Importance of Single Purpose Devices in a Distracted World

A look at how smartphone, a multipurpose device is distracting us and how single purpose devices can help us.

On Jan 9, 2007, Steve Jobs announced the original iPhone by saying “An iPod, a phone and internet communicator. An iPod, a phone, are you getting it?”. The original iPhone’s multiple functionalities with a touch screen interface were revolutionary and paved the way for the smartphone and the digital revolution. Undoubtedly, smartphones have changed the lives of many across the globe by providing access to information. But it is also important to look at the impact of smartphones on our attention and the addiction it has caused us. On average a person checks his/her/their smartphone, 150+ times a day and I’m no different. Just like any other person living in this connected world, I’m addicted to my phone even though I have reduced it over the last couple of months. I’ve written about the concept of making your phone boring in the past, but how do we replace smartphones in our lives if we are so dependent on them? Then came the thought of single purpose devices and this article is my reflection on the same while trying to be mindful and aware of my smartphone usage.

Importance of Single Purpose Devices

To start with, a single-purpose device is a device that serves only one purpose or function. On the contrary, the smartphone is a multipurpose device that serves many functions. The problem with multipurpose devices like a smartphone is a distraction. Imagine you’re trying to read on your smartphone and suddenly you’re distracted by notification and the flow is lost. Even though there are many multipurpose devices in our lives, nothing has penetrated into our lives like a smartphone. As someone who grew up in a developing country with minimal access to technology, I can really see a shift from single-purpose devices to multi-purpose devices. The majority of these single-purpose devices were replaced with the introduction of smartphones. Some examples of real-life situations where single-purpose devices are replaced by a smartphone are below:

  • 📞 Communication: My first mobile was a CDMA mobile by Reliance, whose sole purpose was only calling and messaging. With the advent of instant messaging services, SMS-based text messaging is very limited days. I do not wish to go back to the old days when I had to wait for 2 minutes for a reply, but when I had a basic phone, the sole purpose was only communication. Nowadays even while texting friends on Whatsapp, I multitask by switching windows and I’m less mindful.
  • 📷 Camera: Mobile photography has boomed over the years and has made everyone a photographer these days. But have we lost the essence of photography and enjoying moments with smartphone cameras? If you go to any national monument or an epic landscape, the majority of people would be in a battle to capture the best shot for posting on social media. Has access to the camera altered the way we enjoyed moments? As a person who loves photography, I love those moments when I’m lost in the streets with my camera in a meditative state with nothing on my mind. I do not get the same feeling of shooting with a smartphone camera as I would be distracted easily by the notifications or some other thing on my smartphone.
  • 🎧 Music: I remember the days when I used to travel on the bus solely listening to offline songs stored in my Sony Walkman. Gone are those days when music was the prime focus. I don’t know if it’s me but I’m usually distracted even when I’m listening to music as music plays in the background. Having a specific device for listening to music is a great idea for distraction-free enjoyment.
  • 📚 Books: Have you ever tried reading a book on your smartphone? Even though reading books on a smartphone sounds accessible, many of us get distracted by notifications or are tempted to check other windows between reading. Having a book to read or a Kindle is a great alternative to this. Since Kindle is distraction-free as it has a minimal feature set, it is a great example of a single-purpose device.
  • ⏰ Alarm: I’ve been thinking of getting an analogue alarm clock for a while now. Since I usually set my alarm on my smartphone, it is yet another excuse to keep my phone near my bed. There are times when I wake up in the middle of the night and end up checking my smartphone.

The Future of Single-Purpose Devices

As we move into a future where everyone is concerned about their attention span, more single-purpose devices will pop up. In fact, I’ve been trying to make my phone boring these days to curb my addiction and be less dependent on it. Single-purpose devices like dumbphones have had increased sales in the last couple of years. Analogue alarm clocks are in demand across the world and people are even trying to find ways to write distraction-free using specialized distraction-free writers. A handful of companies are trying to market flip phones thanks to the rising demand. Companies like Apple have started to add focus modes on iPhones to make them distraction-free while working or reading. While Spotify is still popular, the market has seen a slight increase in the sales of vinyl records proving a market outside vinyl enthusiasts.

What can you Do?

Even though is easy to say to embrace single-purpose devices, it’s pretty hard considering the connected world we are living in. In my opinion, the only way to solve this problem is to slowly evolve from being dependent on smartphones to single-purpose devices. For example, while travelling try to put your phone on flight mode and try to take photographs with a DSLR or an old smartphone solely meant for photography. If the budget and space allow, set up an exclusive workstation or a device for writing. Minimize your smartphone usage while watching videos and try to consume video content on your laptop or PC. Try to read books using a physical copy or on a Kindle. By slowly allocating separate devices for separate purposes, we can be less dependent on our smartphones and preserve our attention.

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3 replies on “Importance of Single Purpose Devices in a Distracted World”

Good article about the distraction the smartphones cause these days. However, since the smartphones can multitask, they can be handy for you don’t have to carry a heavy DSLR, a physical map, a music pod, and your PC for carrying out so many tasks.

I agree on the convenience part. But this came at a cost and we are distracted like never before due to this. I also enjoy carrying my iPhone instead of my bulky DSLR, but I feel like I’m more mindful when I’m using my camera!

This is a thought provoking article. I encourage people to buy single purpose products if their smartphones are taking a toll on their physical, spiritual and mental health. Like they say ”limitations are for good reasons” and this is especially true for digital devices. There are just a lot distractions on smartphones.

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