Project Dumbphone

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Like many people of a certain age, I have fond memories of life without the smartphone’s digital leash. I decided to purchase a flip phone, port my number and hope for the best.


As a longtime Apple devotee, I wasn’t sure what I’d find out there in the cell market but I longed for something like my beloved old Motorola Razr. It was just a phone, texting platform and music player. I never worried about breaking it and didn’t have to invest money into products designed to protect an “investment.” After much consternation, reading reviews and finding nothing similar, on a whim I decided to get the Alcatel My Flip from Tracfone. It was a whopping $20 and change after I purchased the sim card and SD card to go with it.

I got it home, took it out of the plastic clamshell, inserted the sim and the SD cards and decided that this might work out after all. The phone had everything I thought I needed including a browser, wifi capability, music player, and camera. It took me a few hours to remember how to use a keypad to text, although there was the temptation of trying to tap the screen to elicit a response. Connecting to wifi was tedious, but once connected, seemed pretty stable. The KaiOs app store was curious. There were a few games to download and a weather app. Two hours later, I finally had my top three contacts entered and I felt pretty damn good about that! Loading music would prove to be very time consuming and frustrating. Rather than open an app and download songs or stream music, in order to get music on the phone, I had to connect the phone to my computer, find my music file and manually transfer my songs to my phone’s SD card. It took forever! After all of that, I chucked my iPhone on my night stand and went to work with my new little friend.

When I got to my desk, I set my new phone down and my co-workers were full of questions. What happened to your iPhone? Why couldn’t you just delete the apps you didn’t like? I fielded their questions and they looked at me like I had two heads. My reputation as a hip, young-at-heart old lady was in danger. I scoffed at them as I flipped my phone open and closed with a satisfying snap. Soon thereafter; however, my first “challenge” occurred. My spouse and I text a lot while I’m at work and often my long hours mean that we have a lot to say to each other. His two or three paragraph texts were met with one sentence responses from me with no capitalization or punctuation. Too difficult and time consuming for all of that. He was slightly taken aback but supported my eventual freedom from the grips of my iPhone addiction.

Full disclosure, I continued to wear my Apple watch even though it was not connected to my iPhone anymore, which came in handy for the next problem I encountered. Our house alarm requires us to disarm before entering. On nights that I work late, my spouse is often asleep so I have to disarm the house with the app on my phone. Whoops! Big problem, right? No phone, no app. Thankfully, my Apple watch connected to our home wifi while I was in the garage and I could disarm it with that method.

Being busy people, we often shop for groceries online and then pick them up later. No app, no way to do that. I had to plan my shopping so that I could submit the order on my computer. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the store, I couldn’t check in on the app, as they request. I had to call them instead. That wasn’t a huge problem and in retrospect, it helped me plan better. My spouse and I also use an online shared shopping list app. Instead of the app, I had to jot down our list. Again, not an insurmountable problem.

Bicycling is something that I do regularly for exercise and recreation. While biking the traffic-free paved bike path, I enjoy listening to podcasts or books on my audio book app. I also use an app on my phone to measure my distance, speed and calories burned. Apple Watch to the rescue; however, I chose to keep my earbuds off and listen instead to my surroundings. Not terrible, but I did miss my podcasts. While at home, I fought the urge to use my iPhone. There was no way I was going to break the addiction if I constantly checked it. I kept my new little flip phone with me at all times, just in case. Like most people these days, I don’t do much talking on the phone except for my weekly call to my elderly parents. Everyone else texts, messages or emails, so I’m not sure why I felt like I had to have it with me. Old habits.

Responding to texts was arduous because it took so much more time and effort to compose intelligible sentences. I told some friends that I was not using a smartphone anymore and urged a few to email me if they had a lot to say and/or expected a lengthy response. That worked out for awhile and they got used to not expecting an immediate response, which was one of the reasons for making the switch. Feeling like I had to respond immediately to texts and emails left me feeling frazzled and resentful. My friends had no way of knowing if I was asleep, at the dentist or otherwise occupied and unable to text back. Our society has come to expect quick responses because most people have their phones with them at all times. I also abhorred becoming one of those people who felt lost and naked without the smartphone in hand or close by.

There were other issues. My workplace uses an encrypted text service so that protected patient information is not compromised. No smartphone, no way of using that. I also found that I relied on my iPhone during my workday to respond to important emails. I didn’t want to do that on my work computer, so I had to wait until I was at home in front of my own computer. There were emails about prescription pick ups, Amazon orders, etc. Some of the email could wait, but some were urgent and responding on the flip phone’s semi-useless browser and then logging into my email was pretty laborious. I use several banking apps to deposit checks and make transfers. These are modern conveniences, I know, but for a busy person they are extremely helpful.

Bottom line is that I still have my flip phone and if need be, I can use it again. I’m back to my iPhone as my main device because the convenience it provides far outweighs its hold over my life. It felt good to know that in some respect, I was partly getting off the grid. Is it presumptuous for companies such as Walmart, Target, Suntrust, and Walgreens, just to name a few of my favorites, to assume we all have smartphones? According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, 77% of Americans owned a smartphone. https://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/ Smartphone prices have decreased substantially over the past few years and in my research to find a suitable “dumb” phone, I found some very inexpensive ones. I have chosen to delete many apps I found distracting and time sucking and no longer have notifications enabled for anything except phone calls. My experiment taught me that there is a level of reliance on technology that in some ways cannot be reversed or eliminated without significant disruption and inconvenience. It’s often better not to take such a drastic step without seriously thinking through how it will affect you. Take small steps to regain your control over your phone if you find yourself feeling tethered to it and you’ll no longer feel quite as resentful about its prominence in your daily life.