This is the next installment in my Twitter-inspired series of posts. Thanks to Brian @theBrianBurgess for the topic!
Let’s start with an exercise. Reach into your pocket, pull out your smartphone and look at the time. I’m guessing you just had one of two outcomes. A) You realized the last time you looked at your phone was five minutes ago, or B) You can’t do this because you’re already on your phone. But there is a C out there that supposedly exists, and in this blog post I’m going to be talking specifically about this group: Those without smartphones.
As Brian pointed out, there are some people who don’t have a smartphone. They don’t have the need for one. That statement got me thinking, though, do any of us actually need a smartphone? I want to postulate three reasons why you don’t need one. Why none of us need them. Come on class, let’s get started.
Smartphones are responsible for the downfall of productivity.
Okay, I don’t honestly believe this, but I think there are many people that do. The math is pretty simple, you know? I pulled up screentime on my phone and saw something utterly disturbing:
Do you see that Total Screen Time on the bottom? In less than a week, I spent more than a full day on my phone… and that’s down 38% from last week. Travel back in time 20 years and I guarantee you I wasn’t playing Snake on my phone for 25 hours a week. So where did these 25 hours come from? What have I traded to get these 25 hours of non-productivity?
20 years ago, DVRs were pretty popular (I think that’s about the right timeline?). Do you remember them? We’d record everything we wanted to watch, even shows that weren’t the most interesting, just as long as we had enough time to record the ones that were the most. Like, I used to keep hours of Jeopardy! recorded at a time so I could binge watch trivia.
This was before the on-demand service days where things like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc. were just some pipe dream. But I’d watch hours of TV every day, soaking in that interaction in the form of someone on a screen doing things to entertain me. Not much has changed. The difference is I don’t have to think in advance if there’s something I want to watch, I can find out about it after the fact.
Smartphones are an evil tether that never lets you be free.
This is a fair argument. How many times do you get an email after hours that requires your immediate attention? I think it became more clear during the COVID pandemic. We all got to work from home (well those with office jobs, sorry essential workers!) and we accepted the freedom of not having to dress up everyday for being available 24/7/365 to our bosses and clients.
Now that people are for better or worse going back to the office, that availability schedule hasn’t returned to the former strict 40-hour weeks. So you’re stuck with this tether, most likely for the rest of your life. You have no freedom anymore, your master is that device in your hand that controls your work, entertainment, and for many of us, the other tech in our lives.
Smartphones means more pictures, more pictures means more crap on Instagram.
Yep. 100%. Everyone’s taking pictures of every meal they eat (instead of just enjoying it), every special random moment with their kids (instead of just enjoying it), every beautiful day outside (instead of just enjoying it). It’s kind of depressing that the world has gone into a storage format where you don’t enjoy things in the moment, you save them for consumption later.
You know what I’m talking about. It’s those times where you’re sitting up at 2:00 AM on a Thursday morning, in someone else’s house and you’re sharing random pictures on your phone. You find one from 2015 that was an awesome memory, you show it off, then it’s gone from your mind immediately when you find a meme you randomly saved.
We don’t enjoy things the way we used to. That’s a fact. Whether that’s a problem or not is up to you.
I mean, this isn’t something that I can say one is better than the other. The tradeoffs are too great and the individual preference so varied that there’s no one size fits all solution to the smartphone epidemic. My advice to you is if you’ve got a smartphone, use it in moderation, I’ll do my best to do so as well.
It is an interesting topic, and here’s my tuppence worth (an old British saying meaning here’s my opinion, whether you like it or not). I wasn’t an early adopter of either mobile phones or smartphones. But I reckon they are both good and bad things, and the bottom line it is all about us and how we use things. In moving around my city (London) the sight I am met with more often than not is people walking around staring at their phones. There are a lot of people out there who are completely obsessed with their devices. I can’t help but feel this is a bad thing. I reckon smartphones can be very isolating, and they become where people connect rather than face to face, in reality. This is something I don’t like.
However, on a smart phone you can read, listen to music, and connect with people on a global scale. This has to be a good thing.
All in, I reckon they are good, but people need to remember there is a world outside of digital.
