Articles Blog

Why your phone is not a tool

Why your phone is not a tool


– Do you think that your phone is a tool or do you think it’s an instrument? Now I know it sounds
weird but think about it. When you go out to buy a
new phone you’re like ah, I really wish it took
better pictures and so you go get a thing that
solves that problem better than the thing you had before
but what if that’s all wrong? You’re thinking of your
phone like this thing, like a hammer but what
if it’s not like that. What if it’s more like this
thing (ukulele playing), an instrument? (calming music) I’ve been obsessed with
phones for like 20 years, actually oh God, 22 years. My first phone was a Mountain Dew extreme network pager when I was in high school. Oh, God. Okay, anyway, I’ve been obsessed
with phones for 20 years. I’ve been writing about
’em for like 15 years and in that time I have learned
a lot about phone specs. The Snapdragon processor and megapixel that and color gamut and
blah, blah, blah, blah. I do believe that specs matter
but I also think that we probably spend way too much
time arguing about them. Specs make your phone a better
tool if you’ve got a better camera, it’s going to take better photos. But dealing with a tool is
you use it to solve a task and then you put it away
and then you get a different tool to solve another task so
the best hammer in the world isn’t gonna help you cut down a tree. Just like the best, most
beautiful screen in the world isn’t gonna help you
if you drop your phone. You might need a different tool for that. So what you wanna do when
you’re picking out a phone or any technology is don’t
think of it as just a single thing to solve a problem,
think of it as something that you kind of need to
have a relationship with. Look, the tool thing, it’s
not a very good metaphor but I think there’s a better metaphor, one that can help you have
an actually good relationship with your phone and hell, with most tech. And that metaphor is
the one I said earlier. Think of your phone as
a musical instrument. I think the first thing
that happens when you think about your phone as an
instrument is that you tend to care about it more,
the way that a musician cares about their instrument,
it’s not some foreign thing to you that’s like
being inflicted upon you. It’s actually something
that you participate in, that you actually enjoy using. The first time you pick
up any musical instrument, you suck at it, I mean
you are deeply, deeply bad at playing that thing and you know what, the same is true with phones. You have to learn how to use it and you can get better with it over time. So if it feels awkward
and annoying to you, you can just practice with it. The other thing about
instruments is you have to keep them in tune, they don’t
just work all the time without a little bit of
care and maintenance. Look at your storage, if the thing seems slow maybe it’s full. Look at your battery and we’ve learned with the iPhones if the
battery is kind of old and crappy the phone’s gonna slow down. I hate to say it but Android
apps tend to have more crappy little tentacles that sneak
out into the rest of the OS and getting rid of the weird, crappy games that you downloaded which
you maybe don’t need. Just periodically cleaning
stuff up can really help keep the thing running fast. The other thing, we could go back to what I was saying earlier about specs. If you think of your phone
as an instrument then specs sort of like I don’t know it’s weird, is there such a thing as the best guitar? There’s lots of different
kinds and they make different kinds of music so why
should you be worried about necessarily having the
quote unquote best phone. The truth is that there’s
really no such thing. Now, if you’re anything like
me, you’re probably thinking you know this metaphor isn’t
that great, it’s kind of broken down, actually yeah
that’s what metaphors do, they break down, words have got
a wide array of meaning, so. I don’t know instruments can
be used to just measure things and tools can be used to
make beautiful, amazing art. Are you gonna use your
phone to just consume junk, just endlessly scroll Twitter and feel bad about what your friends
are doing on Instagram? Would you sit and listen to really crappy music that you hate? No, what you do on your phone
should make you feel good or if it’s work stuff it should
make you feel productive. And here’s maybe the most important point. If you really think about
your phone as an extension of your mind, then the
things you do on your phone are an extension of what
you are and who you are. The technology doesn’t
absolve you from your actions. So if you’re using your phone
to leave hateful comments or say hateful things, or
just generally be terrible on the internet, that’s you doing it, it’s not some separate thing. You should use your phone
to improve humanity, not make it worse and the
same way that a musician doesn’t pick up a guitar to
like make you feel like crap, they do it to make music
that makes people feel good. The metaphor of an
instrument is more useful because it makes you feel
differently about the phone. You should think differently
about it or more importantly, you should have a different attitude when you’re using your phone. As long as we’re talking
about metaphors and words and whatever, here’s one for ya. Phone, it comes from the Greek for voice and it’s for communicating with other people but more than other people, it’s for communicating with culture. So when you play a game on
your phone it’s an instrument for experiencing a new kind
of art and when you take a selfie with your phone,
it’s an instrument for putting a picture of yourself out in the world. Phones are pieces of culture
that also create culture. If you treat your phone
like a tool, like a hammer, you’re just going to pound nails with it. You’re going to dehumanize the person on the other end of the phone. But if you treat it like an instrument, you’re going to recognize
that it creates culture, that it has a place in
our culture and so do you because that’s what instruments do. And I’m really curious, you
know this is my metaphor but maybe you have a better
idea of how we should think about these phones
so that they feel better in our lives, please let me know down in the comments and we’ll have a chat.

