Photo by ZHIJIAN DAI on Unsplash

One job: The tech revolution I crave

Julia Mossbridge, PhD
4 min readApr 24, 2024

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There’s something to the idea that people grow into their names, or maybe it just seems that way because I’m thinking Steve Jobs today as I help my four parents in their 80s troubleshoot their declining vision, cognition, and mobility. I had called my highly educated early-adopter parents to help them yet again realize they don’t have to respond to every phone call, text, and email. I reminded them again that it was okay if they can’t figure out the new operating system that showed up and changed everything they just learned. That’s when I realized the thing about Jobs’ name.

Jobs is famous for his successful quest to combine a bunch of jobs into one device. “An iPod. A phone. An internet communicator…” he preached in early 2007 — he said it again and again to whoops and cheers. This phone was more than a phone. If you used it right, it could basically do everything. If you used it right. And just like that, digital technology went from a helpful service to a competence filter. A lot of things have become normalized since then —

  • Lack of eye contact in conversations with friends, parents, or children.
  • Well-heeled people slumped over in public places, gripping their techno-drug, empty of presence or joy.
  • Kids killing themselves because of what they see and do with technology.
  • The formal title of “genius” given to anyone who can actually operate our digital appliances correctly.
  • Constant surveillance.

When I got off the phone, I realized the dishwasher was done with the dishes. I know because it stopped its work. I really like that the dishwasher washes the dishes for me, and then it stops. It’s a great service and I only need it when I need it. It does its job, and then it’s done. It doesn’t try to, for instance, be a refrigerator or sell my data or help me buy another one of itself.

The dishwasher spoke to me — “This is the future of digital tech,” it said. “Be like me. I have one job, and I do it well.” I fell in love.

It’s just exactly time for a one-job tech revolution. I crave it for myself — for my son and all of GenZ, for my parents. No more shame of misunderstanding how to use every tool on the digital jackknife, no more addiction to supercompetent, superfast, super-stimulating anything. We need to go Amish, in a high-tech way. Not just the oldsters — all of us.

What do we actually need our digital technology to do, from a human standpoint?

  • Connect us with others.
  • Provide information when needed.
  • Create more time for joyful, creative human living.

What would a one-job tech revolution look like? Here’s one scenario. We’ll use video-phone walls for lifesize phone calls — that’ll be our connection. We’ll use voice-operated or gesture-operated “browsers” (not necessarily visual in nature) to get information. Social media and gaming will each have their own technology and it will be available by appointment, for limited hours depending on age. All technology will have a single button — the power button. We’ll use paper books to read.

Each piece of technology will have one job — the job it does well.

What impacts would this “retro” approach have, if we could pull it off? Here are some speculations. I’m thinking that if Apple were to create one-job technologies that are as beautiful as the iPhone, it could reverse some of the damage the iPhone has caused. A massive high-end market for one-job tech could lead to social pressure to reduce complexity in technologies at all price points. Requiring a separate technology to use social media than to interact with information on the Internet and to connect with other people could save generations from addiction.

I wonder if the most interesting impact might be a growing cultural recognition that it’s okay to be really good at one thing, and to go ahead and do that one thing. Because we idealize our technological creations, I think there’s an argument that ever since the iPhone, we learned to think that to be valuable as a person means to be able to do a lot of different things (”mad skills”) — colleges want applicants to be smart in everything and good at all extracurriculars. This mindset supports the “great person” fantasy that really great people can do everything (on their own) and succeed (without collaborating with others). Instead, it seems to me the coming “one-job” cultural insight will be that, just like us, individual technologies work best when they also have time to connect with each other on their “off” time, trading ideas and insights about how to make life better.

So do we, when we are served well.

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Julia Mossbridge, PhD

Acting CEO LightRoot Quantum, Affiliate Prof., Dept. of Physics and Biophysics at U. San Diego; Board Chair, The Institute for Love and Time (TILT)