What giving up my smartphone has taught me

Spoiler alert: I brought it back

Nokia 3310 3g

Just because you can find use for a feature, doesn’t mean you should. The venerable Swiss Army knife comes in many configurations. Victorinox alone offers 400 models. It’s obviously not a one size fits all proposition. The same is true of smart phones, and the fact that they aren’t shipped with every available app installed and active by default confirms this. I anticipate you already realize this. Having had this conversation with my septuagenarian mother recently, however, I feel it’s worth mentioning.

A while back, my smart phone broke irreparably. I decided to use this opportunity to replace it with a current generation (yes, they have been advancing along silently in the background) feature phone. The first thing I realized is that it’s really complicated to “simplify” your phone experience. Especially in the US, where we maintain two discrete networks, only one of which will support a push button phone. Then, there’s finding a way to replace the features in addition to voice calls I’d come to highly value, but took for granted. For me, this includes:

  • Calendar
  • Timer / alarms
  • Notes
  • Navigation / Maps
  • Camera
  • Podcast app

At least one “dumb” phone I tried – the Nokia 6300 4g (I tried a few) did all of the above. But it didn’t do them as cleanly as an Android, Blackberry, iOS, or Windows Phone (yes, I’ve used all of those as well) can do. I think it’s fair to say that the camera, and navigation on that phone were near worthless. Plus, the KaiOS (all the Nokia feature phone interfaces, actually), is not as intuitive to configure and use as any major smart OS. I already had an aged iPod for podcasts. So I bought a dedicated GPS, a used digital point and shoot, and dealt with inferior versions of the rest.

You probably noticed that I have excluded two ubiquitous features, namely email and SMS That’s not by accident. I do use SMS, but it’s strictly a backup for the rare times my significant other or I might be in a fringe area where SMS works, but voice doesn’t (I live in a small town). I also find it handy for certain automated services which alert this way. But I personally decided I don’t like communicating with my thumbs. I’m a grown-up, and get to make that choice. So for the extremely occasional times I need to respond to a text, I can suffer through the 9-key interface, or in the case of the 6300 4G, I can utilize speech to text. Hence, it’s not a smart phone dependent feature. As for email, that’s something which I check and  process twice per day at most. And I’m not doing it on any phone. If it’s urgent, call me.

So I gave up the smart phone for the better part of a year, and now I’m back. The one thing which brought me back, really, was the calendar. Having a calendar that fits in my pocket, and syncs with my desktop calendar, was enough of a perk to work through dealing with the negatives. It’s not even like I have a lot of things on my plate, mind you. But that very reason makes it even more important that I have a system which requires minimal work on my part. As I compose this post, I checked to verify the exact Nokia model I mentioned, and came really close to buying another to try again. I haven’t bought it (yet). There’s a lot to like about not having a weapon of mass distraction in my pocket. But the truth is that it’s a lot easier to avoid distraction when I’m focused on something meaningful. My four year old will be in Kindergarten next fall, and that’s when I’ll be re-entering the workforce. And I’d really like to freelance. So having that target in front of me is helping kill the procrastination. Because I’ve learned that when you’re working at something meaningful, the things that get in the way naturally fall by the wayside. When I was a cog in the wheel of corporate America, I welcomed anything to relieve me of dealing with the fact that I wasn’t invested in my work. Ironically, the company for which I worked provided the very device I used to avoid working. I know I’m not alone here, as I managed the mobile devices for three different companies during my career. Something to think about if you manage employees…

One additional positive for the smart phone I only discovered after bringing it back, is the availability of apps to deal with spam calls. In researching which app to purchase / subscribe to, I came across a feature native to my phone whereby it only rings when the call is from someone in my contacts. I figured I’d give that a try first, and it’s been brilliant. Sure, I’ve missed a call here and there. But those were calls I wouldn’t have answered anyway. I can review the transcriptions of the voicemail, and add them to my contacts if appropriate. 

I realize phones are a divisive topic. The very brand can elicit passionate discussion among some loyalists. So please jump in the comments, and tell me where you think I did right, and where I could have done better. Or better yet, what has worked for you.

– Wilson

3 responses to “What giving up my smartphone has taught me”

  1. I applaud you on your attempt to not use a smartphone. But I’ve resigned myself to its “necessary evil” status. I hate how it can be such a distraction, but it can be useful in some situations, like while traveling and on a bike tour. And I’d much rather text message someone than talk on the phone.

    It is sort of amazing how fast the US adapted to smartphones and wireless internet with devices in general, especially in comparison to Europe. It’s probably because we are less urban in general. I got to see this when working at the hostel. Someone from Europe would want to find “an internet cafe” to check their email. Apparently it was still a thing over there even as late as the late-teens, where that concept pretty much died off in the US about ten years earlier. They’d get bent out of shape when I let them know that there was maybe one or two cafes that still had a token old public PC in the back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Taking a break from anything certainly gives perspective. I like doing this from time to time.

      Yes, traveling is where the smartphone really shines. Even though I’m not making bike trips, I aim to pack as light as possible whenever I leave the house, regardless for how long. There’s actually an interesting story behind that – I’m making a note to write a blog post on it. That’s a great anecdote about the European traveler / internet cafe.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. […] first blog post in this series highlighted my experience giving up, then bringing back, the smart phone. It was a […]


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