100 thoughts on “Why your phone is not a tool”

  1. A smart phone is not just one tool, is more than one, a "real" tool is designed to perform a specific task, but a smartphone can do multiple tasks, that's why it's a versatile tool. I too think that nobody should be worried about having "the best phone" tho

  2. I like this, I think that today’s culture has a love hate relationship with smart phones because of how useful and distracting they can be. Your take on how we view them can help change the perspective that smart phones are viewed from. It’s almost as if a phone is an appendage that a person can upgrade or change whenever they want to. I like the idea of introducing respect into the conversation. They are here to stay and let’s face it, most of us can’t even get from one side of town to the other without them so we might as well have a positive perspective of them. Keep this stuff coming!

  3. As a musician for all of my life so far, I fully agree! My musical instruments are nothing short of an extension of me that I use to express myself, and my iPhone X is the same, but just in a different way and for different purposes. Both my iPhone X and my high-end mandolin are truly works of art both aesthetically and function-wise, and I use them both every single day to feel good, to create and to connect with others.

    Great video, Dieter!

  4. Really wanted to try the essential phone and now it seems like its not worth it if they are going to be sold. If it gets a huge discount I might still think about it.

  5. That was less like a youtube video and more like the bit in a podcast where one host just went adjacent the topic and on and on and on but other hosts are not stopping him because it's with much passion and thought

  6. I always loved phones! I think all devices can be appreciated in their own way, they're all wonderful little things. Something sleek and established like an iPhone, something quirky like a Nextbit Robin, something characterful like the old bright Lumias, or something unique like the Blackberry KeyOne! To some their just devices, but there's something nice about seeing my sub box be filled up by tech reviews once every now and then and seeing all these different phones trying to compete. It's so fascinating ^_^

  7. Dictionary definition of “tool”: a device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function.

    Just throwing that out there.

  8. hammering nails is not what hammers as tools are used for! …stick with me on this for a moment. Nails join pieces of wood, those pieces make up a house, a bridge, a piano or a sculpture… if you see a hammer just as a tool for hammering on nails you do not see the bigger picture and as good as you are at driving nails into wook you are a bad bilder, woodworker or an artist… a hammer is part of a set of tools, generic or specialised that as a set help you accomplish a bigger task, you can make a house with a single ax, or play on a gutar solo, and either can and does get used in conjunction with other instruments/tools…. and another point you make, the learning curve is not that relevant here as, as simple as a hammer is in principle, but driving a nail cleanly into a pice of hardwood envolves a bit more than just picking up a hammer and I'm not even talking about the "why".

    So, to sum things up, yes there is a difference in the time it takes to master a guitar and a hammer but that is like comparing apples to oranges, you should either compare mastering plucking a single string with using a hammer, or mastering playing the guitar and furniture making.

  9. in·stru·ment
    ˈinstrəmənt
    noun
    1. a *tool* or implement, especially one for delicate or scientific work.

  10. An instrument is just a more precise tool, for things like making music or doing surgery. A phone is just a collection of instruments; called "apps", so calling it a multi-tool wouldn't be too far from the truth. What makes these tools interesting is how generally customizable they are, with new functionality available by download in nearly a moment.

  11. Changed the way I think about technology. Thanks for this perspective. Also read your post on Apple news. 👍🏽

  12. My father in law said that I use my phone as if it was my stradivarius… He was suggesting something I guess 🙂

  13. It's called a multipurpose tool. And people like mechanics or carpenters, care about their tools, just as much as a musician loves their instruments, if not more.

    But hey, you're allowed your wrong opinion 💁🏻‍♂️

  14. I like the instrument metaphor. But I also like the tool metaphor. I feel that the setup to this is false here with the hammer example. Smartphones are not like "a" tool. They are like a suite of tools. A multitool! A collection of tools. Anyone who is into mechanics will have a relationship with their tools also and care for them very much. Unlike an instrument, a tool can either solve a problem or help you express something creatively, however instruments are primarily about expression. Also, using a tool right does take some time and knowledge. Sure a hammer is a simple tool metaphor, but there are so many tools that require knowledge and skill to use – just like instruments.

    Unlike instruments, many tools should not take years to perfect. They should be suited to the task, or designed for the task. This is exactly the goal of smartphones. It is not to make an instrument that is capable of doing something great if you put the effort it. It is about designing a tool that can be used fairly easily to accomplish what we need it to do. The goal of simplicity in user experience and practical, intuitive flow, is much is a little more like a tool than an instrument to me.

