Re: The dumbphone experience

Authors: Caolan <caolan@caolan.uk>

Posted: 04 February 2021

On 24th April 2019, my phone died. It had corrupted two SD cards in a row so - in no mood to ruin a third - I grabbed a cheap Nokia from the cupboard and swapped my SIM card. For the following three weeks I would live smartphone-free.

That was almost two years ago. I bring it up now in response to Idiomdrottning's gemini post¹ about life with a 'dumbphone'. She outlasted me by far - three years instead of three weeks - but I might still have something to add. Because, as I aclimatized to my Nokia, I kept notes that captured a moment when I was fresh from smartphone life and still learning to adapt.

I noticed the silence first. Not that it was quiet. Without the constant input of videos, podcasts, and games my brain had to put on its own show, and after 24 hours my head was a cacophony. My thoughts would settle down over the next few days, but I worried how much I'd surpressed my own analysis with constant input.

Life with a dumbphone was less independent. Without the ability to easily Google everything I relied more on advice from friends and family, and in small acts it helped nurture those bonds. When I adjusted my bike that week, for example, I phoned my dad instead of watching a stranger on YouTube.

I admit there were times it may have been irritating: texts or phone calls so others could act as my proxy to the internet. Or times when I missed events or decisions because I lacked a connection. Being uncontactable isn't always socially acceptable these days, and you're expected to bear the cost.

A dumbphone demands discipline too. I couldn't act on every impulse - my ideas just had to wait, jotted in a notebook to return to later. I wondered if novices at meditation felt the same way setting aside their thoughts. In the end, I found this focus helpful. For those three weeks I was a little more creative and productive, I read more, I talked to more people, and I learned just how addicted I was to my phone.

The number of times I felt pangs of needing my phone, for no reason, was pretty shocking. When you push it's buttons, it's pushing yours right back. You soon begin to crave it.

There was a moment in a coffee shop, however, when I genuinely missed the distraction of a smartphone. I'd sat down after ordering my coffee and realised I had _nothing_ to do. No window to stare out of, no pen and paper, no company to talk to. Eventually, I felt so conspicious I had to find something - anything - to read. I searched the coffee shop and returned shamefaced with an angry tabloid newspaper. After that, I resolved to keep a notebook and a couple of crosswords in my bag.

With a little planning, I found I could avoid most hardship. I took a camera when I might need to take a photo or a book if I might be waiting. But some software was more difficult to replace. The most painful loss being maps and GPS. I've lived in this city for several years now, so I can usually navigate unaided, but even here, I yearned for opening hours, weather, and bus schedules at my fingertips. An unfamiliar city would have been too much.

On 14th May, a new Pixel 3a arrived from Google and I rejoined smartphone society - partly because we'd planned a trip to Japan later in the year, and I knew I'd want maps. For a few months I was more concious about my use and hid apps from my homescreen. But reading these notes now, I realise I've fallen into old habits. Perhaps it's time for another break.

1. The Dumbphone Experience, by Idiomdrottning

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