Making the most out of your smartphone as writer

The magic of writing with two thumbs

Despite having multiple notebooks for different purposes, I am pretty convinced that I still write probably more on my phone. By phone I mean my Gmail, Monospace app, Evernote and Google Keep. And by write I mean from blurts of thoughts to stories of hundreds of words.

I use my phone quite religiously to record any thoughts that transit in my mind. Single lines of morning thoughts, jotting down ideas, ideas that are boiling in my head ready to be polished, plenty and plenty of awful first drafts. My phone, being almost literally one of the closest things to me, has turned into a candid recorder of my mind at its most tender, fresh, and raw state. And this is why my phone plays quite an important role in my writing life.

Our friendship started when I was still in college, stuck writing in Word doc when I then laid down lazily on college dorm bed and begin writing on my Blackberry. Surprisingly, I wrote probably 800 words uninterrupted within just 15 minutes and they actually flowed pretty well. I was surprised by this comical reaction from the mind as if it was just hiding this whole time and now excited to be found. Perhaps it’s the informal feeling of writing on the phone that makes the process itself less rigid. It could also because writing on phone has a slower pace than typing on a laptop, which permits our mind to explore ideas a little bit more. Whatever it is, I was pretty hooked by its impact. So whenever I began to feel stuck, I immediately switch to my phone to unlock more creativity.

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When your phone is stranded alone on an island…


“We design everything on the assumption that people are not heartless or stupid but marvellously capable, given the chance, each and every one.” – John Chris Jones

When your phone is stranded alone on an island, what would it do?

Imagine if your phone is a breathing being with minds, likes, and dislikes.

The deserted lonely island has no Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It doesn’t have Google, so the phone can’t check its email, see the calendar, or quickly chat with someone.

It can, however, take pictures, record videos, record sounds, or sketch or write something if the apps are ready. But it won’t be able to share it with anyone.

At night, when the boredom starts to slip in, the phone will start to rewatch all the videos, reread the writing, …and perhaps taking more pictures. Good thing if it has editors and it’ll be able to edit videos or retouch photos.

But what’s next?

The phone gets bored, drained, and lifeless.

If I ask you, can you mention three things you do on your phone most often that’s unrelated to connecting with other people? Mine would be writing, reading, and listening to music (and recording sounds, sometimes).

These habits and relationship with my phone formed almost naturally to me. I used to read magazine a lot and now I’m reading blogs. I write often, so my Writers app is on the home screen. The last one is easy. But eventually, my phone becomes an extension of myself; a way for me to outstretch my arms to the world and further.

Even though our phones, the smartphone generation, are capable to connect us to our friends, strangers, and the world in millions exciting ways, none of these ‘meet-new-strangers’ or ‘get-latest-updates-from-friends’ are seductive enough for me. The social media is like a fully packed street where everyone is honking for attention. Having a smartphone, for awhile, is like purchasing a 1-year ticket to a museum, but never gone. I have all these access and abilities to get in touch with the world, but in the end, I love it best when it’s on airplane mode.

And having that boundaries and personalized relationship with my phone puts me more in control over it.

With our penchant for adventure, lust to be the one to know first, and thirst for knowledge, the phone is the only thing between us and the world. But phone remains simply and primarily a pacifier.

Few lines in the chatroom, instagram, hearts, hearts, hearts, Facebook, likes, comment, share.

Watch, see, digest, ingest; take, take, take.

Blurts of dry, silent laughs, while our mind is busy mingling with thousands other thoughts from one app to another.

Even then, the phone has curated the most well-suited experience for us. And whether or not we are enjoying its creation, we are addicted to it.

This reflects what John Chris Jones, the author of The Internet and Everyone, called the “people-dependant technology.”

instead of designing everything (and particularly computer software) on the assumption that ‘people are going to behave like machines’ — that is, without feeling, love, hatred, anticipation, intuition, imagination, etc. (the very qualities we think of when we ask what it is to be human) — we design everything on the assumption that people are not heartless or stupid but marvellously capable, given the chance, each and every one. I’d like to see machines, systems, environments of all kinds, made such that if they are to work well everyone who uses or inhabits them is challenged to act at her or his best and that there are no built-in obstacles to doing that.

Jones envisioned technology that challenged us. And from what I understand, technology at the moment is the technology of easy and comfort.

So what happens when your phone gets stranded in an island, without internet connection, would it be able to survive happily?

The Light Phone. Photo taken from The Light Phone’s Kickstarter page.

I wish for a phone that’s just as rich offline as online. I wish for a phone that is even more personal, understanding, and empathetic to our aspirations when it’s on airplane mode (and perhaps one day we can name airplane mode as ‘productive mode’ or ‘creative mode’). I wish for unlimited, unrestricted access to podcasts while offline. And apps that are enriching to our interests.

In the end, how we treat the phone reflects how we treat ourselves. How we use our phones reflect how we use our time. And as a customer, we are central in pushing and challenging the technology further in a more creative path.

In the meantime, I’m still waiting for modular phones. Or phones that are more ergonomic. Or writing apps that can read my mind. Or nice and sleek recording apps where I can immediately see the sound waves separately. Or check this out: The Light Phone, a credit card size ‘phone’.

Yeah. Don’t tell me they aren’t possible.

Learn more about Joe Hollier, creator of The Light Phone.