You know, I think we (as a society) made a mistake in going from PDAs to smartphones.

The distinction between them I'm making here is that a PDA doesn't have an internet connection and a smartphone does. (Yeah, yeah, Wi-Fi tablets and Palmphones blur the lines. This is a simplification.)

Imagine a device that follows the old Palm Pilot model: you do your stuff (email, reading, tooting, etc.) on it during then day and then it syncs overnight. The next morning, it's charged and up to date.


1. Apps that are just a bookmark/cached javascript for a website don't work. They have to actually function on the device. Which means they're not just an interface to a subscription service.

I mean, they *can* do subscription stuff but the interface to the device is mediated by the charging cradle. It's down to uploading and downloading packets. There's no say in how the user uses the information they get.


2. You can't really doomscroll. Maybe you've synced a night's worth of Twitter but once you run out, you're done. If you want to follow up on something, you need to wait until the next sync and by that time, the emotional grip will have broken.

3. Ditto for the whole surveillance-based engagement-increasing manipulation. I mean, it *might* be possible for the Official Twitbook App to do stuff like that but it's *so much harder* and probably not worth it.


3a) But you know what it's really good for? Long-form reading. Books or magazine articles are great on a PDA.

4. Security becomes much less of a thing as well. Because the network connection is mediated through the cradle and limited to known-format packets (and the cradle does its own validation), the attack surface is *much* smaller.

And anyway, most device malware is about stealing credentials, ad views or rankings. Most of that doesn't work on a PDA.


The good news is that existing phones can be repurposed as PDAs with an OS replacement.

(@kelbot is already doing stuff like this with a Pinephone, BTW.)

And a PDA OS is a lot easier to do as a FOSS project because of the lower security risks and because it doesn't have to deal with the cell network.

@suetanvil I like what you describe, but it does imply a world where people have at least two devices: PDA and computer. There are many, many people that their phone is essentially their computer as well. There's such powerful external forces that really want everything crammed into one device almost completely controlled by an outside entity. And the assumption that everybody is available at all times or able to access the internet all times seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. :(


Yeah, but I think reducing one's computing presence to one mobile device is also a huge mistake. If we're talking about rejecting a trend, that's another one to add.

Also: modern hardware is such that the PDA's docking cradle can easily be an Internet-connected embedded computer that does the proxying and (e.g.) copies your backups to your preferred cloud-based or self-hosted service. You don't necessarily *need* a dedicated computer for docking.

@suetanvil @kelbot
The Internet itself was the biggest mistake to begin with.

@suetanvil @kelbot wow wow 😮

What you describe sounds perfect for consciously consuming the Internet, rather than the sinkholes we get into today.

Also, imagine all this with #epaper! I use my Kobo ereader somewhat like that, for syncing books and articles. I'm on the lookout for a good RSS feed reader as well, and if we have some kind of offline client for email and Mastodon, how cool would that be? 💭

I wanted to go this route, but realized that I'd lose too much functionality that I rely on like maping and looking up information on the fly.

The middle ground I've settled on is to turn off all but the essential notifications. I've also uninstalled all profit-driven social media apps.

All my interactions with the Internet are now pull based and intentional to serve a purpose.


I did the same thing with my latest phone upgrade, but I'm kind of pondering getting a second device for actual computery stuff. Keep the phone as a phone + IM + camera + map device and use the other device for fun stuff.

Hmmm. My last PalmOS device (ca 2010) was a phone but didn't have data so it behaved like a PDA and dumbphone glued together. Maybe something like that would be a strategy?

@suetanvil yeah perhaps that will work. What has worked for me is I made my phone as boring as possible and have "modal" devices.

For instance, an ebook for reading prose, a handheld gaming device for games, etc.

I also utilize focus mode of my phone's digital wellbeing functionality to force my phone into a certain mode when a dedicated device would be inconvenient.

For instance when I'm listening to music, I'll turn on focus mode so that everything is inaccessibile while I'm listening to an album.


Switching to GrapheneOS also did a lot for my sense of well-being, FWIW. The lack of Google stuff and mostly staying out of the app store ecosystem removed a lot of mental pressure from my phone experience and actually made it pleasant to use.

@suetanvil this is why I have a Palm VX. Unfortunately no tooting, but handy for a lot of other things, also Space Trader :D


I have a few old Treos, one of which still works. Unfortunately, the Linux cradle driver code seems to have rotted. Whether this leads me to kernel hacking remains to be seen.

The thing that always frustrated me about PalmOS was its lack of memory safety. I kept having ideas for little programs and then I'd think, "yeah, but I don't want to risk corrupting the device" so I wouldn't.

But also, there are a lot of advances in mobile since the Palm era and I'd like to see them incorporated.

@suetanvil there are plenty of memory safe languages available for the palm. I was going to have a go at a TOTP client at some point but I haven't finished learning how to build Mac OS 9 apps with Codewarrior yet.


The last time I looked into this, I didn't like any of the other options. TBF, my reasons for not liking them were probably really stupid.

I did have an onboard Scheme system that I used for little hacking projects while killing time, though. I wrote a little utility to estimate the calorie count of pizza based on estimated diameter. (I got the constant wrong so it was way off but on the plus side, I ate more pizza so who's to say if it was really a bug.)

@suetanvil I love that it got you to enjoy life a little bit more through its inaccuracy. But I also get that if these languages were better they'd be the dominant one.


The Scheme system worked fine; I just had a too-low estimate of calories per square cm of pizza.

(And also of how many calories there are in pepperoni. If you don't *really* like it, I say go for a leaner meat. But I digress.)

As to languages, my opinions are strong and tedious but I picked Scheme because it was free and easy to hack on the device itself. Basically, I would kill time by playing "learn Scheme" on my Visor.

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