The following is the full transcript of Canadian inventor and entrepreneur, Ann Makosinski’s TEDx Talk titled “Why I Don’t Use A Smart Phone” at TEDxTeen conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Why I Don’t Use A Smart Phone by Ann Makosinski at TEDxTeen
The last time that I used a flip-phone was 3 hours and 24 minutes ago. This is my phone. It flips open like so. A lot of people might call this flip phone design an old phone which is what someone at the airport security called it. I was like no, I just bought this. I just got my first phone ever this September, which was four months ago, when I had to get a phone because I was going off to college, and I needed to make long distance calls.
Let’s just get this straight for a minute. I’m 18 years old and I’ve never had a phone and I’ve been very privileged to live on the beautiful island of Victoria, of Vancouver Island where everyone there basically has phones. And that means I lived through all of high school and middle school without a phone.
Carrying around a flip phone is not conventionally considered nowadays as being a cool kid. But I’m here to tell you today that carrying a flip phone at the age of 18 definitely defines you as the cool kid.
So my name is Ann Makosinski. I’m 18 years old. I’m from Canada. And I suppose you could call me an inventor, and it’s actually funny because when I was a kid, I actually identified with the term differentist which was something that I made up, which is where I just wanted to be different. And even though it may not appear that I am a differentist nowadays, just like everyone else, I talk like everyone else, I was actually almost in a way trained from the get go to be different.
So how was I trained from — I guess you could say — trained to be different as a kid was that my parents never gave me that many toys at all. I didn’t have a Tamagotchi, a Nintendo or Wii and Xbox, nothing. What they gave me, however, was a hot glue gun and I had to make my own toys. And that’s where the first area of me almost being put in a position, or almost forced to be in a position where I had to be creative in solving one of the first problems you ever have as a kid, which is how to keep yourself entertained.
[Video: This invention was my second invention. And it is called [curation]. The one I just showed you is called invention. Because that’s the first one I made. Now this one – you see this flag one. It’s post, so he can sit down on him. Or I can sit down on him. Curation, but I don’t sit very long, because he can break.]
So that was my first experience with creating things, and other than not being given that many toys, some toys that I were given were a bit odd compared to my friends’ toys that they got. And actually here’s a photo of me playing with my first set of toys, which was a box of transistors and electronic components. And it was really from the start here that I was introduced to the world of making things with my hands, which I feel is a skill that’s almost being lost in some areas nowadays, and it’s actually becoming like quite high in demand for jobs if you can actually like do things instead of typing all the time, just saying.
So, yes, I was always making things and being engaged. And as a kid, I wasn’t allowed out very much on play this or things like that until I had finished all my chores and practiced my piano, I’m sure lots of you can relate. My parents came from very different backgrounds, one was from Poland, another from the Philippines. And it’s funny because a lot of parents come up to me and they’re genuinely very concerned on whether they should give their kids toys or not. What I generally advise, not that I’m an expert, is that if – as long as you don’t give your kids this many toys, I think you’ll be okay. But what I found was that creativity for me and making things was born out of a necessity because I didn’t have that many things to play with. And I really think it’s important to encourage your kids, because I know as parents you want to give your kids the world. You want to give them everything you have.
My dad was a skateboarder back in the day. And when I was, I think, 13 or 14, I was like, oh, well, I want to learn how to skateboard and be cool. And I was just given a skateboard, and it is still sitting in my room in the corner. And I have never touched it.
And what happened was I would just like, oh cool, I would skateboard. I can skateboard now. I just love it. If I had been given, for example, just the wheels and then I had to get a little job and work for it or do tours around the house, get in the lounge, save up, design the board and then put it all together, I would have valued that whole experience so much more that I would actually probably be like a pro skateboarder by now or something like that.
So I think it’s really important when you are in your younger years for people to encourage you on your passions but not to give you everything to give you that head start, because I wasn’t given many toys. I got entertained by almost like anything. I think I am like smelling a rock here, like I was pretty insightful kid. And I have to be honest with you and say that I’m not very culturally educated in some aspects. For example, I was brought up watching a lot of 1920s and ‘30s films. I’ve never watched Star Wars or Star Trek, like don’t kill me, it’s just not something that I watch. For reason, this fact of also just not having a phone as a teenager limited my time talking with people but I never felt that I had – I never felt like oh my god, I’m missing out by not having a phone. And some teenagers hear me know, it’s called FoMO which is fear of missing out. And I never had that because I was so content with what I was given and how much more I had to pursue.