It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Kinda crazy that people staring into a glass brick in their hand wasn’t a thing even 15 years ago.
When I was a kid, I remember seeing people walking around with headphones put in, listening to a walkman or similar device, then mp3 players, then smartphones — I think the big difference is the number of people who are isolating themselves within their digital device. It’s just so easy!
Real connections are hard to form these days. There’s an app for any interaction you want. You don’t have to go out in public to meet potential dates. You don’t have to go to a restaurant (or call one) to eat. You don’t have to hail a cab, or even acknowledge them when you get into an uber. It’s the way things go these days, and I guess I’m glad to be a part of the last generation where that wasn’t normalized their whole lives.
Thanks for leaving a comment Iain, I appreciate it!
First I’m blown away currently still reading but I wanted to start my comment, absolutely in point with everything and I truly love that you mentioned vcrs and on-demand I have feelings on this as well ..lol, I love it. It almost brought me to tears at one point because I do feel the sting of not carrying a smartphone e cause of the isolation and at times I cannot even sign up for something’s online that require that immediate text back.
Okay I have to stop because this is a debate I love to talk about 🙂 amazing job and thank you for the ‘/nod I am so proud to be part of your work, and Twitter friendship 🙂
Thanks Brian, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thank you again for the topic idea!
Spot on and well said
Paradoxically for me, the advent of cellular technology has improved my productivity substantially.
It’s difficult to tell if we are less connected or connected differently – in a way most of the older generations don’t fully understand. I’d be remiss in claiming that I fully understand it, but my network has also grown exponentially in the last 10 years. A growth I mostly attribute to mass communication platforms.
I agree that many use modern communication devices and technologies for self-indulgent reasons, but there are vast numbers of us growing for them.
You did make me nostalgic with the reference to Walkman and MP3 players.
Then again, I don’t share personal information on the internet. I may not be the right person to comment on this topic.
Hey Peyton! I was talking with my best friend about exactly the points you brought up. I think the longer a person has gone through life without technology, the harder it is to say the benefits outweigh the negatives. But, my grandparents are in their 90s and love their iPhones! It really helped them get through the pandemic so far, being able to spend time virtually with the family instead of being alone because they want to avoid epxosure.
Thanks again for your comment! I hope to see you in future ones!
Kaitlyn, my husband and I are the only people I know who don’t have smartphones. I have a friend (a lot older than I am) who laughed out loud when I told her. I was recently “scolded” for not having one when a friend couldn’t reach me immediately (for a non-urgent matter).
My response was: “We don’t like to gum up the works for you, but we don’t text. Never have. Never will. We have an unsmart cell phone (capable of texting, but we have a talk-only plan) that we share between us. We don’t give out the number because we don’t take calls on it, we just carry it with us when we’re out, don’t even turn it on unless there’s some *really* good reason we need to make a call while we’re out. This is just something that makes life more pleasant. We check our emails several times a day, but I cannot imagine constantly checking my phone as people do. That would make life so unpleasant and stressful. And we are not on Instagram or Facebook. The quickest way to reach us is by email or landline.”
I don’t have low self-esteem, but I recognize that I’m not so important that the world will stop spinning if I am unreachable for a while!
PS We have always had a rule in our house: When people come over (in the pre-pandemic days when we entertained) cell phones are off! Actually had one guest who was going to answer his phone on his way to the dinner table! I stopped him cold. I didn’t cook for two days for this dinner party to have it interrupted by a cell phone. “Dinner table conversation” does not mean a group of people sitting in silence listening to one fool chat with someone who is not there!
I’m definitely guilty of being that person who checks their phone every 5 minutes because I thought I heard something buzz, or maybe it lit up, or maybe I was just bored. But I don’t do that when I’m in a situation like what you’re talking about with that dinner party. Another time I can think of where people need to be more considerate is in any crowded space, like elevators, restaurants, public transport — anywhere where there’s a group of people around you that can’t just go somewhere else.
There’s a game my friends and I play sometimes at restaurants where we put our phones in the in front of us, at the center of the table upside down. The first person to touch their phone before the check arrives has to pay for everyone else!
