Paper Phones and Anti-Capitalism

Have you heard of the paper phone? It works with Android via Google, and replaces your phone for the day (or longer). First, using the software, you select what elements you’d like to print from your phone. Once the sheet is printed – let’s say you decide to include the day’s weather, your primary contacts, and your upcoming appointments – you fold it up into a rectangle to mimic your phone. Each panel of the folded sheet features a different element that you can “check” throughout the day.

“Experiments with Google” touts this as a way to take a temporary break from technology. They’ve created a conceptual series (what is this series, anyway – ads or lessons?) featuring products and ideas aimed toward those who want to re-think their connections with technology. As Google puts it, you might want to “take a break away from your digital world”, and they apparently want to help.

I am thinking about paper lately. Last Monday morning, as I sat at a coffee shop early (daylight savings time is not compelling for toddlers), I noticed at least five people sitting around me at various stages of journaling and calendaring. Most were women, but not all; two used a full set of multi-colored markers to bullet-journal.

I noticed tension in shoulders and uncomfortable expressions, although of course I couldn’t know how these activities may or may not be pleasurable for them. What I can know, however, is the intensive nature of these activities. One was illustrating her calendar, meaning that she was using fancy scripts for appointments and creating emoji-like drawings featuring elements of her day. Another had no less than three notebooks in front of her, along with her computer, phone, and pink post-its. She seemed to be drawing together elements of her week from all these media.

When I see people intensively and continuously engaging in self-improvement activities, all I can think is: for whom is this convenient? What is the political reality or political implications of intensive practices like bullet-journaling?

Paper-based options, including paper phones, are framed as a distraction-free way to focus on tasks. But what if the intensive labor of these examples and others like them is itself a distraction? These productive subjects could be a-political, offline, neutralized. Productivity is, of course, the watchword of capital. If I’m meant to be more productive, then I’m not resisting capital. It’s tempting to think that time offline is resistance, but perhaps it isn’t, at all.

 

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