Take me home tonight

Rethinking the quarantine home screen

Rebooting is a biweekly newsletter about how we can use technology to take better care of ourselves.


When your formative years are spent at a Catholic school that’s rocked the same uniforms since its conception, there’s little room for individuality. You could grow your hair out, but only halfway down your ears; and backpacks and shoes became at least as much a reflection of your parents’ wealth as they were an expression of your own style. Still, even in an environment where having any nail polish other than clear could land you in detention, there were ways to let your personality shine.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t honed in on my brand any further than “angsty preteen with severely undiagnosed ADHD,” which you could probably guess by looking at my binder. While most of my classmates color-coded their binders, mine was what I guess I’d call crumble-coded: the more creases and folds a sheet of paper had, the less important it was, so it got tossed to the back where it would gather more crumbles.

It was a mostly successful, if untidy, approach that successfully got me through middle school. But in high school, my classes started getting harder and my ADHD started making itself more known; that’s when my system started to fail me, and I needed to rely on more than muscle memory to remember where my important homework sheets were.

Over the past few months, I’ve gone through the same sort of readjustments with my phone’s home screen. What used to be a hub for all of my most-used work and planning apps felt unequipped for the quarantine lifestyle we quickly had to adjust to. Having quick access to all of my work tools made sense when the outside world still served as a pretty big distraction, and I was just as likely to pick up my phone to check a work Slack as I was to see if my friends were free to grab a drink. Now, my phone is my best tie to the outside world, and keeping my home screen so focused on work would only serve as a reminder of how little else there’s been to do, lately. So, I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to transform my home screen into something that will help keep me grounded when the world starts to feel like too much.

Back when I had things to do after work, like go to the gym, see my therapist, or take trips to the dog park, my home screen was the best way for me to keep all that information organized and within reach. Now that my biggest non-work obligations are weekly game and movie night Zooms, my life doesn’t really call for that much nit picky organization. Instead, other things have become more important, like staying in touch with friends, finding new hobbies to occupy my time, and focusing on ways to give back to communities in need.

So, with that comes restructuring my screen around apps that help me feel connected with the people I haven’t seen in months, stay current on what’s happening around the world, and ways to keep my mind busy when work and the news work become too much. I’ve replaced things like my calendar app and budget tracker with Headspace for meditation and Babbel for learning another language. The only two work-adjacent apps I have there now are Spark for personal email (don’t let work email creep onto your phone!) and Things, but that’s for more than just work stuff, like planning a creative writing project quarantine inspired me to start. Some of that work stuff does still live on my home screen, but I keep it on the second screen now so it’s still not right in front of me.

I also wanted to dig a bit deeper by replacing some apps on my home screen with Shortcuts for things I repeatedly do throughout the day. It’s not a new feature, but because I’ve had a lot of spare time lately to mess around in the Shortcuts app, I’ve been fiddling around with how they can get me to what I need with as few taps as possible. I have a Health shortcut that brings me to my Anxiety Check Shortcut, mental health subreddits, and mood/medicine tracker, which I highly recommend if the days have blended together for you, too. I also have one for all of my journals, so that I can quickly start writing into the correct one without having to swipe and tap through Day One to get to the right place. Journaling was a part of my life before quarantine, but lately, it’s been one of the only ways I’ve been able to commit some things to memory, so it’s gained a lot of importance this year.

There’s also one for all of my timers, which might seem counterintuitive for a home screen that’s built to bring focus away from work. I don’t use time tracking for my day job, though. Instead, I’ve started using it to see how much of my stay-at-home time has been going to different hobbies and projects. In addition to making sure I’m dedicating at least a bit of time to the things I’m interested in, it’s also helped give me a good idea of whether I’m giving myself enough downtime to relax. Together, all of this has given me a home screen that’s pleasant to look at, and connects me to the things that make me feel better, even when the world is crumbling.

Maybe your home screen doesn’t need intricate shortcuts to keep your most calming or enjoyable apps front and center, but if you’re in a state that’s opening too soon, you might be staying at home a little while longer for fear of a second wave, and with that comes a notable boost in screen time.

Getting rid of the work-related apps on your home screen isn’t just a way to reorganize your tools, it establishes boundaries and brings focus to things that can help get you through what’s been a pretty awful time.

Good Reads 📚:

Facebook pitched a union-busting tool it swears was really just for bullying (Gizmodo): This newsletter has always been about building a better relationship with technology. The pandemic has definitely started to shift that idea, but there’s something else I’ve been missing: the way our use of technology affects other people is changing, and it’s becoming increasingly important for us to be diligent about the products we choose to use, and how we use them. Facebook has done a lot of awful stuff lately, and advertising a tool that can help companies union bust is just one of the latest. Sure, the company said it plans to roll back the feature for now, but that doesn’t really mean much if they just come back to it in the future. Maybe Facebook isn’t going anywhere, certainly not overnight, but for a site that’s so ingrained in our daily lives, we should be pushing back against these attempts to stifle change and progress. That said, if you do plan on discussing unionizing with coworkers, don’t do it in your work’s Slack where prying eyes are watching.

Telehealth app Babylon Health allowed users to view other patients’ video consultations (The Verge): Thanks to the pandemic, telehealth usage has been booming. For people who don’t have access to nearby doctors or therapists, this is a promising shift. With that shift comes greater concerns, though, like patient privacy. This breach, according to Babylon Health, affected a small number of users, but this still isn’t reassuring for what may be our new normal. If we’re going to rely on these companies to provide the connection between doctors and patients, they need to be assuring us that we won’t be greeted with a stranger popping into our therapy sessions. 

How to clean up your old social media posts (Wired): The key to not having your gross tweets resurface years later is to just not tweet awful things. Still, we’ve all got embarrassing tweets from college, or takes that didn’t age well, and it’s never been a bad idea to routinely clean your feed. There’s lots of ways to do it, so be sure you’re picking the best one for the job. But also, just don’t be awful online or in person. 

Hey is a wildly opinionated new email service from the makers of basecamp (The Verge): I’ve been waiting to see what Hey is all about for months, and its launch today shows a lot of promise for a better inbox (er...Imbox?). By prioritizing emails by utility (things you read, people  you talk to, bills and tickets), there’s a good chance you’ll feel less anxiety when diving into your email. Plus, the ability to send certain people to the void (say, PR folk who somehow got hold of your personal email), will bring a bit more joy to your feed since you’re just seeing the emails from people you actually want to chat with. 

Just Browsing 🌐: 

And now, here’s something we hope you’ll really like 💕:

Actions for Solidarity: #BlackTransLivesMatter: Your feed might be less populated with graphics and statements about Black Lives Matter than it was a week ago, but that doesn’t mean our efforts to help Black communities can falter. This document is an excellent resource, filled with tons of information, that will give you plenty of ways to show solidarity with Black women, from volunteering, to donating and educating yourself. 

As always, if you have any questions, feedback, or just want to say hello, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.

My thanks to Medea Giordano for editing this issue