What Your Home Screen Reveals About You
What’s the best way to get a read on people quickly? I’ve been considering what single glanceable view would consistently reveal more about someone than any other. In prior eras, it might have been the magazines on their coffee table, or their record collection or DVD stack. It tends to land at some form of media collection.
Media gives us a large sample size, with a broad taste-driven range to choose from. And any medium is ripe for judgment: the material we know we should like, that will impress, versus the guilty pleasures or the we-just-plain-didn’t-know-any-betters. Ideally our glanceable view would be a private stash, not the public presentation. We want a true mix of actual consumption.
Today, the most revealing media collections are on our phones, and the home screen has become a personal profile.
Our phones are portals into other worlds. And each app is itself a gateway into another layer of personal choices. Nothing is more revealing than the selections we make here, this is quite literally the morphing of our minds with machines.
The origin of this newsletter and podcast was exploring advanced technologies fusing with humans to radically transform and enhance ourselves. In talks and conversations all over the world I encountered people deeply uncomfortable with the idea of humans plugging into digital systems such as brain-computer interfaces, implants, or artificial intelligence that knows us better than we know ourselves. I was struck by this reaction. When will we reach the singularity? When will humans and machines merge? I hate to be the one to break the news, but it already happened. You missed it while engrossed in micro-siloed social media news feeds. We’ve already merged with our machines. The deed is done, it’s now just an issue of increasing input/output bandwidth.
A look at a person’s phone home screen is a look at the person, a portrait of sorts. No, not a portrait — a fingerprint. Nobody poses or smiles through their home screen setup, it’s an objective reflection of who they are at that point in time.
To get to know someone with a mere glance, their home screen is a rich place to start.
First, there’s how each person structures it. We have the technically challenged Defaulters, who just let things fall where they may upon downloading and then live with it — assuming they’re even downloading, and not just running on the default OS apps. This group makes no choices at all about their home screen, yet it speaks volumes about them.
Then we have the minimalists with their half-empty home screens — to which I say, Really? Stop showing off and get some work done. We know you’re cheating with apps behind the home screen, you’re not fooling anyone.
We have the Hoarders, with their row after row of folders bursting at the seams. If we could peek, we’d see page after page after page of unused apps. At one point, each seemed so promising peering up from the app store shelves — like puppies hoping for adoption. How could anyone say no?
And the Strategists, with carefully placed apps and folders across topical clusters. They have a lot packed in, but with such a carefully designed layout it feels like sections of an orchestra awaiting the conductor’s command.
Finally, we have the Speed Freaks who factor thumb-span distance and ordered positioning for sequences of behavior that routinely occur together. This is the only group that changes app positioning more often than the Strategists, always trying to squeeze an extra millisecond out of the setup.
Of course there’s also the non-trivial issue of how many little red bubbles you have with notification number counts. Three categories here: The OCD clean-housers with none, the gave up long ago types with eye-popping scores in the hundreds (or thousands?!), and the head-in-the-sanders who turned off all such notifications.
Then we have the apps themselves. What goes on the coveted fixed-position bottom row? (on iPhones at least, do Androids have that?). What to do with the lower third that can be reached by a thumb with one hand simultaneously holding the phone, and the balcony with great visibility but requiring a second hand to access. Scarcity demands prioritization, and prime smartphone real estate is in heavy competition.
Aside from the obvious power-four default apps (Cal, Mail, Chat, Phone), what goes in the prime positions on your phone? Hit reply to let me know and I’ll report back on favs and obscure greatest hits next issue.
My Home Screen Approach (A Confessional)
As someone obsessed with systems and performance enhancement through technology, I have my special-emphasis categories. They are, in order:
1. Goal/Project/Task Management
3. Quantified Self Tracking
4. Ideas & Learning
of specific apps in each section, in a Notion gallery view of course.
Strategic Thinking for this lineup
#1 Goal/Project/Task Management - I previously had many apps here, but since Notion entered my life I’ve consolidation it all into the one. Goodbye Trello, Airtable, Google Docs, OneNote, and 95% of Evernote (Evernote was so big in my life, the remaining 5% still earns it a spot on the home page). This is now a 1 app category, my Life OS, located in the rock-star location where my thumb most naturally falls on the locked bottom row.
#2 Communication Apps have proliferated, so aside from the com apps on the locked bottom row (Phone & Mail), I keep the rest in a single folder in the other most natural place my thumb falls on the screen. Social Media apps are right above it, since they’re communication-related.
#3 Quantified Self Tracking - Two tandem folders in prime real estate, one for FITNESS apps and one for SELF (meditation & biometrics).
#4 Ideas & Learning - Running up the right side of the screen (prime position for a right-hander) are three folders: WORDS, AUDIO, VIDEO for idea exploration and learning.
#5 Photo/Video - Have to be able to grab shots quickly, capturing memories and documenting for later access.
This app layout is built for performance. It’s not particularly exciting to look at, it’s not creative expression. This is a get shit done approach.
I’m not fond of the monotonous blocks the iPhone uses and am certain I would prefer designing my home screen on an Android. However, I trust Apple with my data more than I trust Google with it. And iPhone is awesome in many other regards.
For something we interact with so intensively, home screen design is worthy of some thought.
The screenshots at this link
show the apps I prefer across the most important categories listed above. If my theory holds, it’s my single most revealing glanceable view — which I’m happy to share with you.
In future issues I’ll be exploring exceptionally powerful apps and how to make our technology more of a force-for-good in our lives, so setting the stage here.
I’d love to hear your home screen strategies or favorite off-the-beaten-trail apps for personal performance enhancement.