📴✉️ They designed an envelope to hide your phone from yourself
January 22, 2020 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Envelope - temporarily transform your phone into a simpler, calmer device [YouTube] “A set of envelopes which temporarily transform your phone into a simpler, calmer device, helping you to take a break away from your digital world. Many people feel that they spend too much time on their phones and struggle to find a balance with technology. We have designed a series of special paper envelopes which completely transform the functionality of your smartphone for the time it is sealed inside, allowing you to enjoy fewer distractions for a little while. One envelope turns your phone into a very basic device which can only make and receive calls, while the other turns your phone into a photo and video camera with no screen, helping you to focus on what’s in front of you. Printed buttons which subtly light up allow you to dial and take photographs, creating a calm but magical “Envelope User Interface”.” [Android app](Currently only supports the Google Pixel 3a)[GitHub][.PDF]
posted by Fizz (56 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I had to double-check if today was April 1st because this feels like a kind of smart-ass joke. That being said, I can understand the desire to step away from technology.

Also, why are they dressed like they stepped out of Spielberg's Minority Report!?
posted by Fizz at 10:16 AM on January 22 [15 favorites]


I just charge my phone in the bathroom, and keep that door shut for days on end.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:24 AM on January 22


One envelope turns your phone into a very basic device which can only make and receive calls,

One envelope turns your phone into a very basic device which can only receive calls, because no one knows anyone's phone number anymore and would need to have access to their contacts to look it up.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:25 AM on January 22 [41 favorites]


The "clock" sent me over the edge. How is this real.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:28 AM on January 22


Receiving calls is the ultimate distraction. I need an envelope to turn the phone off.
posted by scruss at 10:30 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I just charge my phone in the bathroom, and keep that door shut for days on end.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:24 PM on January 22 [+] [!]


Ah, I guess that explains your user name
posted by NoMich at 10:31 AM on January 22 [35 favorites]


Pay us $700 for this device and then pay us more for another device to keep you from using the first device.
posted by octothorpe at 10:33 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]


It looks like they're ripping open the envelopes at the end of their usage, so they're not even reusable? Not gonna lie, I could use a barrier to keep me from checking my phone every 30 seconds some days...but yeah, this really feels like a joke.
posted by Gray Duck at 10:37 AM on January 22


Capitalism: Pay us $700 for this device and then pay us more for another device to keep you from using the first device.
posted by Fizz at 10:37 AM on January 22 [7 favorites]


One envelope takes pictures, and one envelope lets you call
The ones that Google gives you, save you from Web's thrall
Go ask Sundar, when he's ten feet tall
And if you go chasing data, and you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em a money-grubbing corporation makes you pay for it all
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:39 AM on January 22 [43 favorites]


This isn't a Google product, it's from a design studio in London. All their other stuff inhabits some territory between actual product, contemporary art piece, and straight up joke.
posted by theodolite at 10:39 AM on January 22 [17 favorites]


If I add envelopes to my cart does it also suggest the cord for the airpods as well?
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 10:40 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


This isn't a Google product, it's from a design studio in London.

Ah, sorry I misunderstood that. Thanks for the clarification. Have contacted a mod to have that corrected.
posted by Fizz at 10:45 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying design studios should be illegal, but they should be well-regulated and highly taxed.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:45 AM on January 22 [12 favorites]


Oh it’s the Bit Planner folks!
I like projects that combine minimalism with purposefully convoluted or antagonistic design.
posted by q*ben at 10:51 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]


This isn't a Google product, it's from a design studio in London.

I think I saw these guys on W1A when they were called Perfect Curve.
posted by valkane at 10:52 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Isn't this why phones have like, an off button? Or airplane mode?
You could tuck your phone out of sight and just put the ringer on?
This is mystifying.
posted by erattacorrige at 10:55 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Turn off your phone, relax, and mute the stream
It is not dying
It is not dying
Yet you see no more invites to Linkedin
It's not receiving
It's not receiving
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:56 AM on January 22 [16 favorites]


[Title amended!]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:58 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I heartily recommend turning off the Google news feed.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:02 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Receiving calls is the ultimate distraction.

