On Google’s newest phone, you can’t take a selfie. It’s not even making calls. It is just a piece of paper that has been printed at home with a few pieces of information and folded into a rectangle. It can keep a credit card with a few snips of a scissors.
The Paper Phone is part of a new package of “digital well-being experiments” that the company aims to give users a “digital detox.” Google launched its latest $800 Pixel 4 phone the same week, which has built-in radar technology that can be controlled by hand-motions from a user.
Google’s Paper Phone is the latest in a series of deals aimed at catching the interest of an audience sick of the ever-expanding power of technology in our lives and the feeling of being bound to your phone.
Wellness advocates suggest you put your mobile in the other room while you are sleeping. There is a trend toward “No-Tech Sundays” if visitors quit their tech for the day. Resorts, start-ups, and wellness gurus cash in with a range of online detox activities on the unplugged travel phenomenon.
There is even a “National Day of Unplugging”
The Paper Phone project is one of Google’s open-source projects, which also involves phone wallpaper which records how many times a day a user unlocks their computer, and a 24-hour “desert island” system that only gives users access to their most relevant devices.
“We hope these experiments inspire developers and designers to keep digital well-being top of mind when building technology,” Google Creative Lab team lead Emma Turpin wrote in a blog post Wednesday.
Some of the unplug campaign derives from studies on the health impacts of software. New screen time recommendations for parents were released earlier this year by the World Health Organization based on research that revealed behavioral and cognitive problems in children who spent hours in front of a computer. Certain research has found associations between the use of smartphones and anxiety.
Tanya Goodin, a digital well-being innovator based in London, says Google’s campaign reminds her of when Big Tobacco threatened people with low-tar cigarettes worried about their wellbeing to keep them as customers.
“Instead of children’s games, they have to look seriously at the fact that we’ve been rats in this big Silicon Valley experiment,” said Goodin. “The fact that we can’t disengage from technology is exactly because of the things these companies have been doing for years.”
Former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris launched a nonprofit tech ethics originally known as Time Well Spent and now known as the Humane Technology Center. Harris argued that the tech industry was participating in a “race to the bottom of the brain stem,” and that technology development must improve society, not threaten it. Silicon Valley leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have frequently discussed the idea of “time well spent.”
Zuckerberg said at a company event on Friday that, according to a tweet from Flipboard editor Ken Yeung, he told his team to automate meaningful interactions among users on the site, rather than optimizing time spent on it.
Paper Phone is not Google’s first attempt to explore the digital world through the use of paper products. The company launched Google Cardboard in 2014, a way to view applications for virtual reality on a smartphone. Google said in 19 months it delivered 5 million low-tech glass pairs.
Anthony Ramirez, the Chicago Public Library’s cyber-navigator, tweeted his endorsement of Google’s latest venture into the two-dimensional world. “I’m all about minimalism and this is fantastic and feels like an art project in just the right way,” he said.