November 13, 2023

5 Calls App
iPhone app:

If you're interested in calling your representatives in the US government to voice concerns, raise an issue, or make your stance as a constituent clear, I started using the 5 Calls iPhone app this week, and I highly recommend it ⭐⭐⭐

When you download the app, you can navigate to the gear icon on the top left, and set a time for when you'd like to receive a call reminder notification (this is basically the only customization you can make, which is all you need and wonderfully simple):


You can then select the issue you'd like to call about and input your zip code. With this information, the app pulls up your representatives, along with their phone numbers. It cycles through each of them with a script that contains related legislative information, and moves to the next representative after you input your call results:

After you make all of the relevant calls, it shares the all-time total of calls that have been made from the app, as well as the number of calls on the particular topic you called about:

It's a strikingly easy-to-use, functional, simple app, which takes an annoying problem (what number do I call and what information can I share to voice my opinion most effectively to my elected representatives), and offers an accessible, easy, and time-saving solution. Honestly, with all the bells, whistles, and over-promises of the majority of software I use, this app was refreshing useful.

It had me thinking about aesthetics vs. usability in design, which I think has gone too far in favor of just aesthetics. Prof. Nicholas de Monchaux, in an MIT Tech Review piece from February, argues that design has mainly lost its way due to the commercial promises of the "new": 

it was Alfred P. Sloan’s equally important innovation at General Motors, in 1924, to introduce design as the signifier of new annual models and different price and status points for mechanically similar vehicles, from Chevrolet to Cadillac—a wasteful commercial tour de force. 

It is no coincidence that companies seeking to make products that are both transformational and accessible—Tesla, Apple, even IBM in its day—proclaim an elegance of surface finish as the (presumed) manifestation of an overall technological sophistication, even as they exploit the commercial value of style and status as well.

While design can be a source for great good, it also shares responsibility for our current ecological crisis; every new thing is perhaps not much better than the old thing.

His is an enlightening point: I believe that, when it comes to software, our modern age of design-for-commerce's-sake has generally come at the expense of usability. All of this is a long-winded, rambly way to say: thank you 5 Calls for creating some good ole simple, useful tech.