Would You Swap Your SmartPhone For A DumbPhone?

Back to the Blokia...

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a Luddite. I don’t love technology, I’m very slow to get on board with new gadgets, I’ve never warmed to Kindles. I say on a regular basis that we’ll look back on our phone usage the way we look at the previous generations’ smoking habits. ‘We didn’t know how bad it was’, ‘We started too young’… And yet, with all that in mind, I am completely and utterly addicted.

I hate the scrolling, the FOMO, the constant checking, but for some reason, I can’t help it. Is it just pure habit rather than necessity or enjoyment? I thought I’d find out by switching to a ‘dumbphone’. The term refers to, you guessed it, the opposite of a smartphone, one that doesn’t have apps or social media. The Nokia 2660 flip phone comes in hot pink, it’s got an old school keyboard, internet but not wifi, and Snake and Tetris (phew).

Initially, the idea was to use the phone for a month and see how I got on. I quickly realised before I even started that it’s not exactly realistic to have a phone without email, Whatsapp or Instagram for both work and personal communication. So instead, I decided to try a weekend (with the view that I’d do longer if I could!). Spoiler alert: I lasted five days. The first major struggle came at bedtime. I’m a scroller. I will scroll on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram until my eyes force shut.

I found it bizarre not having that, as I’ve been scrolling every night for years now. The first night or two I found it impossible, but when I picked up my flip phone and realised there was nothing to keep me entertained, I quickly realised that reading for a while before turning off the night and closing my eyes was not so bad. My phone is what ‘helps’ me get to sleep, but only after hours of scrolling, like a really bad sleeping pill. Smartphones are so easy, and that’s the problem.

The flip phone has an old-school keyboard. We’ve become so accustomed to QWERTY keyboards, that texting proved to be the real struggle. I hadn’t used that type of keyboard since probably 2011. Clicking on the same button four times just to get an S brought me way back, but also meant I said a lot less in my texts! And the same went for pointless searches on Google. Because as I realised, I Google everything.

Can you defrost sausages quickly? Is the weather going to clear up? What age is Cillian Murphy? The flip phone does have internet and so I can Google things when I *really* need to, but because it takes so long, I usually just settled on not knowing instead. 

A non-exhaustive list of things I wanted to Google: 

  • What do you do if you burn yourself with hot oil? 
  • Dublin Bus times 
  • Am I doing this bench pull working thing right? 
  • When did Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging come out? 
  • What is The Last Of Us about? 
  • Are Fall Out Boy back?
  • What is ‘lox’ in a bagel + lox? 
  • What is in the Boojum salsa verde
  • How often should you book a smear test? 

Annoyingly, I got a lot more done. Like most people, I pick up my phone and scroll between tasks for fifteen/twenty minutes at a time. When the options were sitting there and doing nothing, or just getting up and putting away the laundry, or starting dinner, I chose the ‘doing’ option every time.

It’s amazing how quickly you get up off your bum when you have nothing to distract you. I can live without some apps, but not others. The phone has Facebook, but since I don’t really use it anyway, I didn’t even bother logging in. I thought I’d miss TikTok, but really it’s a brain-tickling app that isn’t at all essential. Instead, it’s a bit like a soap that you dip into, but find when you check in again on it a few weeks later you’ve missed nothing. I really missed Instagram, like an itch I wasn’t allowed to scratch.

My hands were used to clicking in, and I keep in touch with a lot of my friends on there too, or at least keep up to date with how their lives are going. Whatsapp was the one I couldn’t live without. I use it to communicate with everyone, and crucially, get photos and videos of my nephews. It’s become an essential part of daily communication for me and most people. Having no access to social media made me anxious, but having it is worse. The anxiety kicked in about an hour in, and by that evening I gave in and checked my Instagram and Whatsapp on my computer. Of course, I hadn’t missed anything important.

I’ve since realised that while the FOMO of not seeing Instagram stresses me out, the FOMO and comparisons that happen with it are so much worse. I don’t have to see anything specific to make me feel like shit, but the sheer volume of information from everyone from friends to celebs to news outlets is overwhelming and mind-boggling, and yet once I’m in it, I can’t stop. I use my phone way more than I realised. Obviously, we all spend too much time on our phones, but I didn’t realise just how often until I didn’t have it.

I scroll during conversations, during every idle second, and even *gulp* while walking down the street. It’s so part of my every day that I don’t even take notice I’m doing it. When I went for drinks and my boyfriend would go to the bar, I’d sit there, bewildered by what to do with myself for those whole five minutes. It seems that every second I’m left to my own devices I open Instagram or Twitter. I can’t remember the last time I sat in silence on my own, without my phone as a companion.

I picked up the Nokia so many times and just scrolled through the homescreen. My thumb would almost wiggle, waiting to find an app to click on, and none of it was for any reason other than habit. As you can imagine, it resulted in a lot of Tetris and Snake! We use our phones too much, but we’ve become too dependent to go back.

Heading to the gym without Spotify was one thing, but I use my phone to track my progress in the gym, via my notes app, I was stuck on an exercise and couldn’t quickly search it on YouTube, I couldn’t record my form when it came to deadlifts, and it made me realise just how much my phone has become my PA too. We use it as a diary, a calendar, and for reference via photos and texts. If I were to stick to the dumbphone, I’d need a Filofax that I can magically fit in my pocket.

After five days, turning my smartphone back on was like being reunited with a pet – I almost hugged it. The truth is, I jumped right back into essentially the same pattern. But now, if I feel myself scrolling too long, I physically put my phone out of reach, so that I can’t pick it up without consciously moving to reach for it. I wish I could say I don’t scroll to fall asleep but I haven’t been able to break that one.

If Nokia could slap Whatsapp and a QWERTY keyboard on the phone, I’d be far more likely to stick it out. But until then, I’m trying to delete my Instagram on weekends, and I think I might try another dumbphone weekend the next time I feel totally overwhelmed. 

This article first appeared in the September 2023 issue of STELLAR magazine. 


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