What’s on Your Home Screen, Erica Joy Baker?
This is “What’s on Your Home Screen?” a Q&A column from OneZero. We want to understand more about how people use their smartphones — those life-consuming devices we dump hours into every day — to pave a way toward a better future. Or at least a more reflective one. We’ll add new entries regularly, and each will feature a new interview with a notable person about the apps they use, how they’re organized, and whether those red bubbles drive them nuts.
Erica Joy Baker, an engineering manager at Microsoft, knows how to organize a home screen. Each section is color coordinated. Apps are clustered according to purpose. There are some — but not many — notification badges.
One key: She keeps a separate device for business. Many of us have never lived in a world where we would have, say, a “BlackBerry for work.” Instead, we consent to our employers having some control over our devices so that we can have fingertip access to services like Slack or Asana, blurring the line between our professional and personal lives. Convenient? Sure! But maybe not wise in a world that’s already overstuffed with “everything” devices.
Erica keeps things separate, which appears to make her personal device a bit more controlled overall. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t get stuff done on her own iPhone: to the contrary, the thing is loaded with travel apps, Duolingo, and Todoist. You’ll notice Slack is there, but it’s not used for what you’d think.
Our conversation helped me remember how personal phones can be useful, sensible tools like other gadgets, meaning they don’t have to be notification-loaded monsters that erode your sense of well-being. (Er, not that I’m projecting.)
What follows is our chat, edited for length and clarity.
Erica Joy Baker: I would say that’s correct. It’s definitely organized by color, and it’s all the stuff that I need to have handy. Except for Coinbase. I have that because my partner works at Coinbase.
I have eight more screens of apps, but the ones on my home screens are the ones I use the most, except for Todoist. That’s aspirational.
Since I started working at Microsoft, I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to handle my to-dos. The thing I like about Todoist is, I have an IFTTT thing happening. When I tell my watch, “remind me to do blah blah blah,” it transfers to Todoist. I forget stuff all the time. That’s working really well with Todoist, but I don’t know how to set that up using all Microsoft things.
I mean, it’s important to use the apps that your co-workers are creating and dog food what your company is selling. I don’t feel pressure. It’s not like, “oh you must use these!” But it’s like, if I’m working here, I want to use them.
My work phone has all the Microsoft stuff on it. I like to keep a very clear line between work and personal. I’m very aggressive about my boundaries, my work-life balance. When I put my work phone down, I’m away from work.
When I was working at Slack, I had work Slack on my personal phone. I’m in, like, eleventy thousand Slack groups. One of them was my work Slack, so I had that on my personal phone. Like you said, I couldn’t disconnect from work. It’s an unhealthy way to be, for me anyway.
If you’re around, people will talk to you. I did an experiment at one point. I wanted to see what would happen if I sent messages at 11:00 p.m. And people responded. I was like, this isn’t healthy. We should all be in bed or watching Netflix. At that point, I took it off my phone. It’s important to detach. You need that separate time to reset. When your brain is idling, it comes up with the best ideas.
That’s all friends. We use Teams at Microsoft. So, I have the eng-manager Slack, the Oakland Tech Equity Slack, org-camp, the “ex” Slack — a Slack for people who used to work at Slack — one for a nonprofit that’s starting up right now… They’re all not-work Slacks.
I’m pretty sure I have them off. I’m very anti-notification. I turn off notifications for most apps. I’ll probably turn them off for Todoist, because I don’t really use that right now.
Instagram can send me notifications. The default messages app can send me notifications. Signal can send me notifications. That’s it. I don’t allow notifications. I think they’re invasive. I will check the thing when I’m ready to check the thing. I won’t be beholden to my phone telling me to look at a thing.
Have you talked to people about the grayscaling of their screens?
I do that whenever I’m feeling like I’m spending too much time on my phone.
Many tech companies want you to always be looking at your phone. They thrive on your addiction to their things. Even Apple isn’t going to come up with a way to make you less addicted. Imagine if you were like, “Oh, I don’t need to get a new iPhone because I barely pick up the one I have.”
I started working in tech in 2001. I was at Google when the first Android phone came out. My relationship with my phone is very tied to my relationship with tech.
I live in San Francisco. What friends do I have who don’t work in tech?
But my sister uses her phone very differently. She doesn’t have all the productivity things. She’s got games for her kids to play. Picture stuff. Photo editing.
That’s exactly it. There’s TripIt, HotelTonight when I have a last-minute trip, all the different airline apps for when I check in. There’s another page of Airbnb, Curb, Via. I fly around too much, quite honestly, so I have to have those there literally always.
Netflix. It’s what I fall asleep to at night. I put on Parks and Recreation and fall asleep.
No. No, no, no. I don’t have work stuff on my phone, but I don’t think I have to not have my phone in my bedroom. My phone is pretty chill. I’ve made my phone not stressful.
It’s interesting you didn’t ask about The Wing. Not many people are going to have that.
The Wing is like a co-working space for women. But they have other stuff. They have interesting events. There’s a fireside chat with London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco. I want to remember to open that — if I put it on a different screen, I’d forget about it. Since it’s on my home screen, I remember to open it and look.
What’s on Your Home Screen, Erica Joy Baker?
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