The Adult Cell Phone — It’s Time

Asher Black
7 min readJun 2, 2023

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Cell phones have become bloated, insecure adware that dominate our lives rather than facilitate our best intentions for ourselves.

  • WASTED RESOURCES: To let a kid do full-on immersive gaming on the subway or watch Netflix movies on a portable entertainment device, we’ve acceded to phones with enormous unnecessary resources that don’t support how most people spend their day. The result is expensive devices we treat as precious rather than ubiquitous tools. Our phones require more cost, time, and attention than everything else in our pockets or on our wrist.
  • LOST FOCUS & ENERGY: There are continual new versions of the iPhone promising more of that but not much more for the rest of us, not to mention countless OS/app updates. Meanwhile, how many hours, months, and years of lost creative potential, inventive concentration, and meaningful dialogue leave us bereft of a robust civilization in the name of anyone being able to say anything, make anything, or do anything with their phone anywhere. And of course we do. We take our phones to bed, on dates. We no longer say “did you forget your coat or your keys” but “did you bring your phone?”
  • APP STORE BONDAGE: One version of ‘freedom’ is more choices, but another is freedom FROM distraction, the relentless insecurity of the app ecosystem, and an atmosphere of waste. It’s not an app store; it’s an ad store. It’s not an ecosystem, because ecosystems are open systems where every member contributes, and each extracts value. We trust a corporation with every interest in trapping us in a selling ecosystem to determine which apps are secure and which are a threat to itself and supposedly therefore to us.
  • ACCESSORY DOWNTIME: We clad our phones in armor cases requiring holsters and belt-mounts because of course we’ll drop our phones and they don’t come ready to be dropped the way a wrench does. We buy little cases for our wires, dongles, and chargers and even extended chargers, spending as much thought clothing our phones as we do ourselves. Without a charger, we’re effectively stranded.

I propose a better phone:

  • SIZE: A soft-pack of cigarettes. Since 1913 we’ve found a place for these in our shirt pocket, front pants pocket, or rolled up in our sleeve. A giant phone on your hip or in your back pocket means you can’t sit down without pulling it out and placing it on the dinner table. A phone should fit everywhere. We did this with thin wallets. A phone that bulges is a homunculus on our backs. Yes, we pushed for big screen sizes—for entertainment. But what about those of us who don’t spend most of our time, ‘free’ or otherwise, self-stimulating? Size: 85x50x20mm.
  • POWER: A battery is 1/3 the width and is charged one of two ways. It comes with a pair of male flip-out 110/220v prongs and two male flip-out USB prongs (both USB sizes). Want to charge it? Plug it into any outlet that supports one of those. They’re everywhere. No wires, no dongles, no charging cube. 1amp or less will do it with a phone that does 90% of what an adult needs who is focused not on amusing himself/herself, but on doing things out here in non-virtual reality vs. heads down in two hours of 30 second videos. On the back of the slide-out keyboard (yes, keyboard) is a pair of solar panels like a lot of cheap camping gear. Need power? Toss it on your dashboard or in the windowsill of the coffee shop.
  • KEYBOARD: Tactile, physical keyboard that slides out in landscape mode. Landscape orientation is default, because this isn’t the 1990s. Keyboard, because a lot of us have fingers twice the size of a ten-year-old and years of data tell us we type faster and more accurately with tactile feedback. In short, a real keyboard. The other thirds are the screen and keyboard. We had this in phones by Nokia, HTC, Motorola, Sony, Samsung, LG, and yes, Blackberry. Blackberry — a phone made for adults. Countless executives held onto them as long as they could until their grip was pried loose for a franchise ecosystem designed around entertainment in the name of ‘lifestyle’. But what lifestyle?
  • DURABILITY: Thin, “Armored”, heat-resistant, ABS body, with shatter-proof screen, because you’re going to drop it or leave it in the sun. No extra case to buy. No buying a new one when the inevitable and obvious occurs.
  • APPS: No app store. This is a big one. An embedded operating system with a kickstart ROM has 4 apps burned in, like an Amiga. Software makers like Microsoft and Apple convinced us we needed to install software and boot up the OS. Amiga users kept going for decades in Northern Europe with instant-on with superior graphics and sound and apps that did the basic functions built-in. We tossed our GPSs and cameras for phones, so those are native apps. So is a web browser, because this is post-1992. We don’t need a separate app for each newspaper, hotel, or business we frequent. They’re on the web. And the ‘people’ app keeps our contacts and lets us call, text, or email as we like. We’re not against other apps, but you need to download them open-source from communities like Github/Gitlab, Stack Overflow, or Sourceforge, where a community of engineers and coders have eyes on what the code is doing (does it record your information, phone home to an outside server, etc) and report on it. We already do this with recipes for 3D printers and Raspberry Pi. We can do it with apps and be just as safe or safer than a corporation watching our backs.
  • AUDIO: There’s a headphone jack. Sorry, Steve (Jobs not Woz). Been in a conference call and said these words? “Ah, my earbuds are dying. I’m out…” Use blue-tooth if you like; it’s fine. It’ll work. But if you want to know for certain you can continue that training call, job interview, or sales pitch, you’ve got something you can bank on—the only wire you’ll need. Optional, but it’s there for you. And if you want to plug it into a rental car with crappy bluetooth, you can pick up a cable anywhere and not wait for a charge. Hang on, I’m pulling over.

