In ten years, devices from twenty years ago will become the hot new gadgets of the day. They will be improved, shinier, and better with technology advancement. But limited function devices, that just play music, help you navigate or wake you up in the morning will be all the rage. Not only among the same people currently buying 8 track tapes, but by everyone.

That’s my prediction, and I make it from a place of frustration. There’s been a departure from building technology that better serves its users to seeing how many features one object can have. WiFi enabled toaster, Bluetooth coffee machine, smart hairbrush; all things that really exist and I can’t think of a reason they would improve the lives of users.

My phone is a flashlight capable of playing Pac-Man. It’s a compass pointing at both true North and where people are outraged today. How I access my plane tickets, and how the NSA knows who I’m meeting when I land.

Phones do so many things; you almost forget that glowing rectangle is a communications device. You forget until feeling a slight twinge of annoyance and anxiety when an unknown number interrupts the music you’re playing.

Humans seem to adapt to their ambient threat level, and I realize how fortunate I am that anonymous callers interrupting a Tom Waits marathon are where I find my angst. However, I’m not the only one in this boat.

When mp3 players first came out, they had problems, skipping, miserable battery life and more. By the time stable, reliable mp3 players were available affordably, phones were taking their place. But even the early flawed mp3 players weren’t interrupted by calls… In a way wasn’t the old technology better then what replaced it?

Cramming every possible function into a device doesn’t make that device better than the sum of its parts. Swiss Army knives are a multi-function tool; a blade, a wood saw, a bottle opener, screwdrivers, corkscrew, wire stripper, and awl. Every one of these tools is inferior to a standalone version.

I use alarms, timers, and the stopwatch on my phone every day, and I don’t own an alarm clock. But while a hybrid watch timer makes a lot of sense, an alarm clock that allows others to summon you at a whim is counterintuitive, even if we all use them.

Convenience lets the Swiss Army knife do in a pinch, but it’s not ideal. For the most part, people who routinely need a screwdriver won’t hold off on buying one because they own an amazing all in one tool that lets them feel like Batman.

People in a decade will totally still buy phones able to accidentally photograph them on the toilet. And much like a Swiss Army knife, most of the extra functions will do in a bind. But I expect to see more people buying, and relying on limited function tools that serve their needs. Not just relying on one expensive device that, kind of, does everything.

Alarm clocks and mp3 players are cheaper and at least as good as they’ve ever been. Maybe now is the time to move away from our phones being the magic glowing rectangles receiving our undivided attention. We’re spending our days staring at our devices, like Theodore Twombly in a version of the movie Her, where the technology makes you sad and angry.

Header image by stephen4 / Pixabay