I don’t think I could handle going back to the pre-smartphone days, I’m just too dependent on it. But phone etiquette is totally important! I think the people who don’t consider others when using their phone, whether in public or in someone else’s home, just aren’t considerate. Smartphone or not, they’re probably not going to be the best company!
I resisted getting a smart phone for years. Only just got one in December 2021. My wife and I had flip phones forever, but last year we were informed by Verizon that 3G service was being terminated by the end of 2021. We debated getting new flip phones that could work on 4G, but decided if we were getting new phones, we might as well get smart ones we could do more with. So we did. And went with Consumer Cellular, who gave us a better deal on unlimited everything than Verizon had given us with no texting capability and limited minutes per month for phone calls. So that was cool.
In the eight weeks I’ve had a smart phone, I’ve had one text conversation with my wife, took maybe a dozen pictures, and installed Instagram so I could get back into my account just to look at other people’s posts – IG had locked me out completely on my computer and said that for me to get back in, they needed to send me a text message. They wouldn’t let me use a Google phone number for the text message, either. I also installed a banking app. Now I can deposit the rare physical check I receive in the mail without having to leave the house. That’s convenient.
Other that that, the device just sits there on my writing desk, draining the battery so I can recharge it occasionally. I think I’ve recharged it twice since I got it. That’s how much I use it.
There was a time before when I wanted to do something on Amazon and they required a mobile phone number so they could send a code in a text message. They didn’t have things set up to send a code through email or via audio over a phone line. So I wasn’t able to do that back then. I think it was one of the grocery-delivery services. There were other grocery-delivery services that didn’t require me to have a smart phone, so Amazon lost out there a tiny itty bitty amount. 🙂 I’ve since decreased how much I use Amazon for other things, too. Not even a Prime member anymore. But I do have a smart phone now!
Thanks for the post.
I’m another of the people who doesn’t have a smartphone, and for most intents and purposes I don’t have a mobile phone of any kind – the one I have is an old classic Nokia that you can supposedly drop down the toilet and it will still work (never tried, but….). I don’t do social media of any kind, either – I simply don’t need to know what people who are largely strangers to me had for breakfast (and with all due respect, so much of what people put on the social media is just that, or else fake news that destroys faith in the democratic political process).
But what about photographs? I never took them anyway, and never had a camera. But what about music? If I needed it, I forked out the money to buy an LP, a CD or whatever. I don’t hold with stealing other people intellectual property via the Internet – it’s what they use to make a living, and they should be paid a living wage for it. But what about finding my way when travelling? I’ve always had a good sense of orientation, and never lose my way. But what about keeping track of my investments? I don’t invest on principle. But-but-but…? No, none of it.
The only reason I have a mobile phone at all is that the organisations that are essential in my life are increasingly making my contact with them dependent on being sent a password in a text message. But apart from that, I don’t use the thing. I could communicate by e-mail, but most of these organisations won’t go there – I don’t know why, but I suspect a conspiracy to get more of us to use smartphones. And if anyone tries to force me to do things in this or any other way, my instinctive response is to dig my heels in and refuse!
Another smartphone refusenik here. Horrid device that isn’t particularly good at doing the many things it does – a jack of all trades and master of none. Horribly expensive to purchase, and to “feed” each month. I use dedicated devices for various tasks – each of which does its task better than a smartphone, and is FAR cheaper. Garmin GPS for nav, Kindle for e-books, thumb drives for music, a flip phone for comms, and an actual COMPUTER for everything else. With 3 large screens, a REAL keyboard, and a REAL pointing device. Oh, and without a brain-dead smartphone OS and horrid UI experience.
I too got caught in the 3G turnoff, although my phone was an early 4G model. Went to the trouble to find and buy a Sonim XP3Plus ruggedized flip, which I use with Consumer Cellular for $15/mo. Battery lasts for 2 weeks with moderate use, and I don’t have to worry about it breaking – a “Professional Grade” piece of kit.
I neglected to mention that I use one of several REAL cameras for photographs, and I just purchased a REAL video camera for videos. Far more control over the creative process with multiple lenses and other features I’d expect from a dedicated device.
With that said, my new Sonim does have a fairly decent camera built into it which is just fine for grab shots and emergency use.