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Why I Switched To A Dumb Phone

This is a guest post by my friend, Jen. We both enjoy running experiments that push the edges of our “comfort zone”. Jen had the courage to do something I’ve only dreamed about doing: she traded in her smartphone for a dumb phone. Here is what she learned.

It was one year ago that I switched to a dumb phone. Remember those? That’s right, a brick-like contraption with push buttons, a pixelated screen, and you guessed it – T9. And just to get any questions out of your mind – no, there’s no Snake. But there is FM radio – and it’s not streaming. Free unlimited radio. Remember the days?

So why did I do this? I get that question a lot. So by popular request, I’m writing this article about it.

I’d tried to kick my internet addiction in a number of ways. Hey, can you blame me for wanting to curb my screen time? These shiny devices they called iPhones and Androids come with built-in “use me” addictive features. It’s just so easy to move your thumb over to the next coloured square and open the next app. It’s like a slot machine. Each time you go on, you get random timing (will you have any updates? Or none) of a random reward level (e.g. did your crush send you a Facebook message?). Apple has actually said that on the next release of the iPhone they are going to add some features that help reduce smartphone addiction.

So there I was, checking away. I tried deleting the apps. They came back. I tried using blockers. Easy to disable. I cancelled my data plan. And added it back. And in moments of social anxiety, it was all too easy to find a public wifi network and just…scroll. Keep in mind that I don’t have any other addictions (well, maybe chocolate sometimes!). But the internet is just this pervasive thing with unlimited info. For someone who loves learning like me, it can be an endless rabbit hole. On one of these learning blitzes (ever find yourself on a random Wikipedia page and wonder/forget how you got there?), I happened upon some articles about how a lot of tech CEOs and executives had started switching to dumb phones. 

I’d also been reading at the time that willpower was finite, and used up throughout the day – so if you said no to chocolate 20 times in the morning and afternoon, it might be harder to say no again in the evening. I thought I’d rather use my finite willpower on resisting chocolate, rather than resisting moving my thumb one millimeter in a way that the device was designed to make me do. I think this research may have since been debunked, but either way. I decided I’d give a dumb phone a try.

I went to my local discount mall, and was greeted with more options than I could have imagined. Who knew that dumb phones had so many features? I wanted a flip phone for posterity’s sake, but somehow they all had email! Can you imagine checking and writing email with T9? I started going around asking for phones without email, to the shock and amazement of the shopkeepers. Finally, like a fountain appearing out of the desert, I happened upon a Nokia that had FM radio, dual SIM card capacity (!), the ability to insert a microSD card and store 32GBs of MP3s. And it was only $30. Sold!

My first few days with the phone were a bit tricky. Among the hurdles, the most difficult one was probably that sending texts took way longer than before. However this had the unintended positive consequence of leading me to call more. 

I’ve been rocking the dumb phone for about a year now, and I love it! I don’t know if humans were built to take in tons of incoming information all throughout the day. For me, that’s too stressful. My therapist has been very supportive of the idea – he calls it a health phone. At social events, I’m very present – I have no choice to be since there’s no source of endless info in my pocket to check and use to avoid awkwardness. I just check my email, social media and such on breaks at work (e.g. at lunch), or stay for a bit after work to check it. Also, I feel a lot less overwhelmed on an ongoing basis. Plus, the battery life is incredible! The Nokia had 5 days battery life. And when once I left it in a field for 2 weeks, someone found it and it was still on and functional (despite there being rain). I’m now trying the Doro PhoneEasy 520X, which was made for seniors. Cons: low battery life. Pros: 2.3 megapixel camera, daily reminders, and very loud!

The most common question I get asked (aside from “WHY?”) is “What about Google Maps?”. Well, to answer that, I like to write down my route in advance of departing from my office. I have a paper agenda. And when I book things, I write in the address, major intersection, and directions if I need them. And if I get lost, I just ask someone. And if they don’t know…well likely that funny little buzzing thing in their pocket (their smartphone, silly!) does – and they’re more than happy to take it out and help a smartphone-less wonder like me.

I should also mention that I don’t have internet at my house. But perhaps that’s a subject for another blog post…

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