“Those who are really into software should make their own hardware” — Alan Kay, Computer Scientist and Turing Award laureate.
Rarely is this quote brought up in connection with the typical software user. That connection hides in plain sight: no matter how much a computer or mobile device can do, eventually you end up using it for just a handful of functions. In other words, your relationship to any machine ought to crystallize, preventing you from finding new uses for that machine. This is one reason you might own, for instance, multiple notebook computers, even in cases where one machine can provide all the functionality needed.
The Web-Browser as Core Addiction
The small set of applications that dominate screen time may differ depending on the user, but these applications tend to share a common feature: the browse-able internet. Internet addiction was documented and defined by the medical community back in 1998, years before there was any such thing as iPhone, Facebook, YouTube or AI-driven news feeds.
The current phenomenon of smartphone addiction can be traced back to the first desktop web browser. This application simply shrunk in size to work with our thumbs, while branching out into mini-browsers, better known as website and downloading apps. If the internet acts like a drug, these apps concentrate the drug’s active substance: browsing.
To address the current epidemic, we can start by isolating the web browser — and all of it’s incarnations — into it’s own device category, keeping it separate from other common, much less addictive applications. In fact, that device category already exists: it’s called every desktop, notebook, smartphone, and tablet on the market, which appears to be optimized for, and thoroughly colonized by, the web browser and its offshoots.
There’s no longer a real place for, say, word-processing, on the typical computer. So the word-processor is slowly becoming its own device category (again), with leading examples both in and out of production, like the Freewriter and AlphaSmart Neo 2. Same goes for the mp3-player, with some even calling for Apple to…