Dumb is better: Kicking the smart phone addiction

Published: Tuesday, April 9 2013 6:30 a.m. MDT

Smart phones can block out real life, some people claim. (Gonzalo Baeza H, "GONZALO BAEZA" via flickr) Smart phones can block out real life, some people claim. (Gonzalo Baeza H, "GONZALO BAEZA" via flickr)

Getting rid of smart phones may be the new cool thing to do.

Patrick Rhone predicted that 2013 will be the year of opt-out: "That disconnection will become hipster cool. More and more people will be replacing smart phones with dumb ones, digital with analog, social with solitude, sharing with journaling, etc."

Jake Knapp wrote at Medium about how much happier he is since he lobotomized his iPhone. Knapp disabled the web browser, email, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Why? He says he can't handle "infinity in (his) pocket."

Jake Knapp's iPhone is disturbingly app and feature-free by design. (Jake Knapp, Medium.com) Jake Knapp's iPhone is disturbingly app and feature-free by design. (Jake Knapp, Medium.com)

"I don't have what you'd call the world's greatest attention span," he wrote. "It started taking away my appreciation of what was going on right then, in the real world. When I got bored for just a moment I'd take the phone out. And each time I was basically saying, 'Gee, anything is better than this.' I felt like my attention span — not so great to start with — was getting worse. My head was kind of buzzing around all the time. And for what? The things I read on the phone tended to make me feel at best unsatisfied (because there's always more information out there that I haven't seen) and at worst unproductive and uncool."

He still uses much of the iPhone, however: "The camera is amazing. Google Maps, location-based reminders, the weather forecast, Find Friends to track down my family … "

Writer Robin Sloan, however, in an interview on The Millions, talked about why he dumped carrying around iPhone entirely: "For me, the iPhone had become a toxic compulsion. It had completed its invasion and occupation of my interstitial time — all those minutes riding the train, waiting in line, that used to be such fertile territory for daydreaming and storymaking. So I canceled my AT&T plan and switched to a bare-bones Nokia on a pay-as-you-go plan.

And sure enough: in the months since the liberation of my interstitial time, I've been daydreaming more, jotting down scraps of stories again."

Sloan did, however, keep the iPhone so he could use it at home.

Peter Cohen at The Loop talks about the pleasures of dumping his iPhone and using an older "dumb" phone. He says it is cheaper, of course. But it also has other advantages. "I don't have my face stuck in my phone wherever I go, social network or playing games or checking e-mail," he says. "I have better situational awareness. I'm more present. I don't take pictures of my food before I eat it, or tweet about how delicious this skinny vanilla latte and pumpkin scone are. I no longer blankly pull out my phone and start fiddling with it mid-conversation with friends. If you do that, by the way, stop. It's really rude."

He discovered, he says, that he doesn't need to be connected all the time. Ironically, he also says using a smart phone was making him "dull and more than a bit stupid."

Stephen Hackett at 512 Pixels made the goal of not using an iPhone at all for an entire year. "I — like most people I observe in waiting rooms and in line at Starbucks — kill little bits of time with my head down, the glow of my smartphone lighting up my face. Twitter, App.net, Google Reader, Instagram, Email, iMessage, Tumblr and more wedge their way in to my life in little two-minute increments throughout the day."

Hackett failed. He lasted only two months and one day. Just using a dumb phone had its upside: "Being without a smartphone is weird. I started noticing (and getting angry with) people who ignore each other to attend to something on their phones. I found it easier to connect to people in person — be it over coffee or in meetings — without my iPhone serving as a distraction. Most of the time, I enjoyed not being as connected as I once was."


It was stressful at work. It was stressful at home. He missed taking cute pictures of his kids. He got lost once.

So he started using the iPhone again, except with a difference, he says.

"I'll be leaving my iPhone in my pocket much more, relying on it more as a tool, and less of a reason to ignore those around me."

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