With 'nomophobia' (the fear of being separated from your mobile phone) on the rise, I swapped my smartphone for a dumbphone for a week to see if it could make my relationship with tech less toxic
When I agreed to swap my smartphone for a dumbphone for a week, I thought the conclusions I’d reach would be inevitable - “It encouraged me to actually talk to people”, “I looked up from my phone and saw more of the real world” and other such revelations that would demonstrate that going iPhone-free would make life more stress-free and me, more socially confident. However, it unexpectedly left me feeling more isolated and lonely than I anticipated. And in all honestly, I’m a bit annoyed that it did.
What was my main reasoning for wanting to exile myself to the realms of smartphone Siberia? Essentially, it stemmed from an increasing loathing of my iPhone and what it was turning me into. Waiting in a queue - on my phone. Watching TV - on my phone. In need of an answer? Wikipedia it. Need to vent? Tweet it. In need of a date? App it. BAAAAH. My relationship with tech had become toxic and my attention span, shot, constantly clicking my phone into action every few minutes, seconds even, to see whether a new notification had flashed up on its screen and gliding from app to app to see what was new in the worlds of Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and text. Plus, Uber and Deliveroo were receiving so much of my money, that I might as well have had them on payroll. Somewhere along the way, I’d swapped sitting and thinking for sitting and swiping and the daily onslaught of instantaneous stimuli had left me mentally exhausted. But would taking a step back in time and trading in my iPhone for an older model really hold the solution? I found out.
Few phones conjure up as much nostalgia as an old school Nokia - the must-get gadget when I was in my teens. My time-travelling device of choice? The Nokia 105 - a small but sturdy blast from the past that allowed me to text, call and well, that’s about it really. Oh, and play Snake. Possibly the greatest game ever created (screw you Angry Birds). Dumbphone - 1, Smartphone - 0 and probably reason enough to ensure that it never leaves my bag again.
Next up, mastering the art of touchscreen-free messaging. Moving my thumbs clumsily from the 1 button to the 0, punctuating and capitalising with all the grace of a buffalo, my incompetent tapping of the keys to create simple words took an embarrassingly large amount of time to perfect. As a result, apostrophes went out the window, ‘what’ became ‘wot’, ‘because’ became ‘coz’, and with each ‘to’ that became a ‘2’ (much to the delight of my 15-year-old former self), the more my 30-year-old self started to miss my iPhone. The flipside however was that I became increasingly aware of the quality rather than the quantity of my messages (early 00s lingo aside) - the content of each text had to count as they took so bloomin’ long to type. When they eventually sent that is. Unfortunately hitting ‘Send’ wasn’t enough to ensure each text would reach their end destination. A confirmation would need to flash up 10 seconds afterwards for sufficient peace of mind that it had been delivered. An aspect which I was unfortunately reminded of when a text to friends cancelling brunch didn’t send. The result? A worried call from my poor (and understandably hungry) brunch buddies to my housemate (when I was in fact at my parents’), which led to him tentatively knocking on my door and finding an eerily deserted room with a pristinely made bed in it. Cue a flurry of concerned texts from them trying to decipher my whereabouts, discovered helpfully by me an hour later having finally found reception in a tiny corner of my parents’ house. A situation where more advanced steps in tech certainly would have been appreciated. Dumbphone - 1, Smartphone - 1.
What about its battery life? I don’t know about you, but for some very strange reason, my iPhone has started to drop from 30% to 0% almost instantly - going a day without charging it is unheard of. However, my Nokia laughed in the face of ‘Low Power Mode’ and lasted an impressive five days. FIVE FREAKING DAYS! No portable chargers needed and no bulky plugs taking up valuable space in my handbag; Dumbphone - 2, Smartphone - 1.
And finally, what about making actual phone calls - did I end up speaking to people more? To my surprise, no. When faced with a choice of either texting or calling, I still texted even though it took me much longer. Why? It sounds strange, but I was worried about inconveniencing people - texting has become so normalised that most assume that there must be something wrong or it’s an emergency if you call these days. So texting took too long to do, I thought calling would be frowned upon...and as a result, I felt quite isolated. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself. Looking back, I wish I’d been more proactive, but forcing myself to talk to people and engage face-to-face, or rather voice-to-voice, felt like too much of a change in behaviour and routine for me. This turned out to be quite eye-opening in itself and I ended up more mad at myself than at my iPhone. Did my smartphone or my dumbphone win that round? I’m not really sure.
The message that entered my brain was ultimately one of overwhelm
Would I switch to a dumbphone for good?
That’s a tough question. It did make things a lot less complicated using a phone that removed the temptation to check emails after a certain time and reduced the pressure to answer a constant conveyor belt of Whatsapp messages from numerous groups. And it saved me an awful lot of money too - it seems I can’t be trusted with Uber and Deliveroo and having a taxi or a hot meal only a swipe away. When I switched on my phone at the end of my week, I was greeted by 222 Whatsapp notifications, 3 texts (slight imbalance there!) and 12 Facebook notifications and as each flashed up on my screen, I involuntarily felt my shoulders stiffen and my brow furrow - it was a sensory overload, and not in a good way. The message that entered my brain was ultimately one of overwhelm and being able to focus on one thing before moving on to the next ‘ping’ proved impossible.
Of the messages that I’d ‘missed out’ on, were any of them actually important? Well, the birth of a really close friend’s baby and a pregnancy announcement from one of my oldest school chums made for fantastic news, but I was sad to have not been able to congratulate them sooner. Exceptional circumstances yes, but unfortunately it did fuel the flames of FOMO that were currently blazing in my brain.
So what’s the solution? The beauty of today’s smartphones is that they offer a variety of different ways to keep in touch - and, I can’t begrudge them for that. However, as long as that level of choice is within my grasp to such an accessible degree, it’s almost too easy for me to take those options to the extreme as the lines between work, life, relaxation and recreation become continually blurred. Does that mean taking the temptation out of my hands completely and ditching my smartphone for good? I’m not sure. Instant communication has now become so ingrained in our society that refusing it somehow means missing out on something or at least feeling that you are. In order for it to work for me on a long-term basis, I almost feel like everyone in my contact list would need to downgrade their phones too. Unlikely scenario, so I suppose the onus is on me to ensure that I use my iPhone to enrich rather than overload my life. Does that mean putting my iPhone on Airplane Mode at work so that I can concentrate more? Perhaps deleting unnecessary apps? I’ll give those a try, but I fear that with the temptations just a tap away, it’s a slippery slope for anyone’s self-control.