Our phones are making us unhappy, and companies like Google are wrestling with how to keep expanding a product like Android without destroying the soul of humanity in the process. The company’s designers have been outspoken on the topic, and they released a series of digital wellness tools to help track and manage phone use last year.
Now, the company is going a step further. It’s proposing that you replace your Android phone with a paper one—at least for a day.
As part of a new wave of Digital Wellbeing Experiments, Google commissioned London design studio Special Projects to develop Paper Phone. Now, somewhat ironically, Paper Phone requires the Android app. But once you install it, the app allows you to choose all the information you might want available offline—like contacts, maps, weather, even screenshots—and print them out. You take this sheet of paper, fold it up, and there you go. It’s your Paper Phone.
The whole premise should be absolutely insufferable. Instead, it’s a surprisingly convincing demonstration of how well the information we all feel that we need our phone to access can so easily be decoupled from the addiction-device.
One page might hold some of your contacts. Another, sudoku puzzles, recipes, even a short Italian phrases guide for traveling. Unfold the entire book, and there’s your map to wherever you need to go for the day. There’s even a replacement for Google Pay. You can cut tiny slots to hold your credit card, like a wallet.
The Paper Phone is almost punchably clever. That’s in part because it’s spiritually reminiscent (and likely inspired by) of one of the most beloved experimental devices of the last decade, the Little Printer. Designed by the now-defunct studio Berg, it was modified receipt printer that could print tiny newspapers, task lists, and even messages from other people—all as a means of bringing your digital life into the screenless world.
Paper Phone is not the only project Google is sharing in its new Digital Wellbeing Experiments, and sure, it probably won’t be the most used, either. Other projects require less of a commitment to unplug, like the Unlock Clock (which turns your wallpaper into a giant counter of the times you’ve opened your phone today) or Post Box (which consolidates all of your push notifications to arrive at one time rather than in a constant, distracting barrage). The most practical project might actually be Desert Island, which can turn off everything but your most essential apps (like email) for a day. Eager developers can even get access to certain Android APIs to build wellness experiments themselves on the site.
All in all, the initiative demonstrates that Google continues to think about its impact on our well-being. Now, we might start asking if and when the company will ever actually crack the code on the problem of digital-analog balance. Or if Google will go down in history as another Philip Morris, eagerly backing the latest research and advertising to curb addiction while using every other effort to actively ensure it.