What phones have done to us:

  • NO REST: We take them to bed and don’t sleep. We used to take PEOPLE to bed, now we take a device. We take them on dates. When we’re in a conversation we don’t like, we look down at our phones. The person we’re with is who we marry; the phone is who we date. There’s less of all the things intimacy implies and more surrogate nurture from a platform for corporate sales. I need my phone to do things so I can sleep; I can’t sleep because I’m in my phone. Wait, it just lit up with a new social post or app announcement. Is someone talking to me?
  • NO CONVERSATIONS: Those AREN’T conversations we’re having, most of the time. Enough has been written about the continual toxicity of living in our apps. Plenty of us want to do our work, connect with people we know, like, and trust, and leave the craziness to the side. Put your phone in your shirt pocket and look at people. It’s a different world.
  • BROKEN SELF-IMAGE: Here’s a photo of me. Do you think I look fat? How’s my hair? This is what I ate for dinner. It’s so healthy. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, this phone is not for you. It’s for everybody else.

My reasons for posting this are two-fold, however.

  1. I want a better phone. When I woke up and my iphone 13 had bricked while trying to update as the battery died, I asked why? Why are we living like this? The phone was supposed to liberate us. Instead, it’s a jail. Sorry, you can’t call me today, and I can’t call you.
  2. I want to live in a thriving culture, with creative energy, innovation, and ingenuity popping out everywhere. But not the latest sea shanty episode on TikTok. I like sea shanties. But I want to live among Rembrandts, Mozarts, and Steve Wozniaks.

So I sat down and built a quad-corder as a thought experiment. Remember the tricorder from Star Trek? It was a multi-function device like a Swiss Army Knife. All our phones do that now. But the tricorder was for explorers. For people discovering new horizons and finding new solutions to human problems. For every shiny new thing that pops up in the app anti-ecosystem, the closed-system of the culture that has emerged around cell phones, the way they’re currently structured, there is an abyss of lost potential that we have a human right to expect.

Structure = sanity. In game design, the most effective way to challenge antisocial behavior virtually is not more rules, new terms of service, and more ‘police’ watching behavior. It’s structural. You design the game so that toxic behaviors get you nowhere. The structure of the game rewards sharing, collaboration, and positive communication, all things the cell phone promised to deliver and at which it has failed. We need a new phone design. As adults complain there isn’t enough entertainment designed for us, where it’s not another rehash plot in which teens save the universe, we haven’t yet found the focus for such a complaint in the device we spend most of our time around. It’s not designed for us. It’s a one-size-fits-all marketing platform and therefore fits only the deeply dysfunctional and promotes dysfunction in the rest of us.

We don’t have to live like this. It’s not an ‘old-person’ phone. It’s a phone for adults. For contributing, thinking, high-functioning adults. The friction is building, the pressure mounting, and the opportunity for disruption high. LG and Samsung, are you listening? Can you get in a room with Motorolla and collaborate to pick up a customer base who isn’t afraid of technology, nor lost in it, but who wants all the promise of tech that facilitates a truly productive lifestyle? Which of you will pick it up? Because, if you won’t, we’ll see this on a crowdfunding site soon enough, some startup will reap the rewards, and you’ll spend your first year’s profits buying them out.

I venture to say:

COST: Half.

SPEED: Faster.

RELIABILITY/DURABILITY/SECURITY: Improved.

PROFIT MARGIN: Double.

LIFE: Better.

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Asher Black

Asher Black is a storyteller, musician, & karateka satisfied w. the life he always wanted. Profile not yet rated. Parental discretion. Views do not reflect. Etc