Without a phone for 10 days
post by Benjamin Spiegel (benjamin-spiegel)
I woke up this morning to a bricked Google Pixel 4. After taking it to a local repair shop for a diagnosis, I was told that a fuse had been blown on the motherboard. A board-level repair would cost half as much as a brand new phone, and I was thinking about upgrading to the new Pixel 6 once it came out later this month. After spending a few hours sorting out account details and learning about replacement options with my carrier I learned that it would cost me $150 to get a replacement by this coming Monday. What good would it do to pay $150 for a phone that I would only have for a week until upgrading?
And that’s when I realized I had stumbled into a very unique moment in which I had every reason to attempt something I had been hesitantly curious to try: living without a phone. After all, the Pixel 6 was rumored to launch only ten days from now on October 19th. And if I decide at the end that life is better with a smartphone, then I’ll get one.
Okay so there are a few things I’m a bit worried about. The most obvious one is that I’ll be unreachable to close family and friends during this time. Ten days isn’t a ton of time, so I decided to email those closest to me to tell them about this experiment. A less obvious problem is that I’ll be unable to do typical two-factor authentication, which my university and some other services periodically require. The good news is that I have backup codes saved on my laptop, but it’s kind of a hassle.
I’m very curious to see how this will turn out. I’m hoping that I’ll appreciate the disconnection so much that I won’t want to go back to smartphones. I’ll likely still want the basic call and text functionality, so maybe I’ll go with a simpler phone. I had heard of the lightphone before and loved the idea, but was afraid of giving up apps like Uber for emergencies. Today I looked into some other “feature phones” and discovered the Nokia 6300, the Punkt. MP02, and the Mudita Pure. Anyway, I’ll probably write at least one more post on this experiment when the ten days are up.
Has anyone else made the switch away from their smartphone? Would love to hear about it below.
Comments sorted by top scores.
comment by Ben Carew (ben-carew) ·
2021-10-10T07:48:25.583Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I exclusively use a Nokia flip phone, and have never used a smart phone as my daily driver. Carrying around something with that much potential for addiction in my pocket at all times scares me, and I'd rather save my willpower for more important decisions. I see the occasional boredom as a plus - being comfortable while alone with just your thoughts is a skill worth practicing. There are definite downsides though, especially now with QR code reading being a staple of going out. I also don't like having to rely on others for navigation, google searches etc. (although the flip phone can do these poorly if required). I would recommend trialling a basic phone and perhaps keeping an old smartphone with no sim as a "work phone" for when you need it.
Replies from: Bezzi
↑ comment by Bezzi ·
2021-10-10T23:02:00.508Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
My experience is quite similar; never bought a smartphone and use just a Nokia phone with voice/SMS only. It's not exactly like not having a phone at all, but in a typical day I don't receive more than one message/call, and more often than not the phone remains completely silent for the whole day. I've watched friends managing their WhatsApp chats (and similar time-sucking services) and I'm still very much scared by the perspective of constantly being pinged for random reasons. With my old-fashioned phone I have to pay some cents for every message sent. I could change my tariff plan at any time, but so far I've choose to stick with the old tariff, because it's a very strong incentive to send only messages that actually matter.
That said, I usually spend several hours a day working at my laptop and don't travel very often. Even with a smartphone at hand, I would still prefer to work from my laptop if available (much bigger screen, no weight in my hand etc). Also, my colleagues are accustomed to emails and my parents are sort of smartphone-skepticals themselves; putting all toghether, my social pressure for getting into smartphones is pretty low. But it's definitely possible to live without and I encourage to give it a try.
comment by Nightingael ·
2021-10-10T23:10:37.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I've done this periodically over the last few years. Apart from missing music and white noise (which is easily replaced with a pocket radio or MP3), I considered it a positive experience. My most important takeaway was that my phone is one of if not the main field of training for my executive functioning skills. The way I use my phone (i.e. "scrolling" versus "intentional" behaviors) shapes how I approach all of my daily tasks, from studying to shopping to laundry. It's not much of a revelation, of course - I use my phone so often throughout the day that it would be shocking if it didn't have a serious effect on my brain, especially considering how "trainable" the actions involved are. But actually experiencing a broad increase in control over my behaviors while detoxing proved to me the significance of what I was sacrificing. I wasn't just wasting time on my phone. I was reducing control over all my actions. What a terrifying thought!
