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Google’s Envelope is not the cure-all to smartphone addiction, but neither is anything you’re doing

Who buys stamps anymore?

google envelope for the pixel 3a
Image: Google

By now, you either fall into two categories of a user of technology: fucking racked with addiction or apathetically balanced. I fall into the latter. Most of you fall into the former. Perhaps because of my generation (X), I have a more comfortable relationship with technology — smartphones especially — yet I’ve seen boomers unable to put down their phones.

Then there are the kids. What about the childrens??!

We’re now to the point in smartphone use where they are both not really messing with your kids’ mental state and totally fucking them up. It’s become akin to the local news saying eggs [wine, etc.] are bad for you, then a year later saying eggs [wine, etc.] are good for you. Everything in moderation kids. Everything in moderation. Of course, smartphone addiction doesn’t just affect children.

The point is, if you look hard enough, tech giants like Google are pretending to give a shit

Google has a division called “Experiments With Google” and under that division, there is a section called “Digital Wellbeing Experiments” and it’s a fresh load of moist irony. Google, the company that scrapes our data and runs nearly everything we do online that isn’t located on an Amazon web server, is going to help us “find a better balance with technology.” Ok, boomer.

Last year Google released a paper phone as a Digital Wellbeing experiment. It was adorable, but stupid. It was like telling an alcoholic to only drink water for a day. Sparkling water, but still. Smartphone addiction, like any other addiction, is real. But a paper band-aid isn’t going to help us find the balance we need in our lives, because it’s a gimmick.

So what’s the solution? How about an envelope? That’s the latest idea from Google’s Digital Wellbeing team as it relates to smartphones (there are other projects there, not smartphone-related). It’s an envelope, two actually, that transforms your smartphone (as long as its a Google Pixel 3a) into a simple device that I guess helps you break the cycle of staring into the void when you could be, I dunno, interacting with other humans.

From Google:

We have designed a series of special paper envelopes which completely transform the functionality of your smartphone for the time it is sealed inside, allowing you to enjoy fewer distractions for a little while. One envelope turns your phone into a very basic device which can only make and receive calls, while the other turns your phone into a photo and video camera with no screen, helping you to focus on what’s in front of you. Printed buttons which subtly light up allow you to dial and take photographs, creating a calm but magical “Envelope User Interface”.

Sigh. SIGH.

This adorable, cheeky shit isn’t going to do anything to curb smartphone addiction

Sure, it might be a launching or learning point to understand how smartphones affect our lives now, but real change in our behavior has to come from us. And like all addiction, we have to hit rock bottom first. Maybe a few times. And rock bottom on a device that is as integral to our daily lives as it is detrimental may never come.

One thing I always pressed with my kids was notifications. Turn off all notifications save for direct messaging. I’ll check my email when I feel like it. I don’t need notifications from the weather app. This completely removes the Pavlovian response that is quickly established with a smartphone. That way, it remains a tool — only to be used when needed, not constantly consumed like a bottle of Jack Daniels mixed with a 2-liter of Mountain Dew.

The same thing is true with adults, no matter the generation. Putting their phones in an envelope (plus, think of someone you know that owns a Pixel 3a) isn’t going to change a goddamn thing. It’s like wearing socks with sandals on your way to wearing flip flops. There is no solution to smartphone addiction, there is only finding that comfortable balance.

And that’s where Google is correct on this topic. While it’s a little weird that a big tech company is pressing us on finding a balance between tech and our daily lives, it’s extremely important we do. Go play outside. Put your phone down and interact with your children. Don’t put phones in their hands constantly, play games and set limits. Create that balance in their lives so it’s easier for them to set limits as adults. Everything in moderation.

Everything in moderation.

We will never escape the pull of smartphones and their use in our lives, but we can create a balance. But we have to want to first. Perhaps then, putting your phone in an envelope, or box or sock, might be a solid step in learning how to coexist with a device that is so important to our existence.

What do you think? Is this envelope from Google just silly marketing or something that seems interesting to you? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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A tech writer on the internet for over 15 years for outlets such as Forbes, Wired, TNW, and others, Curtis is exhausted, burnt out and happy to just write buying guides and the occasional review for KnowTechie, the best tech blog your mom never told you about. Ephemeral existence for ephemeral times. Please send pitches and grainy pictures of the inside of your elbow to kevin@knowtechie.com

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