Embracing Slow Tech

on Bradley Taunt's blog

I’m writing this post on my “new” X260 ThinkPad running Garuda Linux through Wayland/Sway and it is going well so far. Setting things up was much easier than I initially expected. There were only a few minor tweaks I had to make, such as setting vim as the default EDITOR and installing a small collection of applications (Bitwarden, qutebrowser etc).

I ran into some headaches with generating proper SSH keys but that was solved by calling in ssh-agent whenever launching a new instance of Alacritty. This could certainly be cleaned up further, but for now everything works fine. (A more detailed post about this X260 is in the works!)

“Okay”, I hear you say, “But what does this have to do with slow tech?”

Good question! Let me explain.

Purposely Unplugged

For the longest time I have had some form of “smart” device on my persons while performing tasks away from my main computer. Whether that was grocery shopping, playing with the kids in the backyard, going on road trips - you name it. This was never a bad thing or something I actively looked to change. In fact, I hardly used these devices to connect much to the internet anyway1. But I did notice that I would check things like Mastodon or my email every so often.

What I started to realize was that I was checking these “online” items out of pure habit. I hardly ever responded to any email on my iPhone (it doesn’t help that Apple Mail on iOS is horrendous for plain text emails) and engaging in Mastodon, while fun, was certainly not a priority while out of the office. My attitude towards being “always online” started to shift towards being what I call purposely unplugged. I decided to make a personal change towards my online access:

If something is important, then I will take the time to complete that task at my office computer. I do not need to be “always online”.

It really makes you wonder how people back in the late 90s or early 2000s ever managed their lives without being connected online 24/7. I certainly remember a time where you booted up a family computer to browse the internet, respond to emails, and complete work items. When you were done - you were done. You shutdown the machine and went about your life. “I’ll check back later tonight before bed” or “Hopefully there will be an email response by tomorrow morning” was the normal thought process after logging off. Now there is no “logging off”. It’s just switching devices. I don’t think it is healthy and really who benefits? Certainly not the individual.

Hardware (computers specifically in this case) serve a purpose. They are meant to serve the individual using them. When did we cross-over into a world where we seem to be serving our devices? You are not important enough to be “available online” all the time. Sorry, but it’s true.

Mobile Sucks Anyway

Browsing the web is an absolute shitshow on mobile devices. Every service and their grandma begs you to install their native app. Adblockers are pretty much non-existent, which makes the modern web almost intolerable to visit. Then you have the issue of walled gardens, security breaches, planned EOL for perfectly functional hardware, increased e-waste - the list goes on.

Functional computing and online interactions have already been perfected. It’s called a computer2. Computers (desktops and laptops) give us the ability to control our devices at the OS-level, granting us incredible freedom to tweak things to our individual preferences. Unless you are technical enough to fiddle around with “beta” mobile Linux devices, the majority of users are stuck with what they are given. And it isn’t much.

The corporate push to move everyone over to “mobile computing” is no accident. The ability to ban certain apps, push ads to users, collect customer details, and harvest user data is more than enough motivation for companies to usher in a future of “mobile” computing.

Not to mention cost. New, top-of-the-line mobile devices sell for the same, if not more, than a standard laptop or desktop. You give up flexibility, customization and freedom for what exactly? A really good camera? Built-in GPS navigation?

Get a real camera and grab a standard GPS. I’m serious. If that sounds ridiculous than you probably never really needed those things in the first place. Use the proper tool for the job. Smushing everything into one, locked-down device is a recipe for disaster.

Overall - just use a real computer.

Don’t Flip-Out

So, with all of that in mind, I swapped out my iPhone SE (2020) smart phone for the ZTE Cymbal 2 “dumb” flip phone.

The screen is extremely small with low resolution. The camera is absolute garbage. Writing text messages requires use (and knowledge) of the T9 composer3. Most modern applications besides email or the photo gallery are non-existent.

But I absolutely love it.

It’s a phone. It makes phone calls and allows me to send texts. Texts themselves are a little more time consuming, which forces me to be more concise in my writing. Anything that requires great detail should probably be an email - which is what my computer is for. What else do I need? If I ever drop it and smash into a million pieces I can replace it for <$50. I have the ability to replace the battery - not to mention battery life is measured in days not hours. It’s rugged, so I don’t need to be so delicate with it or slap some huge protective case on it.

It does its job. No more, no less.

“Good for You”

I know that some of you reading this might think that this workflow is fine for me but would never be suitable for your needs. Maybe that’s true, but I’d probably disagree. I think people have just been conditioned to believe that most day-to-day activites would be impossible without a smart device or a connection to the internet. If not, many would at least feel that without such access things would become far too inconvenient. My stance remains: the majority of people do not need constant access to a computer in their pocket.

It’s completely fine to enjoy your own setup and device preferences - I’m not trying to convert anyone but instead just describing my own experiences. So please, keep your torches and pitchforks at home.

Thanks for reading.

  1. It helps that I have pretty much zero active accounts across most “popular” social media platforms. 

  2. I understand that even smart phones can be classified as “computers”. I am using this term in the classical sense. 

  3. Some of you readers might not have ever experienced the wonders of T9… 

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