My Dumb, Smartphone

I hate how smartphones make me feel when I’m using them. And when I’m not. I hate that when I look around while waiting in line, or at a stop light, or sitting in a restaurant; that everyone around me is glued to a screen. And while the idea of ditching it all and reverting back to a dumb phone is marketed by some and temporarily adopted by others as the solution. It’s not. It’s a band-aid at best.

[This is where my internal, soap-box debate was deleted. For brevity, let’s just assume you at least partially agree that our world is growing ever more dependent on everyone having a smartphone.]

People reach for their phone like a smoker reaches for a cigarette. It’s unconscious. And half the time you think, “Ah, I need to…” and a moment later you’re down a rabbit hole. Chasing your notifications center and completely forgotten what you were actually going to do in the first place.

And when you think about switching to a dumb phone, what you’re doing is removing access. You still have a phone. You can still get text messages and often email. But you can’t install Insta-Face-Witter. The problem isn’t smartphones. The problem is access.

The defining line is that access. So the question becomes, how do you remove access to the life-wasting, addictive aspects of a smartphone without losing the abilities and access you actually need in the 21st century? Self-control is the most elegant solution, but humans don’t have that. So here’s what I did and have really liked so far.

As I’ve already conceded, there are a few apps that really should be on my phone beyond what came with it (like phone, text, email). Things like my company’s CRM and (for me) a construction-specific calculator. But that’s it. In other words, the dividing line for me was, if I get rid of this app, it means my need hasn’t gone away (like a construction calculator), so instead I’ll have to carry another, dedicated gadget. If getting rid of the app didn’t have a consequence like that, it didn’t make the cut.

With the list made, I did two things.

First, I put all the apps I wanted on my tablet. I moved all of my music, video streaming, social media, and other shit from my phone to my tablet. All of it. Officially equipped to do some serious life-wasting.

Second, I nuked all but the barebone essentials from my phone. My smartphone is basically a dumb phone now spare a few “essential” apps (that made the earlier cut, like the calculator in my case). But what’s not on my phone is any kind of media (music, video, podcast) or social (Strava, Instagram, etc.) app of any kind. It doesn’t get news or games. There isn’t a single distracting or time-wasting app on my phone.

The beauty of this is that my phone is what I always have with me. By creating the rule that my phone doesn’t get any apps, I’ve removed access without really any consequence. If I “need” something, I still have a smartphone to Google the urgent care center or access my contact book that would overheat a dumb phone. And everything I want is on a separate device that I now have to choose to use. All those moments in a day when I would have previously filled with screen time, are now void of it. And I determine where and when to spend my time with a screen on my dedicated life-wasting device.

So that’s my suggestion. You don’t need a dumb phone. You need to make your smartphone a lot dumber.