As a creature who’s prone to read certain things with a hint of dogma, I don’t usually realise it until I’m deep into it. Sometimes certainties are granitic, with personal takes that sound brutal and definitive, sometimes it’s all fluid and subtle. Either way, the bit I enjoy the most is when I suddenly become fully aware, ready to dismantle the self-propaganda, and start considering things from different point of views.
A couple of weeks ago, after deciding to take an indefinite break from social media, I restricted my communication with people to email,1 RSS feeds, and the occasional phone chat. Something emerged quickly:
- The healthy distance between me and the 24/7 world news firehose increased;
- I’ve stumbled on a string of thoughtful and very interesting articles about living a more disconnected life.2
- I turned out calmer and self-aware. Interesting deep thoughts are becoming rarer even on Mastodon, so once I’m not exposed to its constant barrage of people venting frustrations, sharing memes or other ephemeral considerations, I see things differently.
I find remarkable that daily doses of social networks, whether they be corporate or independent, have the same effects on my mental health. In the end a bubble’s a bubble, something I suppose my brain isn’t wired to sustain. Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one who thinks this way, as the lovely emails with a few friends from Mastodon proved.
I vomited a ton of angry posts about Apple as of recently. To be honest, I believe that the current plateau in the tech world, coupled with a distinct lack of vision and charisma, have affected Apple more or less like everyone else. Truth is that I don’t care about their leaders and stakeholders: I used to like Apple’s devices because they were well designed, durable and repairable, easy to use for everyone regardless of their technical prowess, with software carefully tailored to the hardware. Until they were not.
I’ve been ruminating over what to do if my current MacBook Pro stopped working. A maxed 2015 Intel i7 laptop, it’s still performing brilliantly on every single task: whatever I throw at it, it gets the job done. Paid for it £1,999 eight years ago, it cost me around 68 pence a day: talk about value for money. My issue is the idea that sooner or later the dearly beloved hardware will die, prompting the need to buy a new laptop from Apple, one with locked-in hardware, forcibly running one of the hideous post-10.x series new operating systems, designed around the idea that mobile devices and computers should look and behave the same. I forced myself to use macOS Mojave (later Catalina) for years — that’s how much I disliked the new incarnations.
Favourite chimera: the unobtrusive device
My most recent fool’s errand has been a quest to find the ultimate unobtrusive mobile device, in the futile hope that I can get to live like it’s 1997. Another article, plus a couple of YouTube videos, inspired me to look further into it. I spent three days seriously considering the idea of ditching my Android to switch to the Light Phone, a tiny device equipped with an e-ink screen that can only do phone calls, SMS, listen to music, and use a rudimentary GPS — no internet, no email, no chats. I quit yanking around after finally accepting the fact that I live in a society now designed to make my life impossible without a smartphone.
Without a smartphone, it was impossible to do basic things […]. It is now taken as a given that everyone has an iPhone or Android phone, and while you can choose not to have one, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that you will be able to effectively participate in modern society without one.
Zachary Flower, I hate my smartphone
Frustrated, but armed with a newfound inner silence from the social media break, I chewed through my reading list. A few well-argued articles attacking the enshittified current status of tech, usually my bread-and-butter, bored me to death. Instead, I was struck by a post about the last couple of decades in Apple’s history. Instead of rigurgitating the unfair comparison between Steve Jobs the explosive but arrogant visionary, and Tim Cook the cold priest-like marketing guy, it focused on how disruptive the invention of the iPhone has been for Apple itself, to the point of forcing the company to recalibrate its own core business. I started thinking about their efforts to establish a relationship between an old realm of devices (the computers, with their operating systems), and the new, the iDevices. It’s not a recent thing, I vividly remember how confusing and disappointing Mac OS X Lion was, and Jobs was still at the helm.
In my narrow-minded ideological interpretation, ever since Jobs died, Apple has been capitalising on his ideas, milking an apparently never-ending cow with a clever hat-trick: make the software free, turn everything into an annual cycle (fuelled by a hype-loaded event every six months), create a walled garden comprising computer and phone, thus making the interconnection so convenient that more people would buy both devices. I challenged myself by trying to think like they do, and see their motivations (beside accumulating money and appeasing the stakeholders). Picked up my old unused iPhone SE, stuck a new UK sim card in it, updated the OS, installed a few applications, and simply used it for a couple of weeks, including during a recent visit to Cambridge.
Some unexpected immediate results: the small-form of the device is utterly beautiful. It’s so light-weighted that I had to poke my pocket to check if the phone was still there. Its software is well organised, clean, no fuss. Before 2020, I had iPhones for ten years, so this was like reaquainting with something I used to be very familiar with. Spending the last three years with a single Android device evidently worked very well on remapping my muscular memory, because switching back to iOS felt as frustrating as when I moved to Android. I’m not entirely sure, but it’s like the force of habit is the problem, rather than user experience or product design.
Keeping things separated
With a newfound timid pleasure in using iPhones, I’d decided to split my SIM cards onto two devices, instead of keeping everything in a double-sim Android. There was something compelling that prompted me to take this road: the hidden anxiety derived from wanting to keep everything together. Having elder parents means that I need to keep an eye on their bills, several ways to authenticate them to government-issued platforms, pay for stuff online and more. Also, they live in another country where bureaucracy has its own needs, so the thought of keeping that secluded on Android, with the iPhone to manage my different life in the UK, was immediately relaxing. Handling multiple app stores in two countries is going to be much easier too.
macOS Ventura (and looking forward to Sonoma)
After getting used to iOS again, I better understood why Apple veered its macOS design to what is now, including the infamous Ventura’s System Settings overhaul. At that point I got increasingly curious, and read all about macOS 13: what I found was interesting and inviting. Something that always bugged me about staying on older OSes is the lack of security updates, so I decided to take a leap of faith (after reading a lot of reviews from my peers), and installed macOS Ventura on my unsupported 2015 MacBook Pro. Thanks to the people who created OpenCore Legacy Patcher, it was a breeze. Also, I haven’t dwelled into technicalities, but my Mac is seriously snappier running Ventura than Mojave or Catalina ever were.
The result? After using Ventura for almost a week, I’m very satisfied with it, including System Settings. I finally saw the reasons behind the redesign: needing to reflect the fact that it has become so much more complicated than it used to be twenty years ago, they made macOS consistent with an interface people were already familiar with. I guess I was judging a book by its cover.