receiving calls is horrifying. why would anyone ever? in this the year of our lord 2020? my ringer hasn't been turned on in 10 years, and on the rare and shocking occasion i find it blinking insistently to alert me to an incoming call when i have innocently picked up the phone to txt someone like normal humans do, i am instantly dismayed and alarmed. how dare. disgusting. honestly.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:07 AM on January 22 [46 favorites]


you want to communicate using mouth sounds? is this the pleistocene?
posted by poffin boffin at 11:10 AM on January 22 [32 favorites]


Okay, I actually kinda like that Bit Planner idea from q*ben's link. It's ridiculous, don't get me wrong. But I want to find a way to schedule more of my personal projects into my off time so I don't just go home from work and watch Netflix, and I think something super lo-fi like a LEGO based schedule might actually work, especially since it doesn't require me to specify particular blocks of time. I don't even need the photo-synching option, I just think you could do something with colour-coding 'today I mean to work on X' or 'today I did work on X' -- or both -- if you plan to work on X it's white and if you plan to work on Y it's yellow and if you successfully do the thing you planned to work on, you cap it green, but if you didn't you cap it with red. A sort of combination of planning and habit tracking with the tactile fun of LEGO.

Not that I need to buy their version of this -- I can just order some pick-and-mix bricks and make it happen.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:13 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


The envelope needing to be ripped open is where this drops any pretense of being an actual product. I think this is quite clever as a thing to make and show to people.
posted by SpiffyRob at 11:14 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I wish Google would spend this money on the actual products people use. Google Groups is atrocious.

This isn't a Google product, it's from a design studio in London.

Most media outlets are reporting it as Google sponsored: verge; cnet; business insider; tc.

I would guess all those articles sprung from a Google press release... I don't see a press release, but I found this Google Experiments page with the Envelope on it.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:27 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


The second envelope acts as a minimalistic camera, which allows you to take photos and videos, but won’t show you the end result. This gives you a feeling reminiscent of a 35mm film camera, where you have to wait to develop the photos.

35mm cameras let you look at what you were filming. "Point camera without knowing what it's seeing" is stupid product design.

We explored the idea of making the envelope more durable, out of materials like Tyvek but we felt that this would be a temporary product, not destined to be used forever. We also felt we would increase the chances of somebody sticking to their goals by making the envelope destroy itself when it is unsealed.

Or rather, "We wanted to make damn sure people would keep paying for it, if it turned out to actually be useful for them."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:32 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


The smug is thick in London today...
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:39 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


I didn't watch the whole thing. But for at least 20 seconds I thought that person on the right was Maggie Gyllenhaal, and thought for sure this was a spoof.
posted by SoberHighland at 11:53 AM on January 22


Or rather, "We wanted to make damn sure people would keep paying for it, if it turned out to actually be useful for them."

I've got no opinions about this technological project one way or another, which I find highly refreshing in this day and age... but feel duty-bound to point out that the paper thing actually means it's free: You use the PDF linked in the OP to print out an envelope and then use the free app. You do need to own a Pixel 3a, though (or I guess modify the envelope on your own?)
posted by trig at 12:02 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


You do need to own a Pixel 3a, though (or I guess modify the envelope on your own?)

Looking at the instructions/design from github, I feel like you could easily adapt this to any other modern smart phone device with a little bit of patience and some drawing.
posted by Fizz at 12:16 PM on January 22


I could use a barrier to keep me from checking my phone every 30 seconds

Thrive Away.
posted by dobbs at 12:35 PM on January 22


you want to communicate using mouth sounds? is this the pleistocene?

All this gloating about not having to use telephones for actual telephony is pretty tiresome when you're applying for jobs and both employers and clients will only contact you via phone. Good for you that you don't have to do this, seemingly. Please don't rub it in for those of us who still have to - it's actually a pretty bloody common requirement for putting food on the table for a lot of people.
posted by Dysk at 12:43 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]


poffin boffin: you want to communicate using mouth sounds?

*ahem* They're made out of meat?
posted by wenestvedt at 1:27 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Good for you that you don't have to do this, seemingly.

Is this something I would have to have vocal cords to understand?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:28 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


"      ."
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:42 PM on January 22


the telephone defender has logged on
posted by JDHarper at 1:44 PM on January 22


I spend literally my whole day on the phone, doing tech support, and I've actually come to appreciate it. You can solve a problem in ten minutes that would take days over email. It turns out that a lot of people are really bad at text communication.