  15. Someone clearly have never picked a HAZET tool, bcs IT IS a thing you would care of and be pleased to use.
    Same goes with my pixel 2.
    I don’t picked up the most speced out or sexy looking phone, I’ve picked the one with the best software in it so it can serve as a real workhorse.
    Remember when my s7 got hot and laggy while navigating and doing calls at the same time.
    This is frustrating especially in critical moments when you have to do something fast.
    Im always on the go, so i have to act fast quite often.
    My pixel have never let me down so far.

  16. This was fascinating. The analogy, however leaky, is useful in a lot (technology related) contexts

  17. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. cell phones have ceased to be tools a long time ago and now are more as extensions of ourselves. the most important is; What does my cell phone say about me?

  18. Dieter Bohn's videos made me like The Verge again. The Processor series is just pure brilliance.

  19. I learned two things from this video:
    1. You don’t understand tools
    2. Your metaphors could use some work

  20. My phones a synthetic storage device capable of following pre programmed processes such as basic math. Phone are awesome technology but there is nothing mystic about them, this is trying really hard.

  21. A musician will tell you that their instrument is an extension of themself as they master using it to make music. I view my phone in the same way. Every musician expresses themselves differently so they seek instruments that match their expression. People and phones are kinda like that… But instruments have such intricate specialties that differentiate them. Phones do not. Phone A finds a way to do something better. Phones B through Z mimmick phone A instead of uniquely specializing in something else.

  22. Very interesting video, Dieter. I've always tried to use my phone to enrich my life, but this made me wonder whether I was actually doing that.

  23. from a Russian prospective a tool is called an instrument in English those 2 are different things but again from a Russian stand point there is no difference. another similar thing is layer and advocate, in Russian a layer is called an advocate in English those are different terms

  24. This was a poignant and well reasoned argument. It made me think about my phone in a very different light. Thank you.

  25. And that's why I have a OnePlus. It's Fast, and it stays fast. I hate being slowed down by nitty-gritty things!

  26. Getting impressed all the time by your ideas and videos about technology and how its related…

  27. Interesting, but ultimately more wishful thinking than reality. I think we need to come to grips with the fact that our phones (and other tech) are apparel. We are a long way from the point where utility drives our decision on what to wear. Recently, the illusion has been cracking and we are noticing that more and more of us have been showing up to parties dressed and accessorized the exact same way.

    While most have us have happily adapted to ridiculing anyone who doesn't represent the status quo, the human need to express oneself can't be suppressed forever. Avenues for expression are shrinking (dying) at a pace that is unwarranted for the quality some represent. The tech press have traded on their ability to 'correctly' identify what is the best gadget for so long, I am not so certain they can survive without that crutch. Gather the top influencers into one room (Unbox Therapy – Which Smartphone Do They ACTUALLY Use?) and you'll find that some decisions are driven by the inability to break away from what others are doing (is that not the definition of irony?).

    While we do need to alter how we talk about our tech, it's not enough to simply call a phone an instrument. That doesn't go far enough. Whole videos need to be dedicated to what just got a single line in this video. The idea that one phone or another is the best ever made needs to die before a concept like what is presented in this video can truly be embraced and/or make a difference.

  28. Dieter : great video! You're doing better and better. PS : I'm into (way to much) into phone since 22 years to ! Starting by a crapy pager….

  29. The apps are tools. The phone is a instrument. The better you know how to play it, the better it pleases you

  30. You can make the same arguments for a tool… It takes a while to master a new tool, you suck at it at first, you need to take care of it, etc.

    This is stupid.

  31. When I use to work in direct sales, i would get asked what is the best phone? And I would tell my customers that would depend on you and what your style is like. A phone is only an extension, its a way to communicate, the whole which is better Android or iOS? Well, in all honesty its like comparing apples and oranges, the both do the same job, they just do it a little different, because at the end of the day they are both just fruit 😉

  32. I loved this video! I can really relate to it. Currently I own a Nokia 6.1 and it is not the "best" phone in any area, but I just love the design, the materials, the feel of it and how it responds to my inputs. Is the best I could get with the money I had (my dream phone is still currently the Essential PH-1) but I am really happy with it and feel like I can do everything I want with it if I just learn to work with it, practice with the camera and understand how to take care of it.

  33. Nice video, the metaphor and delivery is a little clumsy but I appreciate the thoughtful approach to improving our relationship with our tech.

  34. A phone is a tool. A computer like a laptop or a desktop is an instrument. Over the years, I always gave my computers names, but whatever phone I'm using is just the phone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *