I’ve always been an early adopter, and the latest thing is opting out. I haven’t used a smartphone for over a month now.
It was weird at first (and terribly annoying for my wife), but I’ve gotten used to it. I dunno if she has. She married me 🤷🏾♂️.
My phone is a $50 Nokia 8810 4G, pictured above. This thing has modern technology, just stuffed into a banana. Technically, I can use the web, email, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Google Assistant. In practice, however, it’s like digging a hole with a banana. You could do, but why?
I never realized the power of touchscreens until I didn’t have one. Steve Jobs's most vital act of creative destruction was getting rid of keys. As he said, buttons and controls can’t change. It doesn’t matter that this Bananaphone is stuffed with 2015 tech. The buttons keep it stuck in 1999.
For my purposes, this is fine. I remember 1999 and all I really wanted was to not be lost and remember when my classes were. Google Maps and Calendar both work fine. I can use Google Assistant to look up a phone number.
That’s all I want.
Smartphones are great for emergencies, but they bring the same urgency to dumb shit, like someone on the Internet being wrong. By stuffing the smartphone in a banana you can sort out an emergency, but the interface is so painful that you’d never use it for fun.
In this way, this particular Nokia is different from a completely dumb phone. It’s not that you cannot do modern things. It’s just so slow that you don’t want to.
Computing on the computer
Please note, I have not stopped doing dumb shit or wasting time online. I just don’t do it mobile. I still read the news too much and refresh Twitter too hard — I just do it on my laptop. I have to physically sit and dedicate myself to fucking around, I can’t just do it in an elevator or while I’m with my kids.
If I had a desktop I could make the disassociation complete. I could only compute in one physical place.
In a sense, all I’ve really sacrificed is convenience. I can’t order food from my phone, but I can do it on the computer. I can’t look up that burning question, but if it’s really burning I can look it up later.
What I’ve found is that I can still do everything I want, I just can’t do it right now. What I’ve found is that I also don’t have to do everything right now. Many of my desires just go away. They weren’t important. And the important ones can wait.
I haven’t given up on computing. I’ve just given up on the idea that I need to be doing it all the time. And this is wonderful. I suddenly have much more time. It’s like Marie Kondoing your brain.
The biggest lurch was deleting WhatsApp. That caused a fuss. It may still be causing a fuss, I don’t know, I’m not on WhatsApp.
When I first got this phone it had old firmware that couldn’t run WhatsApp, so I just deleted my account. Fuck Facebook.
When I did this it automatically exited every group I was in, and to all of my family and friend, it just looked like I’d left them. I got a call from my aunt at 11 PM asking how they’d offended me. My wife has also been left alone on groups with, like, just my parents. It dumped a lot of emotional labor on her.
For a while, if anyone wanted to scold me they’d tell my wife, which was annoying. WhatsApp is a remarkable sticky product, it got my own mother to try and re-recruit me.
I soldiered through it, however (I didn’t know the firmware was available). Whenever anyone tried to communicate via my wife I’d call them and tell them not to. So that died down.
The result is — after the initial social horror — that I think I’m more connected before. I’ve replaced short WhatsApp messages with long phone calls and Zoom chats. Shallow interactions with deep ones. I feel better.
I might be missing opportunities, but I’m middle-aged, financially secure, and have already reproduced. I don’t care.
Not for everybody
This obviously isn’t for everybody. I’m not making a recommendation here, this is just my life. I’m a writer, I live walking distance from a lot of family, I’ve always been a bit odd. I’m just saying that it is possible. You don’t have to have a smartphone.
I think we’ve elevated convenience above all other values, and that just isn’t true. Not everything needs to be done right now. Some things don’t have to be done at all. A touchscreen computer is essentially limitless, so there’s not natural filter on our desire. A dumb phone is a filter. It puts smart limits on your life.
Would I recommend a Bananaphone? No. But I wouldn’t recommend children either. This just happened to me; I fell in a pool and bricked my smartphone. I got flushed out of the Matrix.
You can live a perfectly functional and happy life without a smartphone. Indeed, I feel like I have more life.