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Breaking Free: How Switching to a Flip Phone Helped Me Beat Smartphone Addiction

TechBreaking Free: How Switching to a Flip Phone Helped Me Beat Smartphone Addiction
This time of year, everyone asks what you like least about your life, but they phrase it as, “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” My biggest regret of 2023 was my relationship to my smartphone, or my “tech appendage” as I’ve named it in my iPhone settings. My Apple Screen Time reports regularly clocked in at more than five hours a day. That’s only an hour more than the average American, but I still found it staggering to think that I spent the equivalent of January, February and half of March looking at that tiny screen (April too, if we only count waking hours). Sure, some (much?) of that time was gainfully spent on activities that enrich my life or are unavoidable: work, family text threads, reading the news and keeping up with far-flung friends. But I reached for the device more than 100 times each day according to my report. And that grasping was increasingly accompanied by the kind of queasy regret that I associate with unhealthy behavior — that feeling I get after I drink too many glasses of wine, finish the whole bag of sour gummies or stay at the poker table when I’m on tilt. So this December, I made a radical change. I ditched my $1,300 iPhone 15 for a $108 Orbic Journey — a flip phone. It makes phone calls and texts and that was about it. It didn’t even have Snake on it. It may seem strange to go retro in the age of ChatGPT, artificial intelligence-powered personal stylists and Neuralink brain implants. But with advanced technology poised to embed itself more deeply in my life (not my brain, though — please, never my actual brain), it seemed a perfect time to correct course with the existing tech that already felt out of my control.

The More Boring, the Better

Making the switch was neither easy nor fast. The decision to “upgrade” to the Journey was apparently so preposterous that my carrier wouldn’t allow me to do it over the phone. I had to go to the store. My 7-year-old stared in disbelief at the technological relic on display beside a collection of sleeker devices with touch screens. “That’s the phone you want? Are you joking?” she asked, rubbing her fingers over the Orbic Journey’s plastic keys. It wasn’t my first choice. The Journey has been panned by “dumbphone” connoisseurs. Not only is the battery life laughably short, it loses service when it’s on the move and has to be rebooted to reconnect. But it was the only so-called minimalist phone that my low-budget carrier supported. (Ask your own carrier about what models it will support if you embark on a similar journey.) There are superior options with reliable service available, and some even have mapping capabilities, music players and voice to text. The minimalist market has expanded in recent years, said Jose Briones, who created a “dumbphone finder” to help people choose from 98 models he has tried. (The Journey did not make the list.) “People are digitally fatigued after the pandemic, after having to be online all the time,” said Mr. Briones, 28, who is still online enough to manage the Dumbphone subreddit and regularly post reviews of the devices on YouTube. Mr. Briones still uses a smartphone during work hours, but at night, on weekends and during vacations, he switches to a $299 Light Phone II. That device was “designed to be used as little as possible” by two founders put off by tech developers who measure success by how many hours users spend glued to their apps. The credit card-size phone can text, make calls, keep a calendar, play music and podcasts, but doesn’t do much more than that. Both the Light Phone and Mr. Briones’s smartphone, the $480 Hisense A9, have e-ink screens, like a Kindle’s. “I have found personally that the more boring the screen,” Mr. Briones said, “the easier it is to not be addicted to it.” (Research bears that out. Simply switching a smartphone to grayscale mode helped people reduce their screen time by 18 percent in one study.) The Journey’s level of boringness was reassuring. Its main screen was tiny and dull; a smaller one on the outside displayed the time. When I got it home, I had trouble switching my service from the iPhone’s eSIM to the flip phone’s physical one. But soon, I was slowly typing out texts and emoticons using just 9 keys. :-/ Texting anything longer than two sentences involved an excruciating amount of button pushing, so I started to call people instead. This was a problem because most people don’t want their phone to function as a phone.
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On my first afternoon, I needed to ask a parent friend for a complicated logistical favor, so I called her and explained the situation to her voice mail. I didn’t hear back and realized why when I opened my personal MacBook that evening. She had texted me, but Apple had routed it to my iMessages rather than my phone. (Clawing back my communications from Apple required signing out of FaceTime on every one of its devices.) At least she had listened to my voice mail. Others I left were never acknowledged. It was nearly as reliable a method of communication as putting a message in a bottle and throwing it out to sea. When friends and family did pick up the phone, the conversations went far deeper than a text exchange would have. I had a heart-to-heart with a college friend one morning while walking my dog. She sent me a lengthy text afterward thanking me for some advice I had given her. I replied with a simple <3. On a dumbphone, your emotions are all straightforward — no complicated emoji shrimp-meets-smirk-meets-crown to decipher.

Conclusion

In conclusion, transitioning from a smartphone to a flip phone may seem like a step back into the past, especially in a world where technology is advancing rapidly. However, for individuals struggling with smartphone addiction, this shift can be a powerful and liberating choice. Embracing minimalism in technology, such as opting for a basic flip phone with limited functionalities, can provide relief from digital fatigue and excessive screen time. While it may present challenges in communication and functionality, the deeper connections and reduced addiction to the device’s screen can greatly outweigh the inconveniences. Ultimately, making a conscious choice to switch to a simpler phone can lead to a more mindful and balanced approach to technology usage, promoting mental well-being and healthier habits in the digital age.

The Benefits of Going Flip Phone: A Personal Journey

In a world dominated by smartphones and constant online activity, the concept of switching to a flip phone seems foreign and almost archaic. However, for many individuals, including myself, the decision to temporarily transition to a flip phone brought about unexpected benefits and revealed the detrimental habits associated with smartphone usage.