But in my personal life? Fuck no, the only folks who get to talk to me on the phone are my favorite blood relatives
posted by JDHarper at 1:47 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]


Came for the "They're made of meat?" comment, was not disappointed.
posted by briank at 2:02 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


My sister offered to take me home from work yesterday, she was out and in the neighborhood and the wind chill was like, 19. She used the grocery store wifi to send me a message that she was coming to get me, but i couldn't text her back because her phone was off at the moment because she just plain didn't want it to be on. When i got in the car she assured me she didn't need help paying the bill, it was just that she didn't want a phone right now. Sometimes when I'm at home for the day, I just let it die. One time I left my phone, which was v old, in an uber. I tried for about 2 days to go through the red tape to get it back (i had trouble getting into the account with no phone to help verify me), and then just decided I didn't need a phone. I went without one for a little over a month. And, honestly, if I didn't rely on it to check bus schedules it'd have been much longer.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:10 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Good for you that you don't have to do this, seemingly.

yeah it's great that my spinal surgery left me with unilateral laryngeal nerve paralysis. it's super that i can't speak normally anymore. i enjoy it a lot.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:50 PM on January 22


I'm sorry that that's the case, but scornfully laughing at those of us who have to engage with telephonic speech even as many of us have our own challenges with that is not helping anyone.
posted by Dysk at 2:59 PM on January 22


i'm literally fucking talking about people who call me despite knowing i cannot talk on the phone but go the fuck off i guess, tell me what a smug asshole i am for being annoyed about the shitty ableism of people who don't care about making my life more difficult.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:16 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


[Hey y'all, let's take a step back here. Different folks have different needs and capacities for different kinds of situations and channels of communication. There's never gonna be a one-size-fits-all take on something like this and getting into a position of making it a fight over which position is the scorn-worthy one is gonna be less good for basically everybody than trying to accommodate the reality of sometimes mutually contradictory needs and priorities that are all still valid.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:41 PM on January 22 [7 favorites]


I tried this out, as a joke.

It doesn't really seem to work, or possibly it only works under very specific circumstances. The screen doesn't really want to turn on or stay on when it's covered in paper. The standard home gesture will exit the app, or put your phone into some unclear situation since you can't see anything.

I did find (and like) this related wallpaper app that gently shows your current phone usage: Activity Bubbles, or this much harsher one: Screen Stopwatch.
posted by meowzilla at 3:56 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Look so the actual paper envelope is horrifying, but it's a clever, tactile way to think about user interfaces being able to be put into restricted "envelopes".

One of my old phones (HTC perhaps?) had a "driving mode" which would hide most things except mapping and music controls and had a big clunky UI suitable for use while not looking directly at it. It was effectively an envelope.

I'm pretty easily distracted, so I like the idea of doing something arcane (triple swipe?) to shift my phone between "default android" mode and a bunch of envelopes: perhaps "driving/cycling" and "pretend dumb phone" and "camera" (but leave me some kind of viewfinder, please) and "music player", each of which would change the UI defaults and severely limit the other things the phone was willing to do.
posted by nickzoic at 4:18 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I kinda think this would be useful for me, I find I hyperfocus and get sucked into the phone.
posted by freethefeet at 4:23 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I spend literally my whole day on the phone, doing tech support, and I've actually come to appreciate it. You can solve a problem in ten minutes that would take days over email. It turns out that a lot of people are really bad at text communication.

There’s a rule of threes, in my experience. If it takes more than three IMs (slack, irc, text, whatever) send an email. More than three emails, phone or video call. More than three of those, somebody needs to get in cab, or maybe on a plane. The important thing is to see it as a spectrum of tools.
posted by mhoye at 5:13 PM on January 22 [10 favorites]


Metafilter: a spectrum of tools
so to speak
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:01 PM on January 22 [7 favorites]


The envelope needing to be ripped open is where this drops any pretense of being an actual product.

I saw that and my first thought was “clever”. The extra barrier to opening, the fact that you have to destroy it adds an extra barrier in our minds and people will be less likely to “cheat”.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:05 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


We all laugh but "how do I go back to having a dumb phone? but I need the apps" comes up on askme like every 3 months and is up there now (without the needing the apps part). This isn't that ridiculous. It's like whenever you see what looks like a stupid invention for lazy people, somebody probably really needs it for reasons outside their control.
posted by bleep at 8:05 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


you want to communicate using mouth sounds? is this the pleistocene?

