They include: “Is that a joke?” “How old is that?” and “Wow, do they still make those things?”
I get these questions every week accompanied by a look of disbelief and amazement — as if not having a smartphone means I’ve totally lost it. At last, though, I am not alone — film star Eddie Redmayne revealed that he too has ditched his smartphone. Going back to the “dumb phone” or “basic burner” could soon be a bit like the retreat to vinyl records or 1970s’ drop-handled racing bikes.
Eddie’s reason for swapping his iPhone for an old-fashioned handset was an attempt to stop constantly checking his e-mails and start to “live in the moment”, exactly the same as mine. It feels like a total release. Last August my phone broke twice, and Apple refused to exchange it for a new one because I’d once had the screen repaired by a small independent supplier.
While it was out of action, I bought a cheap Nokia and realised I quite liked it. At first I was particularly conscious of having it in business meetings. Part of my work is in digital media with leading brands and advertising agencies; one minute I’d be explaining our website, Sabotage Times, has two million unique page views a month and a very active Twitter following and the next I’d be making a call on something that looks like my two-year-old’s toy phone.
I’d go through the motions of telling everyone that I’d picked it up when my iPhone was in for repair and that I enjoyed the freedom from social media. When I explained this to an advertising conference recently, so many people tweeted about it that I ended up doing an interview about it on Radio 4: “Yes, it’s true, I don’t have a smartphone any more.”
Living without a smartphone isn’t as hard as you think it might be. I can text on my little Nokia, it has a torch, oh, and the battery lasts a week. If I need a battery when I’m travelling I just buy a new phone for a tenner from a high street retailer. It’s like Jack Reacher’s approach to clothing. And should I ever drop my phone, it simply falls apart, nothing breaks and I snap it back together. But I don’t drop it very often because I don’t have it in my hand all the time, constantly glancing at it.
Sure, I can’t go on social media and e-mail (which is a bonus), but I’ve only missed one £100 job and that didn’t financially cripple me. Also, it turns out people don’t actually mind if you don’t immediately reply to an e-mail. The peace of mind this has given me has been exhilarating. I choose when I go online and when I don’t. It’s a genuine pleasure similar to that feeling when you leave a city and go to the country. Less cluttered.
I do miss not having a camera in my phone and early on I found myself needing the map — but now before I leave my home I look up my destination on my laptop and remember the directions. Also there’s no shortage of other people around with smartphones. All offices have computers. We’ve all been sucked into an ever-increasing spiral of Emperor’s New Clothes Must-Have Consumerism of modern digital communication technology. This in itself is madness.
The apparent need to increase your camera speed slightly every autumn prompts the replacement of an otherwise fully functioning device. Apart from the screen. Because, let’s face it, the screen on your smartphone is often cracked — it’s almost a sign of the brand.
To get more stuff into it and to keep the design “fresh”, they moved on from the perfectly formed Pebble design to something heavier with harder edges. People drop them a lot. Where else would you tolerate a screen that kept breaking? A car windscreen with a massive jagged crack? A TV with a hundred sticks of broken glass obscuring the programme?
People believe smartphones can whisk you away to somewhere better, funnier, more stimulating and more immediate. But like Eddie, I’m now happily enjoying being in the space where I actually am. I notice a lot more. I’m not sure how long this will last. I recently sent a text on a mate’s iPhone and it just felt so easy compared to my old-fashioned push buttons. In addition, I’ve some serious work in America impending and my girlfriend said I’d need a “proper phone” for that and spent £650 on one for me for Christmas. It’s still sitting in its box, beautifully packaged. I haven’t unwrapped it yet.
You see, I’ve become peculiarly attached to my old-fashioned piece of black plastic. I could buy 65 for the price of the smartphone and have telephones and batteries for life and no one would change the headphone socket. Yes, they even have headphone sockets!