Switching back from smartphones to dumb phones
March 27, 2015
Abandoning your smartphone for an older-style mobile phone frees you to pay more attention to the world around you.
“Drop my phone,” he says, and so I do, smashing its innards over the footpath. Jon Duhig calmly puts his mobile back together, flips open the lid and turns it on. “Still working,” he says, smiling.
He’s head of digital at a design and innovation consultancy in Sydney but recently swapped his iPhone 5 smartphone for a “dumb phone”. There’s no fragile touchscreen or multitude of apps on his phone. No autocorrect or Siri or front-facing camera for selfies.
His $68 Samsung C3520 “flip phone” is the way mobile phones used to be, when they were made for calls and texts and little else. Duhig, 41, calls it a “phone phone”. “People say to me ‘Why haven’t you got an iPhone’ – they are almost outraged,” he says. “But there’s something nice about simplicity.”
We talk at a café for an hour and he doesn’t check his phone once. “I was really fidgety with my iPhone. I would always be checking my emails. Waiting for coffee, I would check Facebook. It felt like an addiction,” he says. “Now I feel clearer, I have more concentration. I am not so easily distracted anymore.”
Now his phone stays in his pocket in coffee queues. “I really like watching people and I was watching my phone instead. The real world is more interesting,” he says, looking around. What do you see now, I ask. People on their phones, he says.
More people are switching from smartphones to dumb phones, which are cheaper, sturdier and have longer-lasting batteries. Vintage-looking mobiles, such as flip or clamshell phones, are particularly popular. The brick-like Motorola DynaTAC, used by actor Michael Douglas in Wall Street, sells for almost $1500 online.
There’s a growing cachet in sporting a dumb phone, along with such practical accessories as single-speed bicycles and super-skinny jeans. Other mobile phone users are simply seeking relief from the compulsion to constantly check emails and social media.
University student and cross-fit trainer Nick Fuentes, 22, traded in his iPhone 5 for a basic Nokia 208 last October, after repeatedly smashing his smartphone screen during gym sessions. “I was finding myself trapped by endless scrolling on my phone,” he says.
“When you’ve got a simpler phone you become more liberated by the fact you don’t have something consuming you all the time. You kind of forget about your phone sometimes.”
Studies show smartphones can disrupt sleep and focus, damage relationships and make users more selfish, stressed and depressed. A 2013 study found smartphone users check their device on average 110 times a day – at work, over dinner, in the bathroom or during sex.
Duhig reckons he checks his mobile phone about two or three times a day. He uses an iPad mini for remote emailing and online browsing. He doesn’t take either device to the toilet.
Opting to go online is now “much more deliberate” than the convenience of a smartphone in his pocket, he says. But there are downsides to dumb phones. His 2G network is patchy and his texting speed has slowed. I challenge him with my iPhone 5 in a race to write “Welcome to the new world” and win easily.
In Australia, an estimated 74 per cent of adults used smartphones by May 2014, up from 64 per cent in 2013, as more people upgraded their old mobiles, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Australian children spend on average almost a day a week on their smartphones, according to research released by Telstra in March.
But Duhig is pleased he stopped using a smartphone. “I think we overrate technology,” he says. “It’s great to be connected but we don’t have to be connected all the time.”
Are you happier, I ask. “Oh, I don’t know,” he says. “It’s not the thing that brings me happiness but I certainly feel better.”