That said, I do still use a smartphone - I have the sense of direction that nature might've designed for a particularly sluggish bush. I need Google Maps. Plus, my approach to phone use has evolved in a more useful way. I look at it as a form of daily brain training, or an opportunity to practice mindfulness and intentional behaviors. I've generally found that it's better to focus on reforming bad behaviors, rather than just avoiding their near occasion. I still detox every once in a while, but I don't want to become a techno ascetic. I want to be in control of my mind regardless of context, capable of using all the tools at my disposal in a healthy, sane way.
comment by Jozdien ·
2021-10-10T12:04:18.744Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
My old phone went dead last March right before the first lockdowns in my country, and between the difficulty of getting it repaired and not having to actually leave the house, I never got around to repairing it. My family did eventually buy me a new phone themselves last October because of the trouble of reaching me when they went outside, but for those nine months, my main takeaway was that I read a lot more than I had in years. I can't speak much to relative productivity because while it was definitely a more productive time than before March, I was also more productive after that, so it could be independent.
comment by cousin_it ·
2021-10-12T06:21:36.258Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
In the past ten years I haven't carried any phone; before that, only a feature phone. Also a couple years ago I unfollowed everyone on Facebook, using it only for messenger on laptop. Basically for me the anxiety of being "always on" outweighs the benefits, even though I like in-person socializing a lot.
comment by KingLudd ·
2021-10-10T19:33:38.494Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I made an account just for this post.
I have about a year and a half of being disconnected from the wired at this point; at that time, the leader of my family's phone plan was in a contract dispute and I—dare I say "on a whim"— asked that my number be cut from the plan as well while she negotiated the call-service representatives. Once done, I removed the SIM card and locked the phone into airplane mode for the remainder of its existence.
I was already something of a digital Luddite, I didn't get a phone (not even a smart one) until I was already eighteen and I abandoned things like social media like MySpace or Facebook in my sophomore year of high school (2012). It follows that I never got into the services that emerged in the social media wake such as TikTok or Snapchat. I have always been highly skeptical of the claimed benefits of these services and the compulsion by their users to photograph and publish banal activities.
The Daily Grind:
Once service was disconnected, it became a little harder for someone to get a hold of me. This produced less friction in my life than even I anticipated. My cellular device, though no longer wireless abroad is still capable of using WiFi, which means Signal Private Messenger (my choice of SMS application) would still allow me to communicate with friends and family using that app; at the very least, my inner circle and closest confidants could still reach me when I was connected to WiFi.
As time went on and it became clear that my need to expand that circle and my ability to persuade acquaintances to adopt my favored SMS application were not entirely equal, I looked for solutions to reach out to others. For a time, I carried a pager, just in case there was an emergency requiring my attention and another solution that I found was that e-mail may be used to send SMS & MMS messages to any phone number. Using a service like FreeCarrierLookup.com will show you a phone number's SMS gateway. Sending an e-mail to that address (example: firstname.lastname@example.org) will have the message arrive on the desired contact's phone—and it's free—this workaround has served my needs for sending messages to coworkers and acquaintances. I just ask them for their number first and send a message from my e-mail address, which they are able to reply to just like any other message they get as a text.
Now, Signal allows me to make WiFi phone calls just as it allows me to send WiFi texts. Still, not everyone uses that application, so I bought a MagicJack device ($40/year). The device plugs into my computer and allows me to make phone calls over the Internet, both from a home phone plugged into the device and from my signal-less smart phone via a companion application. The benefit of this was that I had a regular "number" to give people and it allowed me to complete more two-factor authentication practices that require SMS-verification.
Admittedly, I am hostile toward cellular technology as a whole, regardless, the exercise of being incommunicado for the most part has lead to some surprising benefits. For instance, I know by rote all the phone numbers of my regular contacts. I don't even use the contacts app on my phone though I do keep a book of numbers that I may need to commit to memory; this serves as reference only. This practice has made it easier for me to remember a phone number more quickly and hold it in my brain longer.
Similar to the process of remembering my contacts, I am a much more capable navigator. In retrospect, it disturbs me a little to think of how I didn't always really know where I was. A phone might lead me into some strange part of the state or deep into the city and I wouldn't know how to leave without again consulting the phone. After a year an half of navigating all parts of the Metro Detroit Pinwheel (look at a map of the metropolitan area and you will see the roads form a sort of wheel) by memory with hand-written directions and drawn maps I can reach most any place from simple instructions. This practice also makes one more conscious of the road. I have found more interesting stops and run more exciting routes by taking some time to look over maps before beginning any journey.
You can probably see the theme by now. In giving up my connection to the Galactic Network I have been forced to store more information in my head and as a result, I have been able to tune certain activities to suit my own proclivities. It has also returned me to some hobbies that I lost in the years preceding my wireless celibacy such as reading physical books and keeping a journal.
Well, the experiment isn't over yet, nor do I seriously expect it to end. Smart phones are undoubtedly very powerful tools that can help people get organized and maintain communication between contacts but in my experience, I found that it made me a less capable human being. I value my independence and such a device is—in my mind—inherently a dependency. I no longer worry about my phone's battery as I can always navigate my way home and my thoughts on communication with friends have changed. Since I may be "out of contact" while on the road I am sure to make all necessary arrangements ahead of time. This has lead to being a better planner and more understanding of personal organization as whole because there is no longer a safety-Inter-net to catch me when I fall short.