Behind the smartphone apps that power your daily life, chances are you have a picture that means something to you. You may have chosen your pet to be your background photo, for example. And those apps on your home screen? You may have organized them alphabetically or by colour. This personalization process can say a lot about who we are and what we value.
Samuel Veissière, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and co-director of Culture, Mind and Brain Program at McGill University, studies smartphone addiction and social monitoring – or the desire to watch and monitor others, but also to be seen and monitored ourselves. He says the placement of apps on our homescreens, such as social media tools, news sites or health apps, says something about how we monitor and connect with people in our lives. “We would not even have meaning in our lives without others,” Dr. Veissière said.
So, we asked nine Canadians to share their home screens and why they organized them the way they did.
Marsali Federico, Toronto
My home screen is a shot of my husband with our two boys. The reason for that is self-evident: family first.
But you may also notice that I have two time zones. My husband is currently overseas with the Canadian Forces as part of UNMISS (the UN mission in South Sudan). My clock app doesn’t have a time zone for where he is, so Kampala was the closest I could find.
The photo reminds me of the importance of what he is doing, and the similar importance of our family support to him. It is also good to show my boys to remind them that Daddy loves and misses them while he is away.
Andrew Truong, Woodbridge, Ont.
My wallpapers vary by season, but they all have one common theme: they are all Penguin Clothbound Classic covers of my favourite books (published by them, at least). Not only are the two-toned covers minimalist and clean, they also reflect my love of literature and my desired mood for each season.
Occasionally, I am reminded of my love for the Black Panther movie, for the cover of its curated soundtrack, and for hip hop music overall. Again, this wallpaper is minimalist yet reflective of my interests.
Angela Burton, Kaslo, B.C.
I use my cellphone mostly for texting my husband and friends who support me a lot with my condition [vestibular issues that leave me on permanent disability]. I also keep the camera and photos app side by side as I take a lot of pictures of my family and the many animals that I have. I love being able to check the quality of the picture right away and delete it so I don’t store poor quality ones.
I always have the flashlight app on my home screen as I am very unsteady on my feet as soon as it is dark out. The e-mail apps are kept handy as well. Having five children with many classes, appointments and lessons, means there’s always a constant stream of communication between all the teachers and instructors.
Brad Middleton, Toronto
First, the background on my home screen is a picture of my wife and me from our engagement photo shoot (six years ago). She has a matching background on her phone.
For my apps, I have tried to contain all my apps to one screen, and have logically grouped them into folders. The apps directly on the home screen are reserved for ones that are used regularly. The home screen apps can change: For example, Yahoo Fantasy is on the home screen during the NFL season, but sits in a folder during off season. Also, the most frequently used apps are in the closest proximity to the bottom, so my thumb can easily access them, while less-used apps and folders are near the top, as they are harder to reach with one hand.
Brina Gervais, Winnipeg
As a fidgety cubicle jockey, my beloved Fitbit app keeps me in line. As does Life, which tells me when I can break my fast. I mean, how else will I avoid Glynis’s candy dish in the cubicle next to mine? Not by sheer willpower alone, I’ll tell you.
I work in a creative industry, so I faint at the word “math.” I need the calculator within thumb’s reach. Same for my mail, reminders and calendar: They’ve got my back. Hell, they’ve got my whole life. Reluctantly, I also need my phone app (to remind me of the calls I’ve purposely missed).
Garrison Oosterhof, Waterloo, Ont.
I like having my apps organized by colour. I find it helps me remember where they are and is more satisfying to look at when I’ve checked each notification.
My background photos are usually pictures I’ve taken while looking for unique textures or perspectives. Using the iPhone camera, I try to take photos that are engaging to the eye, but aren’t colourful and distracting when they’re behind my colour-coded apps. For my current home screen, I like how clear I can see the “slice” of camera focus and how the bottom part of the wood panel looks like the cookie in an ice cream sandwich.
Jamie Brackpool, Waterloo, Ont.
My home screen focuses on aesthetics and accessibility. The choice of picture reflects my love for soccer, which is a huge part of my life as a fan, player and coach. The sport is part of my identity, so while the actual photo can vary, it is almost always soccer related.
The accessibility of my most frequented apps is the most important part of my layout. I value easy access to various forms of communication: phone for verbal, Snapchat for visual and Messenger for written. I also can’t forget about my music, which I listen to daily.
Karen Quong, Toronto
It’s the only photo I have ever adorned my phone with: the blue water is Lake McArthur (Yoho National Park: Lake O’Hara area) – I have never seen water this blue in my life.
I am always proud of this pic: proud to be Canadian, proud of hiking to such an amazing spot in this beautiful land. I was travelling with a friend visiting from Australia – she got a kick out of the Canadian Mighty Mouse pose.
It’s a great memory for me. Plus, the flag matches the red and white elements in my icons!
Tommy Wharton, New Westminster, B.C.
This screen is the core of what I care about. Right now, my son wearing the happiest smile on Earth is the picture but the image rotates between all the kids. Their faces are what I miss the most when I’m away in the subarctic and reminders warm me up.
My apps are minimal because I don’t need many distractions. They’re all music or writing related or contact necessities with one game the kids like to play when they sneak my phone while I’m in the shower. I have more apps than this but none are worth ruining the picture.
These reader responses have been edited and condensed.