In Search Of Downtime

“Turn your downtime into banking time” encouraged a radio ad for a large bank that was promoting the availability of its latest banking app. As a flip phone consumer, at least for the week, I wanted to ignore the ad completely, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how this simple sentence highlights everyday use of smartphones. Downtime is considered a bad thing, a waste, when we could be doing more productive activities.

I see – and am guilty of – this activity wherever I go. A case in point; my wallet and I were recently taken shopping by my daughter, who needed additional fall clothing apparently. The rules of engagement are simple: I, along with the rest of the parenting community, stay either just inside or just outside the store while the daughters go forth in search of must-have attire. When the foraging is complete, and the purchase part begins, we are called to arms with wallets at the ready. In the meantime, in our downtime, the parents all whip out their phones as an escape. Not so yesterday, as the flip phone doesn’t really pre-occupy me for long (“Skipping Stones” is not a compelling game, trust me).

And so I spent the time thinking, rather than banking, checking email or playing games. It was rather refreshing actually, using the old grey cells without the aid of a smartphone. My mind wandered across various subjects, starting with “why am I here” (in the store, suckered by my daughter rather than the larger existentialist question) and landing on what I had hoped for with a smartphone, back in the days when I first toted a RAZR flip phone.

In that pre-app world, we always had a vision of a “smart phone” that would accomplish far more than simply voice and texting. But the main goal, I recall, was to have a device that would replace the PC to a great extent. Back in the mid 2000s I would carry a Palm Pilot PDA, with a fold out keyboard, as a means of typing reports at tradeshows, rather than having to lug around a 500 pound laptop. While the Pilot was not exactly Word friendly, it did allow me to get work done quickly and (somewhat) efficiently. But the logical goal was to have a phone that could support all that I wanted to do with a laptop, perhaps with the ability to connect to external screens, rather than always making do with a phone screen.

To an extent, the smartphone has met those goals: I can create reports, if I so want to, on my phone, even using Word as the entry method. I could, indeed, connect a larger keyboard to the device via Bluetooth in order to facilitate this. And depending on the phone, I could probably connect to an external screen. But none of it feels simple yet and smartphone boasts that the device in our hand is as powerful as a computer from yester-year feel somewhat dull and false. We are not quite there yet.

There were many other, far more insightful thoughts as I waited for my daughter to call the wallet forward. Unfortunately, without a smartphone to note them down on, they quickly slipped my mind, reminding me just how useful the smartphone is for quick ideas, if we can find the correct balance between phone-time and downtime.