, boxes dug through. I was looking for a cellphone—and not just any cellphone, this cellphone:
I wanted it because I had come to a momentous decision: After seven years with an iPhone, I was going to get a significantly dumber phone. And what could be dumber than the phone I was rocking circa 2005, a Samsung knockoff of the legendary Motorola Razr? But anti-style points aside, I was trying to respond to a feeling that had been creeping up on me for a long time, but that had only recently become strong and clear: Social media were stalking me from my pocket.
Back when that feeling was still inchoate, I had made some changes in my technological life. Influenced by the indie-web movement, I stopped using Tumblr and Instagram and transferred all my attention to my own turf. I retreated to a private Twitter account and unfollowed everyone on my public account, reserving it for link-sharing only—basically, an RSS feed.
And I loved all these changes. They made me more peaceful and focused; less bothered by notifications, less tempted to do things—tweet, post photos, reblog posts—that might cause my friends’ phones to notify them. But then it occurred to me that the phone I was carrying around was designed to encourage all the things I had just stopped doing. The iOS app ecosystem was constructed so that this one device could be the instrument through which most of my encounters in the world are mediated and broadcast. As Nicholas Carr has recently noted, you are your phone—and I was my phone too, but didn't want to be my phone any more. Yet I couldn't escape the awareness that even if I deleted all the social-media apps from my phone I was a couple of taps away from restoring any or all of them. That’s what I mean when I say that social media were stalking me from my pocket; and that’s why I wanted a dumb phone.