hg: Two Years Without a Smartphone

My relationship with smartphones was a bumpy one.

It began in 2010 when I got the iPhone 3GS. It was an excellent device and the relationship blossomed during this initial 24 month honeymoon period.

After 2 years I was due an upgrade. I ruthlessly ditched my 3GS and replaced it with the iPhone 4S. By this point I was accustomed to the power of a pocketable supercomputer, but it felt like a step up in quality and came with new features. My love of smartphones grew.

Things started to go wrong in 2014. I had dropped out of uni and no longer had a student loan to pay my hefty phone bill. Working on a zero hours contract didn’t provide the funds either. I devised a plan to sell my iPhone at the end of its contract and buy a budget smartphone, thus pocketing a small profit. I’d then move to a sim-only contract that was half the price.

This plan marked another divorce from my current device, although it seemed to make financial sense.

It turned out to be a bitter divorce. Two weeks before my contract expired, I was idly sitting on the toilet, scrolling through BBC Sport on my phone. Let’s just say my phone ended up where it shouldn’t and no amount of rice was going to save it.

I also faced the laborious task of uprooting my digital life from Apple to Android. Ironing out this technical detail added to the lengthy divorce proceedings.

So, after throwing two hundred pounds down the toilet and escaping Apple, I purchased the Motorola Moto G. It was an inferior device but did the job admirably.

Trouble returned a year later. Things were going OK with the Moto G. It did everything I asked, if a little slowly. However, I was starting to feel it demanded too much attention. It was needy, always beeping and buzzing and unashamedly seducing me with promises of exciting messages, breaking news, or an Angry Birds high score.

I realised I spent too much time with my smartphone and had grown dependent. I couldn’t wait in line at the supermarket or watch TV without checking it. Quietly, over five years, it had become a buffer. A distraction from my immediate surroundings.

My reaction was to grow distant, often choosing to leave my phone at home or putting it on airplane mode - the ultimate insult to a smartphone.

Despite these efforts I still felt that constant urge to pick up my phone, twizzle it between my thumb and middle-finger, and then check for notifications. I was even spitefully researching newer models, stuck in the mindset of thinking things might be better with a prettier, more intelligent phone.

I needed space. Reluctantly, I turned off my Moto G and placed it at the back of a drawer. It was heartbroken and I yearned to take it back in my hands. Maybe I could just refresh my newsfeed or play Cut the Rope one more time, for old-times sake?

No! My temptation proved the need to cut ties once and for all. I shut the drawer and defiantly bought the Samsung GT-E1270 - what we call a “dumb phone”. No apps, no camera, no internet connection. Just good ol’ texts and calls. For good measure I gave Vodafone a ring and haggled my contract down to £4.75 a month.

I did miss my smartphone at first. The instant gratification, distraction and mindless fun it had provided. It was strange leaving the house without an internet connection. In fact I was usually leaving the house without a phone at all, not feeling the need to be constantly contactable and knowing my flip-phone wouldn’t relieve boredom.

After a couple of weeks I began to enjoy this freedom. I spent less time looking at a screen. I stopped itching to check my phone. I didn’t worry about software updates or battery life. And I didn’t have to fret over a £500 device filled with sensitive data being perched in my pocket. This “headspace” wasn’t life-changing, but it felt good.

And so, my rollercoaster relationship with smartphones came to an end. It’s been replaced by a more reasonable affair - one of mutual respect. My phone is a tool that I don’t feel obliged to carry all the time. It doesn’t demand attention and the battery lasts for weeks. I use it to call or text and for an alarm. Nothing else. My exit from the merry-go-round of smartphone technology also means I no longer lust after fancy new devices.

Back to the future

Reverting to a dumb phone may seem like a step back. I think it marks the future. People value space more and more. Space from technology, noise, stuff, crowded streets. Our brains are overstimulated by this hyper-connected, cluttered world. We need relief.

Ditching my smartphone was not a rejection of technology. It’s just a way of getting some respite. Although I use my laptop more as a result, I find it easier to escape the digital world without a tiny computer in my pocket too.

I really don’t need a smartphone either. In two years without one I can honestly remember regretting my decision once. I was lost in Bracknell on my way to an appointment. No-one wants to be lost in Bracknell. Google Maps would’ve made excellent company. But I survived that day. I don’t think a smartphone is worth it for such rare scenarios.

Sometimes I catch myself thinking a smartphone might be useful again, if only to condense my phone, notebooks, camera, and iPod into one tiny device, as before. I resist to preserve the little space I’ve regained. And because I prefer using these sturdy, single-purpose items, compared to a jack of all trades that ages quickly, cajoling me towards the latest upgrade.