We have to dumb down

Machines are designed to multitask, humans certainly are not. And yet we grab our phones over a hundred times a day, just to see if anything happened while we were gone.

Staring at your phone doesn’t make you smarter - in fact it makes you a bit dumber. Research shows multitasking with electronic devices causes ‘a greater decrease in IQ than smoking pot or losing a night’s sleep’. Glancing at your phone will make you forget what you were doing. What the heck were you doing anyway?


For those afraid to miss something: Samsung and LG fitted their newest phones with an ‘always-on’ display that never dies. Even when these smartphones are not actively being used, their screens still show your most recent messages and missed calls.

LG calls it ‘enhanced convenience’ (on its G5 model), Samsung’s marketing departement came up with the term ‘zero touch experience’ for the Galaxy S7. You no longer have to lift a finger to be distracted from what you were doing.

‘Always-on’ is a marvel of technology: it drains the battery by less then one percent an hour. It does so by switching off the oled-screen almost entirely. It also drains your brain every time you peek.

Dumbing down

Not everybody wants to be always-on, all day long. A friend of mine (she’s a genuine millennial) got tired of her phone nagging her with notifications. She decided to rip the simcard out of her iPhone, turning it into a no-frills music player. Instead she now carries around a dashing blue Nokia Asha 210, made in 2013. The Asha doesn’t have a touchscreen, only a tiny physical keyboard. Launching WhatsApp takes about a minute and she no longer uses Facebook, Instagram, e-mail or a web browser on her phone anymore.

I asked her how she liked her retro phone status. Surprisingly, she actually loved it. “People have started calling again. I’m having real conversations and I feel less stressed out.”

The number of people trading in their expensive smartphones for a cheap dumb phone is growing. I did some dumbing down myself as well. These past two years I’ve been wearing a smart watch that taps my wrist every time I get a message on my phone. Last month I bought a dumb fitness watch that doesn’t do notifications or haptic feedback at all. I can now finally relax when I’m working out.

The love for limitations

Last year, while I was recovering from a tennis elbow, the doctor gave me some old fashioned advice: go back to pen and paper. It turned out that outlining an article within the limited confines of a piece of paper is much more efficient than working in a never-ending Word document that allows for your mind to wander around in every direction and keeps you hammering the delete button.

I had forgotten how good it feels to be forced to make choices. I felt smarter than ever. The perfect moment to light up a joint.


Additional translation: Harrison van der Vliet


    • Marc Hijink