Recently my computer started to exhibit some worrying symptoms. The battery swell up and since I am using one of these weird laptop/tablet hybrids it made it almost impossible to use. The screen arched and I had a direct view into the insights of my poor working device (it looked somewhat like this). I was afraid that it could blow in my face anytime. I guess that’s on me for choosing a laptop based on its aesthetic. Anyway, while it’s being fixed I was left without a laptop or anything of that sort, I live alone so borrowing one from my roommate for even an hour is not an option. I was left laptop-less. There are of course library computers but they can only be used for so long, and sometimes (like this weekend) the library is just closed. As a result, I had no other option but to use a super-computer I carry in my pocket at all times. A device that is more than capable of helping me fulfil my academic duties with just a slight discomfort because of its size. However, I feel unnatural when using my phone as my only device and not only because of the size issue. After a couple of days of living like this, I started to reflect on why that is, and here are the results.
Involuntary experiment subject
Let’s start with an analysis of the activities I use my phone for. Firstly, it is the main resource of everyday communication, mostly the quick and spontaneous one, with my friends and relatives. Secondly and more importantly, I use it for something that from now on I am going to refer to as Small Entertainment (SE). I would define this type of entertainment as something that does not necessarily require your time or too much engagement. SE is a distraction. The best examples of SE are of course social media which allow you to take your mind off whatever you are doing for a couple of minutes by offering you a hot mix of emotions. Here is something wholesome, here is something outrageous, and here is something aesthetically pleasing. You are welcome! Now you can go back to more serious stuff not sure if your mind is refreshed or even more clouded. Mobile games could also be treated as a form of SE, especially the arcade and puzzle type. Some shapes and colours moving around the screen, maybe even a ‘good job’ announcement and we are good to go. That is why I treated my phone as the ‘happy screen’, nothing university-related was happening there, nothing big and serious. Just me and my happy apps.
My laptop however is (or rather was, I am not sure if it will survive the repair) my serious device. Everything is in its place, I keep track of where every file is, the tabs I need on daily basis are always well displayed, all in all, an organized workplace. Everything is clear, everything has its purpose. While phone means distraction, laptop means focus. That is where I read academic texts, where I write, and where I contact my lecturers. My laptop was also responsible for my Big Entertainment, which means things that, as opposed to SE, require your time, at least some focus, and which actually relax your mind in a long run. When I sat down to watch a movie or an episode of a series it was a commitment. I would sometimes make some preparations beforehand, like making myself some tea or a bowl of popcorn. The same goes for games. When I started to play Minecraft it was never for 5 minutes just to check how my farm is doing, it was, again, a commitment. I programmed myself to think that my laptop is the sole place I can deal with more serious issues and the sole place to find some true entertainment.
(This is where I took a break to look at my happy screen for a couple of minutes)
Forced to use my phone as my new workplace I definitely pushed myself out of my comfort zone. During this involuntary experiment, I discovered some pros and cons of my new situation. Let’s start with the pros – firstly, I finally took some time to organize my phone, especially the tabs in my browser. I had to know where to look for when, for example, I wanted to check something on Brightspace. Before, I would just open a new tab for a quick search which resulted in me having 3 tabs with Brightspace, 2 with Outlook and 20+ more with things I don’t even remember I ever needed. All in all, a mess. Secondly, I avoid distractions. For some reason when I am reading a text on my phone I am less tempted to switch between tabs and go on Instagram than when I was reading them on my laptop. During online lectures, I don’t scroll endlessly anymore because I can’t. If I want to listen to the lecture the phone has to sit untouched on my desk. I think it led to a slight upgrade in my academic performance.
Besides obvious cons, such as the obvious comfort of reading, I also noticed that my happy screen turned into a serious screen and does not have the same effect on me anymore. It’s similar to when people tell you you should not work in your bedroom or on your bed because it is unhealthy to merge the resting and working space. I brought the serious stuff into my comfortable realm of superficial entertainment and now it’s not a happy screen anymore. What’s interesting, when I gave my laptop away I found myself unable to write a more formal e-mail. I felt like I lacked perspective, literally, because I could not see the whole text I wrote without scrolling. I would even go as far as using a computer mode on my phone to try and feel more focused. Now, as I write this blog post from the computer in the library I think yearningly about my laptop. I want my happy, immediate-satisfaction-giving device back and I want my serious device back too, so I could stop writing emails from my phone. I used to think about how spoiled and unappreciative the fact that I cannot fully function with just ONE super-computer instead of TWO makes me, but that’s the reality we live in and I just have to embrace my weakness. There will be no reflection on how getting rid of my laptop was actually freeing, because it’s not. The sooner I get it back the better
(I also wish I could watch Netflix on a big screen again)