Enter the Thumbrian!
posted by fairmettle at 12:02 AM on January 23


We all laugh but "how do I go back to having a dumb phone? but I need the apps" comes up on askme like every 3 months and is up there now (without the needing the apps part). This isn't that ridiculous. It's like whenever you see what looks like a stupid invention for lazy people, somebody probably really needs it for reasons outside their control.

I've asked a similar question.

There are also manufacturers trying to fit into this product category (e.g. Light Phone). There may not be much of a consensus as to what a minimalist phone should avoid or actually needs to have.

So, for example, my criterion for whether a phone feature should be avoided is "could I get addicted to this?" Web browsers and games: yes. A nice camera, GPS, contacts lists, alarm clocks, note-taking apps, calendars, calculators... not addictive. *My* 80% phone could include those things as first-party apps, not bother with a web browser or third-party apps, and I'd be happy. But other people will have other criteria, and want a different 80%.
posted by Jpfed at 9:50 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


> A nice camera

> not addictive.


My friends' SLR lens collections would like to have a word with you :)

I'm glad others manage to have the impulse control to turn their phone off, or are able to get do-no-disturb mode to work for them but notifications still pop up while using the phone on DND mode. I, and the rest of us are trying to get these distraction boxes to work for us and instead of against us, and to be honest I have to trick myself into doing what I actually want to be doing or else I fall down the rabbit hole that's on my phone. For now, screen time limits are set during the day, so there's an extra button to click before opening games or my web browser. Doesn't stop me if/when I need it but it adds that little extra step. I wish there were more configuration options but smartphones are ADHD kryptonite and I'm up for anything to help reduce distractions. (What I really want is a way on iOS to get a notification every 15 minutes while I'm using my phone that asks "are you sure you want to be doing this?" - intentionally annoying as hell.)

An older Android phone with a custom launcher and airplane mode goes pretty far. Pair the app with NFC tags inside the envelope to set the mode. I don't know anything about the LightPhone but the economics for an intentionally degraded 80% device makes me doubtful about this as a product that I can buy (vs something I have to cobble together). In the tablet-size there is the Remarkable locked down tablet, so tablet+stylus can be more for content creation device, but for $500, I've started using pen and paper again for drawing/writing.
posted by fragmede at 11:13 AM on January 23


I will say this, about a year ago I finally took a moment to program my phone's night time DND mode and it's been a godsend. Having it turn on at 10:30 p.m. and not disable until 7 a.m. has made a big difference. I stop checking my phone for notifications obsessively in the evenings, it lets me just set the phone aside and not think about it.

You can program exceptions too so that your family, spouse, specific individuals get through, so that's still a thing that you can set up in case of an emergency. But it's worth checking out, most modern smart phones do have this option at this point.
posted by Fizz at 12:48 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I wonder if it's a generational thing. I'm an old. (Well, a middle old.) Cellphones that weren't the size of suitcases weren't really a thing until I was in my 20s, maybe early 30s?

I can put my phone down and wander away from it for days, unless I'm leaving the house, in which case I'll probably need a maps app to find my way home again. (I get lost easily.) I don't put my phone on the table when we go out to eat, and I don't pull it out when I'm talking to other people, and I am literally gobsmacked every time someone else does those things.

My teenager and his friends, you would think those devices were glued to their hands. I've watched 6 of them, sit in a room, all of them on their phones, and then they'll all laugh as some meme gets shared, but I mean, I've gone in to check if they're alive after not hearing noises for a period of time.

That said, it was only with the latest big ios version that Apple let you automatically block any call not in your contact list, which Android has been able to do for years, so check your settings if you're getting calls you don't want. You can eliminate that hassle pretty easily now on all cell phones. If only I could do the same for my land line. (Yes, I have a land line. It's copper, and works without power, which is a terribly useful thing here in tornado alley.)
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:56 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Also, many articles of clothing have built-in envelopes for phones & other stuffs. Sometimes my phone disappears into an article of clothing somewhere, & we can only hope there's enough charge left to hear it vibrating if I notice it's gone.
posted by sneebler at 1:16 PM on January 24


« Older "I just want to be happy"   |   The chicken-or-egg of big gods, morality, and... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments