In Praise Of Slowness: On Writing On Cellphones

by Thomas Brett

It stuck me recently that I might say something about how the blog posts at bretttworks.com are written. So here goes:

I write them on my phone.

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Most of the writing happens in those moments that could otherwise be wasted moments–while waiting for the subway, standing in line somewhere, sitting on the subway, sitting in the pit. I’m often outside while I write, often under neon lights, often just waiting for something else to happen. Sometimes I even write while walking–yes, making me one of those people you really hate seeing on the street: eyes glued to the glowing orb in their hands, a body not looking where it’s going. (But in my defense: it’s usually late at night while I’m walking home on deserted streets, you see …)

The point is, I usually write the posts either while waiting for transit or while in transit, and what makes this possible in the first place is the fact of the phone itself. Let’s unpack this a little more by asking a question: What does it mean to write on a phone?

For one thing, the screen is quite small and the letter keys even smaller. This makes whatever I’m writing literally feel and look, well, quite tiny. No matter how expansive I hope the thought might be, its material expression is, for the moment, just tiny text on a tiny two-inch screen. And this is comforting to me. I like it because the micro-smallness of everything creates a kind of intimacy. It feels like writing in a diary–albeit one with a bright screen and a perpetual Internet connection!

The tinyness of the phone’s screen and keypad has another, perhaps more important effect: it slows me down. It’s really hard to write fast on the phone because you’re reduced to one-finger typing (or in my case: a left thumb and a right index finger). Trying to type fast while being constrained by the phone leads to missed keys and letters, which in turn leads to the phone’s strange auto-correct kicking in. In that sentence before last, for instance, I was offered “wired” instead of “write” and then, in the next sentence, “steam” instead of my intended “strange”. (And just now, “intense” for “intended”!) Dealing with this further slows me down and frustrates me, sure, but in the process of backing up for a moment–”of” not “if backing up”!–to correct the auto-correcting, I buy myself a few seconds that I have come to believe are used on some level as time to think about the next sentence, the next thought.

Writing on the phone then, seems to slow thoughts down to the glacial pace of one letter at a time, one auto-corrected word at a time, the message and message-writer having to wait for the medium to catch up. Overall this is a good thing, for me anyways. Why the rush anyway?

And of course, once I’m done, I can email the post to myself and then copy that email directly into WordPress and we’re off and running. This alone continues to impresses me: the fact that at no point does oxygen ever hit this text. It’s all digital, all virtual, but then so is almost everything else these days.