So what did I do in my spare time? Well, when I was in middle school, I was definitely not what you would consider a cool kid. You know, I was not the person you’d be like oh my god, I so want to hang out with them. Because well, first of all, in middle school and high school you’re really judged a lot, and I was very unconfident at first of how I appeared. I had short hair, glasses, braces, or [just in guys] clothes, and I didn’t have the coolest stuff, and people would come up to me and they’d be like, oh, what a handsome boy you are and I’d be like, thanks, and I’d just like walk away.
So I was definitely quite a loner but I did look up to some people in my life and while a lot of teens had modern like pop stars or actresses and actors they looked up to which I totally respected and I have some too, who I looked up to is a little different. And I couldn’t always relate with them. So for example, my family has the privilege of helping out with the Ravi Shankar archives. And so Ravi Shankar was a musician who brought the whole Indian culture and music from the East to the West in the ‘60s and ‘70s and really helped generate the hippie movement, and he worked for George Harrison.
And we had the privilege as a kid that I would travel to California and each summer I would learn from him and learn how his love and passion for what he was doing and bringing it and introducing it to people who had never seen any of this stuff before with something that he loved so much. And that really inspired me and one time we went and visited his family in India. I just was so shocked by the poverty there. That was the first time I’d ever experienced something like that and I was around eight years old there. So it was a huge shock.
And another time we went and visited some family in the Philippines, and I saw houses like this which you don’t see regularly where I come from in Canada. And I was just so taken aback. I didn’t fit in. I knew there were problems in the world, and I wanted to find a way to fix it simply. But I never thought I could actually accomplish any of that because I was just a regular teen who nobody really seemed to like except for a couple of outcast friends I also had.
So the two things my parents noticed that I loved to do was to tinker and to talk. And so I was enrolled in something that a lot of popular kids in high school do, just kidding, which is the science fair. So this is me in grade six. I looked like Harry Potter. I was very proud of this photo, by the way, I was comparing laundry detergents. So I started making projects and I started to get into the area of energy harvesting. I got the inspiration for my project when one of my friends in the Philippines told me that she failed to grade in school because she couldn’t afford electricity. So she didn’t have any light to study with at night. And this brought me back to my childhood days where I had a problem that in the beginning was for myself, I had to find a way to entertain myself, so I’d make my own inventions of my own toys.
But here was a problem that my friend had and I was like, oh, why can’t I invent a way to maybe help her out. So for that I made something that you may know me as the Flashlight girl for which is a flashlight that runs off the heat of the human hand. And that brought me to a whole new journey where I suddenly learned to be confident in who I was, because at first, to be honest, I didn’t think anyone would ever be interested in my project and to go to places like the Google Science Fair, it was absolutely amazing to see that people were really inspired in what I was doing. This year I presented my latest adventure which is called eDrink and it’s a coffee mug that utilizes the excess heat of your hot drink while you’re waiting for it to cool down and converts it into electricity, so you can eventually charge your phone or iPod from it.
Just because you’re in college and that you’re a university student, that does not mean that’s the only thing you are, that does not mean that like oh you know, I’m in university, you leave it at that, you’re not doing anything else. You can pursue whatever you want to do. You can start when you’re in high school. When I was in middle school I started making something – you can do whatever you want and you can — anything you dream of is possible but you have to start and work on it even if it’s just 20 minutes a day. That’s what I really wanted to emphasize today is that you have more opportunity and time to create when you have less. When you’re given less to start off with, your brain is designed to come up with different ways to solve your problems and to solve other people’s problems and issues.
And I think that’s so important to emphasize especially in today’s society where access — and like buying this and getting that, oh, that’s the latest fashion, so I should be wearing that and I should throw out everything else that I have is kind of the trend. And I really think in a way this kind of sounds slightly controversial but I truly believe that disconnecting helps you connect and create more. You don’t think about it but you will pick up your phone, you will check it like a couple seconds or a minute ever so often. And you think oh, I’m just briefly checking my phone. But if you add up every single minute, every single second you spend on your phone per day, it’s pretty terrifying. Really minimizing your distractions, so you can use your time most effectively is really important.
If there’s one thing I can leave you with today, for all of you who possess phones or even other devices, small electronic devices, it is that the next time you pick up your phone, think of all the possibilities off your phone and not on it.