Last fall, I downloaded an app to begin tracking the amount of time I spent using my phone. In an attempt to not taint the results, I planned to wait four weeks (without peeking at the app) to learn where I fell on the screen-zombie scale. By the end, I’d all but forgotten about my little study until a push-notification caught my attention as I was headed out for a run. The result was embarrassing: from the email checking en route to meetings (and everywhere else) to sorting through dining options, I was spending more than 6 hours on my phone every day (slightly higher than the American average).
With visions of the heart-wrenching video “Look Up” in my head, I spent my afternoon-run forming a strategy to slash as much screen time from my life as possible. My first task was adding the Billy Joel lyric “How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies” to my lock screen.
I also had a deeper realization: the problem is not our reliance on technology — it’s that the way we interface with technology is distracting and getting in the way of some very basic human behavior. We can accomplish a lot with our phones but we seem to think we can do everything with them, and that’s limiting our ability to imagine the possibilities beyond a screen. We’re due for a natural course correction, something that’s happened many times before. When PCs were king, it took years to convince some designers, developers and leaders that they should be developing applications to fit a small phone screen, and that people will indeed use them (we now use the mobile web more than the PC web).
Similarly, our dependence on our mobile phones has a limit. If we focus on creating the best user experience, we must understand that this experience may not include a screen at all— but may instead be designed around an invisible interface. The shift is underway and the tools for designing these screenless experiences are being built — the Internet of Things surrounds us, virtual reality is becoming more common and improved AI allows machines to interact with us more intelligently.
But the shift isn’t purely technological — it’s societal. As we design for the invisible interface of the future, we have the opportunity to make our lives more joyful and human, present and productive. Here is why:
The Invisible Interface is More In-the-Moment, Human and Joyful
Some of what we do with screens inadvertently removes us from our environment rather than bringing us closer to it — think of being attached to Google Maps as you walk on the sidewalk trying to find a new restaurant. Screens, and our phones in particular, often add a great deal of friction to our interactions with the world. What if we could remove that friction so that, instead of being glued to your phone as you walk down the street, you, for instance, see an AR generated virtual path along the pavement. You’d be able to process the information while remaining present because you don’t need to split your attention between the physical and virtual world. Who knows, you may even encounter a human along the way and strike up a conversation.