Here comes the screenless internet

This is really interesting: Farhad Manjoo experiments with the “screenless Internet” — doing everything by voice instead of computer or phone. He’s having a lot of success with it.

I love to walk and have sometimes speculated that someday in the future I’d be able to do my whole job just walking around, talking and listening into AirPods. Manjoo seems to be doing just that — today. Or he’s nearly there.


Here’s what I do: Instead of writing, I speak. When a notable thought strikes me — I could be pacing around my home office, washing dishes, driving or, most often recently, taking long, aimless strolls on desolate suburban Silicon Valley sidewalks — I open RecUp, a cloud-connected voice-recording app on my phone. Because I’m pretty much always wearing wireless headphones with a mic — yes, I’m one of those AirPod people — the app records my voice in high fidelity as I walk, while my phone is snug in my pocket or otherwise out of sight.

And so, on foot, wandering about town, I write. I began making voice memos to remember column ideas and short turns of phrases. But as I became comfortable with the practice, I started to compose full sentences, paragraphs and even whole outlines of my columns just by speaking.

Then comes the magical part. Every few days, I load the recordings into Descript, an app that bills itself as a “word processor for audio.” Some of my voice memos are more than an hour long, but Descript quickly (and cheaply) transcribes the text, truncates the silences and renders my speech editable and searchable. Through software, my meandering memos are turned into a skeleton of writing. The text Descript spits out is not by any means ready for publication, but it functions like a pencil sketch: a rough first draft that I then hammer into life the old-fashioned way, on a screen, with a keyboard….

I do the best of my research through interviews — somebody talks to me and I write down what they say. Additionally, I’m often talking with colleagues and writing down to-dos during the conversation. Hard to imagine going screenless for those things.

I recently realized I’ve been wearing my AirPods wrong. Well, I knew they were wrong before; rather than having the stems hanging down, like most people, I screwed the AirPods into my ears and the stems stuck out horizontally. But recently I realized that they were actually more comfortable if I wore them the regular way. They felt like they were going to fall out, but they are pretty secure. And they stay connected to the iPhone better, and respond better to touch controls.

Also, I can hear external sounds very clearly when I wear them properly. For many people, that’s a flaw in the AirPods, but to me it’s a feature. If I want to talk with someone standing in front of me, I can leave the AirPods in and talk with them normally. Indeed, if I have a few phone calls during the day, I sometimes just leave the AirPods in my ears.

So yes I can see the screenless internet coming, not far away. We’ll still use our phones and PCs quite a bit, just a lot less than before, just as we now use our PCs quite a bit but less than we used to since smartphones came along.

A nitpicky note on Manjoo’s column: I don’t understand what this RecUp app does that Voice Memos doesn’t do. I get that it lets you record without having to title your individual recordings, but you can do that with Voice Memos too. Just … don’t title them.

I found Manjoo’s column to be quite exciting, actually. So much so that I wanted to write this response right away. So I reached for the keyboard near the couch, propped up the iPad, and tapped out this post. Nope, we’re not at the screenless internet just yet.

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