By Olivia Orman
Technology plays a large role in just about every task we complete for and at work. In fact, according to the Brookings Institution, digital tools have made their way to 517 of 545 occupations since 2002, with a striking uptick in many lower-skilled occupations. Those 545 occupations reflect 90% of all jobs in the economy.
Desktop computers have long served as the primary way of sending electronic communications, preparing documents, and accessing information. However, in the last decade, smartphones entered the scene and forever altered the way we go about doing business.
Smartphones: Not So Smart?
As smartphones became more advanced, these devices have, essentially, enabled us to carry work inside our pockets. Whether we’re waiting to enter a meeting, traveling for business, or are simply out of the office, we can check email, get ahold of professional contacts, and review documents using our smartphones. All of these readily available sources of input, however, have created many widespread challenges organizations face today.
Many former employees of big tech companies have disclosed the undiscussed impacts today’s information technologies have on individuals. Continuous Partial Attention (CPA) is one outcome that results from using mobile devices while also working on other tasks. Linda Stone, a former manager of Apple and Microsoft, first introduced this concept in 1998 and defines it as trying to follow and deal with everything while, in fact, failing to focus on anything.
Interruptive By Design
Even if we’re waiting in the reception area prior to a meeting, doing business in another city, or staying connected to work during conference breaks, we may think these are non-intrusive times to do business on our smartphones. However, we must realize that smartphones are interruptive by design and inevitably carry into unintended work functions that create distractions for us and our team at large.
According to research conducted by the University of Chicago, when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention – as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones – the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity. This can result in less productive meetings, fragmented attention, and shallower processing of information – simply from the constant close proximity of smartphones.
Given the challenges we’re up against with our smartphones, which approach can organizations take to reap the benefits of technology without continuing to work around its pitfalls? Do business the “dumb” way.
Dumbing Back Down
Dumbphones, phones devoid of any functionality characteristic of smartphones, have started gaining traction in the last few years. In fact, Google searches for dumbphones jumped by 89% between 2018 and 2021, according to a report by software firm SEMrush. While the reemerging dumbphone market is still relatively new, smaller tech companies in the U.S. and worldwide have stepped in and designed simpler interfaces without the excess noise.
The primary purpose of these simplified devices is to call, text, and check the time. Further, all dumbphones are without the internet, social media, and ads. Each smaller tech company, however, has designed its dumbphone with different task-specific utilities than other variations of the dumbphone.
Two smaller tech companies in the U.S. have rethought the dumbphone. Designed by The Light Phone Inc., The Light Phone II contains one of the largest amounts of task-specific functionalities to date. This includes an alarm, calculator, directions, notes, music, and podcasts. The Wisephone, also designed by the company Techless®, includes a camera, clock, calculator, and maps.
There are also smaller tech companies in Europe that have reconceptualized the dumbphone. The MP02 Mobile Phone, designed in Switzerland by the company Punkt., includes an alarm clock, stopwatch and countdown timer, world clock, basic calendar, notes feature with reminder option, and calculator. Additionally, Mudita Pure, designed in Poland by the company Mudita, includes a music player, meditation timer, and ultra-low specific absorption rate (SAR).
Dumbphones for Business
While it may seem like we’d accomplish substantially less by doing business from a dumbphone as opposed to a smartphone, simpler interfaces eliminate the excess input that offers little to no value and contribution. We may prefer the convenience of checking emails on our smartphone whenever we choose, for instance, but a study from Carleton University found that 30% of the time, emails are neither urgent nor important. This begs the question: are smartphones truly necessary to keep work accessible when we’re out of the office?
Dumbphones can certainly be a viable way of communicating with colleagues, vendors, and prospects in the tech-driven world of business. However, it is up to us to set the parameters for communication. This, specifically, entails establishing certain times of the day when we can take phone calls, setting up more automatic replies in an email that shows when we’ll be reviewing and replying, and clearly stating the best way to reach us in general. Ultimately, this simpler way of working is only as effective as how we communicate our new processes.
Dumbphones: The Smart Way Forward
While doing business on a dumbphone is much more scaled back than doing so on a smartphone, there are clear advantages to rethinking our mobile devices and how we use them. It may seem that taking a step backwards in the tech department would lower efficiency and productivity. However, downgrading our smartphone for a dumbphone – for professional and personal purposes – actually improves both of these areas, along with our attention span, communication skills, and critical thinking skills.
In a time where digital interruptions are at an all-time high and focus is at an all-time low, it’s time that we, as organizations and individuals, reassess our technology procedures as a whole. We did business the “dumb” way once before, and with time, patience, and resilience, we can do it again.