A Different Perspective

Colleagues, friends, and loved ones who witnessed the black clamshell in my hand were both skeptical and envious. Comments like, “I wish I could do that,” echoed throughout my social circle. The presence of a flip phone seemed to induce confessions from people regarding their excessive screen time and the negative impact it had on their daily lives. A 2021 Pew Research survey revealed that 31 percent of adults admitted to being “almost constantly online,” a behavior made possible by the existence of smartphones. Transitioning to a flip phone meant confining the digital universe and its vast array of distractions and conveniences to my computer, prompting skepticism from others who believed I wouldn’t be able to function without the convenience of a smartphone.

Challenges and Surprises

The transition did present challenges, especially in a world where many services and devices require smartphone applications for functionality. From the inconvenience of not being able to access an electric vehicle charger without a smartphone app to the necessity of planning routes in advance without the aid of Google Maps, the absence of smartphone technology required me to adapt and be more prepared. Financial and organizational tasks also proved to be more laborious without a smartphone, as monitoring bank balances, depositing checks, and setting up new devices often required smartphone applications. Despite these initial hurdles, I discovered a sense of relief and freedom from being able to unplug from the digital world and embrace a more intentional way of living. I found myself engaging in activities that had been long neglected, such as reading books, completing jigsaw puzzles, and truly connecting with loved ones during outdoor activities. The absence of the “thumb twitch,” a habitual urge to check my smartphone, was a notable change that brought about a newfound sense of mental ease and reduced stress.

The Impact on Well-Being

One surprising revelation was the positive impact on my sleeping patterns. The absence of midnight enticements and the lack of digital distractions contributed to a significant improvement in my overall sleep quality. The experience also shed light on the constant competition for attention and energy from various services and companies vying for our time in the digital realm. Insights from Matthew Buman, a professor of movement sciences, highlighted the importance of incorporating strategies proven to work in reducing screen time and promoting well-being through technology. This underlines the need for smartphone giants to develop more effective screen time and well-being apps to support a healthier balance between digital engagement and real-life experiences.
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A Long-Term Perspective

The switch to a flip phone offered a refreshing sense of freedom and time management, but it also raised questions about the sustainability of such a lifestyle in our technology-driven society. However, the experiences of individuals like Logan Lane, who consciously opted for a smartphone-free lifestyle, showcased that it is indeed possible to choose a different path and find contentment without the constant presence of a smartphone. By challenging the norms and founding communities dedicated to distancing themselves from technology, individuals like Logan Lane exemplify the possibility of leading fulfilling lives without the reliance on smartphones.

Breaking Bad Habits and Embracing Balance

Feedback from my 7-year-old daughter further reinforced the positive impact of the flip phone experiment, highlighting the increase in quality time spent together without the distraction of a smartphone. The absence of the urge to constantly capture moments for social media led to a more present and enjoyable experience, emphasizing the importance of living in the moment and cherishing valuable interactions. In conclusion, the decision to transition to a flip phone brought about various challenges and revelations, shedding light on the detrimental habits associated with smartphone usage. It emphasized the need for a balanced approach to technology and highlighted the potential benefits of disconnecting from the digital realm to embrace a more intentional and fulfilling way of living. While the long-term feasibility of a smartphone-free lifestyle in today’s society remains a topic of debate, the experiences of individuals who have embraced such a change serve as a reminder that alternative paths to contentment and well-being exist, challenging the norms of constant digital engagement.

The Impact of Smartphone Detox on Mental Health and Well-being

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the constant notifications, messages, and distractions of your smartphone? Many of us have experienced the unrelenting grip that technology can have on our attention and time. In a world where our smartphones have become an integral part of daily life, taking a step back from this digital dependency can have profound effects on our mental health and well-being.

A Month Without a Smartphone

In a bold experiment, one individual decided to take a break from her smartphone for an entire month. This decision was not made lightly, as the constant barrage of information and social media interactions had started to take a toll on her mental state. The experience was not easy, as she faced challenges in effectively communicating with her social circle and keeping up with work-related responsibilities. However, the month without a smartphone provided her with a much-needed mental reset.

Reevaluating Screen Time

The experiment shed light on the mindless nature of smartphone usage. Many of us find ourselves mindlessly scrolling through various apps, often without a specific purpose in mind. This habitual behavior raises concerns about the impact of smartphone addiction on our well-being and productivity. Recognizing the need for a change, the individual created a designated spot for her phone at home, allowing her to disengage from its constant presence and enforce mindful usage habits.

The Role of Technology in Addiction

Tech critics and researchers have pointed out the intentional design of smartphone apps to be addictive. Similar to the strategies employed by the food and tobacco industries, smartphone and social media companies leverage design features to promote addictive usage behaviors. The addictive nature of these products has led to calls for regulatory measures to protect individuals, particularly children, from the potential negative effects of excessive screen time.

Regulating Design Features

Some advocate for legislative measures to regulate the design of technology products, especially those targeted at children. Proposals such as discouraging infinite scroll, autoplay, and addictive design features aim to mitigate the potential harm caused by excessive screen time. However, with current regulations primarily resting on individual responsibility, the onus is often on us to manage our screen time and its impact on our mental well-being.

The Way Forward: Mindful Smartphone Usage

In light of the challenges posed by smartphone addiction, individuals are increasingly exploring ways to regain control of their screen time. Whether it involves taking a break from smartphones, implementing designated phone-free zones, or seeking legislative changes, acknowledging the impact of excessive screen time is the first step towards fostering a healthier relationship with technology.

Conclusion

The adverse effects of smartphone addiction on mental health and well-being have sparked a reevaluation of our digital habits. As individuals and society at large grapple with the implications of excessive screen time, it becomes crucial to prioritize mindful smartphone usage and consider the potential benefits of detox periods. By reassessing our relationship with technology and implementing measures to promote responsible usage, we can strive to cultivate a healthier and more balanced approach to engaging with our smartphones.
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