I didn’t start my UnSmartphone project as a personal productivity project, but if I’m honest with myself that was definitely in the back of my mind. When I searched for stories on mobile phone use in developing countries, the keywords I used (especially dumbphone use, feature phones) returned dozens of stories about people who had returned to feature phones, people who missed their feature phones now that they had a smartphone, and even people who used their smartphones like feature phones (tl;dr, the iPhone makes a very expensive feature phone, but hey, go for it).
As regular readers of my blog know, I’m constantly grappling with productivity issues (let’s just say I am far more aware of when I’m not working well than when I am), and in my always-online world, the internet plays a big role. Using a Windows Phone has been one way to limit the variety of ways I procrastinate online, even though it probably doesn’t greatly decrease the total time spent. And I knew from bitter experience that novelty-heavy changes don’t stick unless by accident. The novelty wears off, the difficulties become apparent and hard to ignore, and it’s back to the status quo ante. Also, field research should be about the objects of study, not the researcher (you’ll learn plenty about yourself during field research without trying to, so no need to foreground it and ruin the project).
So I consciously set about creating a mobile environment that I thought could mimic the ones in which the people I’m interested in are embedded. Obviously it’s a very imperfect approximation right now, because I don’t know enough about their lives and there are too many differences between them and me. But the point is to help me get insight into what kinds of questions to ask and what kind of data to seek if I pursue the real, field-based project.
As I said in my previous post, I think that a smart, motivated person with a moderately equipped feature phone can access quite a bit of online information and communication. But I’m also learning what seems to be more and less superfluous for my own ICT uses.