In January of 2020 I switched from a smartphone to a dumb phone. I purchased an Alcatel GO Flip 2 flip phone and, after a couple weeks of figuring out how to live without my smartphone, put my smartphone away in a box in the closet. I still own a smartphone but I only use it a couple times a year when I need to test something on a mobile app for work. While the transition wasn’t fun I think it was worth doing and things did get easier over time. It has been 14 months since I switched to a dumb phone exclusively, so I wanted to write a series of blog posts on the struggles of transitioning to a simpler phone and the benefits I have observed as a result.
Above is a picture of my flip phone after 14 months of use.
Deciding to Switch
I had the awareness that my smartphone was consuming too much of my life. I spent hours a day staring at the screen writing messages, replying to emails, reading books, watching educational videos, and doing other "productive" tasks. I never had any games on my smartphone as I didn’t want to waste time with "unproductive" things. But I was using my smartphone to provide a constant source of stimulation and to fill up every moment of downtime with various things to do. I knew my smartphone wasn’t actually boosting my productivity at all. What I gained by having constant access to my email and browser was lost by the constant distractions of various chat clients, social media, email mailing lists, and my favorite YouTube channels and podcasts. My smartphone consumed far more of my time than it actually saved. And it resulted in a lifestyle that I knew I didn’t really want to live. I decided I had to try switching phones.
Making the Switch
Making the switch to a dumb phone wasn’t easy. Searching for a dumb phone that provided good support for SMS, Phone, contacts, and calendar wasn’t as easy I had hoped. I settled on an Alcatel GO Flip 2 running KaiOS because it was the closest thing to what I was looking for and was available unlocked for about $40. I plan on going into more detail about why I selected this particular phone as well as the things I dislike about it in a future blog post.
Life After Switching
Initially it was very hard to go about daily life without a smartphone. Many things were harder and more complicated without a smartphone. I missed the GPS and maps app for navigation, a good camera, and access to my email and Slack while away from home. I also missed my podcast app and ebook reader. Despite not liking touch screen keyboards I missed having a full keyboard. T9 was slower and hard to learn. The dumb phone processor often struggled to keep up and the UI would often lag.
Despite all this I stuck with it and tried to adapt. Over a couple months things got easier until eventually I felt like it had been worth it.
For notes, I eventually shopped around and found a good 3" x 5" spiral bound notepad for storing all my notes. It is not much larger than my smartphone was and the spiral binding is a convenient place to store a pen.
For maps, I typically write down directions before leaving home. It takes a little more planning but I end up memorizing more of the route which is helpful if I go to that location again. On long trips I have a Garmin GPS I can use.
For podcasts, I just load them on the phone periodically and use my phone’s built in music player to play them.
For books, I already had an older Kindle that still works so I load books on it from my computer just like I used to do. The Kindle battery lasts for a week or two and the E-Ink screen is much more pleasant to read from than my smartphone was.
I go without email and Slack, which means I bring my small netbook with me when I go on long trips away from home.
One of the few nice features my dumb phone had was calendar syncing. I was able to sync the calendar I already had hosted on my NextCloud instance to my dumb phone. Having a calendar that is always synced between my personal server and my phone has been great and it means I still get calendar notifications wherever I am.
After I adapted to life without a smartphone I began to feel freer and more present in the moment. I lost the temptation to check my phone all the time since there was nothing other than SMS and voicemail to check on. I felt more focused and productive whenever I was working. Over the last year I’ve read many more books than I have in previous years. I have also had longer periods of uninterrupted free time due not having the distraction of the smartphone. Life at home is more peaceful and I feel more connected to family and friends than I did before. It’s wonderful not having to deal with notifications from smartphone apps throughout the day. I still use social media but it doesn’t interfere with real life the way it did before since I can only access it on my laptop.
Several months after moving to a dumb phone my wife also switched. It’s wonderful being at home together without the distraction of smartphones. We are both present in the moment and don’t have to compete with each other’s phones for attention.
Switching to a dumb phone after relying on a smartphone for many years was not easy. It took a lot of time getting used to. But it was well worth the effort and I don’t feel like I lost anything by moving to a dumb phone. While some things are a little harder without a smartphone I think living without the distractions and temptations of a smartphone far outweighs the cost. The result for me has been life that is more pleasant and focused.