Monster sticky note on cell-phone screen

Last month, when involved in a teaching seminar in France, I ran across this utterly curious scene. It’s basically a cell-phone with a piece of paper that shows a drawing, stuck on the device’s display. The drawing features a sort of animal quickly scribbled.

This is exactly the sort of artifact that I like to find in my peripheral vision. Quick drawings, paper, duct tape and a technological devices: those are the ingredients that generally leads the observer to spot a bottom-up innovation of sort. De Certeau at its best probably. Seeing this, I thought that the user of this device had a specific use for this: perhaps aesthetical (a kid’s present), most likely functional.

Fortunately, the “user” of this phone was close and I had the opportunity to ask her what it meant. She told me it was a reminder. Interestingly, in French, a reminder is called “pense-bête”: literally “a reminder for stupid people” but “bête” not only means “stupid”, it’s also a term employed for “beast”. This user thus created a drawing of a small beast on a piece of paper as way to signify it’s a reminder.

The thought process is clear here: the stick note is put in a convenient place (the phone display) and for both aesthetic/functional reasons, it takes the form of a piece of paper with a quick drawing. It’s also stunning to see how the phone screen is used as surface to put additional information (and subsequently cover up the screen itself!).

Why do I blog this? This is a fascinating example of bottom-up creativity that corresponds to how users create their own personal (and meaningful) personal solutions in everyday life. What is important is that the phone itself supports that very same functionality (reminder/virtual stick note). However, the user preferred the use different material (paper, pen, duct-tape) to do it. This can be seen as a good example of the difference between a feature and its instantiation from the user’s POV. It’s not because the phone has a reminder system that it’s going to be used… simply because the whole system is different and does offer the same level of personalization.