As an experiment, I decided to go on a “dumb” week.
That means I turned off my smartphone, which I use to check/write emails, send/receive Gchats, look up directions and locations with Google Maps, check subway maps, check weather, get calendar reminders, use Shazam, stream music, browse the web for news or general boredom relief, or browse/post to social media.
I replaced it with a $US15 “dumb” flip phone that would let me make/receive phone calls, send/receive texts, and take pictures. Really bad pictures.
I would also restrict any internet usage to my computers at home and at work.
Here’s what I learned from the experience.
For some, the on-screen keyboards on smartphones are too small and it's harder to tell if you're pressing the right key because the keyboard is flat.
I know some will disagree with me, but you don't want to go back to typing out texts with physical buttons on a dumb phone's number pad. Even small words like 'style' can be a chore to type out (press 7 four times, then 8 once, then 9 three times, 5 three times, and 3 twice).
Even with T9 texting, the software that predicts what you're typing when you press buttons once for each word's letter, texting is slow and laborious, especially for words with apostrophes or when you need to use punctuation.
In fact, it was such a pain that I often ended up simply calling people instead of replying via text.
I wasn't expecting to miss my smartphone's excellent camera as much I did. The camera in my cheap $US15 flip phone took horribly grainy pictures.
At the same time, the bad photos also had their charm for how bad they were, and they reminded me how amazing how smartphone makers can fit great cameras in such slim handsets. We've come a long way.
I couldn't stream music, but I could have used my smartphone as an MP3 player during my dumb week.
But the prospect of managing music stored on my computer and syncing it over to my smartphone was too daunting. It simply wasn't going to happen. I'd rather go about my commute in total, utter silence rather than manage my music again on a PC.
So that's what I did, I commuted in silence and actually had to listen to my surroundings. You may expect whimsical discoveries, like 'It was great, I became so aware and found my inner self.' But you'll never find your inner self with New York City noises. I wanted my music streaming back.
Smartphones have fundamentally changed how we listen to music, something I didn't realise until I had to go without one for a week.
As amazing as our smartphones are, their battery lives are atrocious compared to dumb phones. I only had to charge my dumb phone three times during my dumb week while I would have needed to charge my smartphone every night.
Smartphones may get better and more powerful every year, but why then didn't battery technology progress along with other technology?
Unfortunately, the current battery technology that we've been using since the mid-90s is the best we've got for now.
I actually missed a couple important calendar events because I didn't get the alerts and notifications on my smartphone. I almost missed paying for my monthly train pass from the suburbs of New York, which would have resulted in me paying more to get to work than I had to.
I was getting about 90% fewer notifications than I would with my smartphone, and it was a pleasant unexpected side effect of having a dumb phone.
I don't usually feel the need to answer emails on my smartphone when I get a new email, but not getting any notifications at all was liberating. Ignorance is (sometimes) truly bliss.
I used to think 'how did we live before our smartphones?' Turns out we did just fine. If you didn't have a smartphone to waste time on social media or play a game where you make candy explode, you'd find some other way to pass the time.
But smartphones are really, really nice to have, especially when it comes to staying connected and organised.
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