A few weeks ago, I wrote about a newish invention called the Freewriter, a super-simplified device that was supposed to enable better writing without the distractions of email and social media.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The discovery of this device, basically a keyboard with the screen of Nintendo Gameboy, sent me down a research rabbit hole to find a device that could fill that exact need in my life. Something that would let me just write. I didn’t want to buy the Freewriter since it didn’t have the Swedish letters Å, Ä, and Ö. But I desperately felt the need to get away from my standard MacBook Pro. Not that I don’t like the Macbook Pro. I’ve been a Mac guy my entire life and the Macbook is basically the home port for my entire digital life.
But that’s just it. The Macbook is everything. I wanted something that could be just one thing. Just a typewriter. To enable deep, focused writing.
Easier said than done.
In searching for this simplistic device, I started reflecting on the various needs that screens fill in our lives, and why there is a case for more screens and surfaces in our lives, both digital and analog.
Ever since I read Anders Hansens Skärmhjärnan, which explains how our neurological constitution creates a hard-broken addiction to our screens, I’ve been trying to minimize my screen time in any way I can. So I’ve started reading paper books again. I’ve picked up notetaking and journaling in physical notebooks (check out this Blamo post for my current set-up). The latest thing on my wishlist is the Norwegian invention reMarkable, which seems to marry the tactile feeling of notetaking with the digital convenience of organising the notes. I have a couple of friends that are completely sold on its greatness. (It’s interesting how reMarkable is also using the term “distraction-free” in its sales pitch.)
Ten years ago I did everything to minimize the amount of devices I used. I read everything on my iPhone, did all the work on my Macbook. The digital life set me free from the burden of physical things. Or so I thought. But the more time I spent on these devices, the more I felt trapped by them. I stopped journaling on my Macbook, because opening it felt like going to the office. I stopped reading books on my iPhone, because opening it was like being attacked by a bee-swarm of dopamine-inducing social media feeds.
In my latest podcast interview with the Samsung executive Oscar Otteborn, he talks about the company’s vision to implement tv-screens in every room of our homes. You might expect nothing less from the world’s largest tv manufacturer, but in the conversation, we reflect on the need for different devices for different situations.
We have different physical spaces for different activities in our lives. From our bedrooms and living rooms, to our offices and gyms and our favourite restaurants. Why shouldn’t we have different screens for different activities? I envision a future where I have one type of screen for Zoom calls (big, with high definition camera in the right height), one for movie watching (even bigger of course), one for reading books (I’m eyeballing a Kindle right now), one for note taking, one for working, one for social, and, yes, one for writing.
I did find the device I was looking for, on a website for pre-owned technology. It’s called Lenovo Chromebook 11e and it set me back about €150. It’s got a wonderful clanky black keyboard. It’s made for classrooms, so it’s thick, sturdy, with a battery life that lasts a couple of days. It’s five years old and does absolutely nothing in terms of functionality. Except offer me distraction-free time for writing.
I haven’t been this excited about a device since the first iPod.