When talking to people about digital wellness philosophy — which has a component of “unplugging” — the idea of a “dumb phone” arises. Dumb phones (previously, “flip phones”) remind us of simpler times when phones brought great convenience, but did not necessarily take over our lives. It wasn’t abound with multi-level, ad-riddled, pay-to-play games (shout out to the original phone game, Snake). It didn’t bombard us with frequent push notifications from our newest social post and we weren’t constantly interlaced with the Internet.
Smartphones aren’t the worst, but wouldn’t it be interesting to experience life without one (for a week)? The challenge involves leaving my phone, powered-down, in the hands of a trusted partner and go about my daily life with a flip phone. The phone procured was the “dumbest” one on the market, although it still had two quintessential features: call and text.
Here’s some context on my day-to-day:
Life With My Smartphone
7:00 AM: Phone alarm wakes me up. Check notifications and determine which “need” immediate response. If none, proceed to open video-streaming app.
8:00 AM: Make breakfast while news / music is playing.
8:15 AM: Eat while streaming continues.
9:00 AM: Begin to answer emails and other messages on phone. Check the weather, check in-phone calendar.
When at work, my phone and I are attached at the hip.
7:45 PM: Get home. Keep my phone nearby incase I made plans, want plans, or changed plans. (Shower accordingly.)
8:00 PM: Use my phone as a “connected remote” to watch TV on a third-party television streaming portal.
10:30 PM Nuzzle into bed, have a drink of water, turn off the lights, aaand open my phone to read a novel. (Of course I have my blue light blocking glasses on and turn the phone to “dark mode.”)
11:ish PM: Plug my phone in and power down.
Challenges and Reflections
I locked up my smartphone on a Friday and would not see it for another 7 days. My first encounter with inconvenience was when my dinner plans were changed by decisions made in a group chat (my dumb phone did not have the corresponding app, or any “app” as we know it for that matter).
The following mornings now comprised of a guessing game via a cracked window of what the temperature was going to be. Thanks to New York weather, I was often too cold or sweaty. Without my smartphone, I gave into a sense of futility that there were certain things that I just could not do (call a ride-sharing service; contact certain people; check weather, news, email, mobile messaging, even Voicemail). Conveniently, my laptop would not connect to my apartment’s WiFi, buttressing my screen detox.
Something that hit me at the tail end of the challenge was how I naturally did somewhat of a social media detox. Because I am constantly looking to my smartphone to keep me preoccupied or busy, I’ll just go pop onto Facebook. I go on Facebook not because of a compulsory draw, but to burn the time between the gaps in my schedule. Perhaps this can be akin to smoking to cure boredom. Take that as you will.
Do I think I could give up my smartphone completely? The answer is no. I think if I were to do the challenge for more than a week, I would experience more frustration and more scenarios where I’m almost at a disadvantage without a smartphone. Using the dumb phone for a week made me realize my smartphone is not a necessity — it’s not a “need to have” but simply a “nice to have.”