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My Dumb Phone Experiment: What Is an iPhone Anyway?

My dumbphone experiment takes an unexpected twist.
December 29, 2012

Kind readers, I have a confession to make. One reason I so willingly volunteered for a month of technological backwardness (see more on my decision to give up my iPhone here, here, and here) is that for part of this month, I wasn’t going to be on the grid much at all. I’m filing this post from somewhere in the Caribbean. No one’s calling me, and I wouldn’t pick up if they did.

Why, then, have I nonetheless half-relapsed even while on this (working) vacation? Why, as I write this, are both my new Alcatel dumb phone and a hand-me-down Verizon iPhone in my pocket?

As I’ve made clear from my first post, what I miss most about my iPhone are its utilities. The one thing that I found that I can’t do without, especially on a vacation, is my camera. Though I have other gadgets that have filled some of the gaps left by my iPhone—an iPad nano, for instance, for subway-commute music—my point-and-shoot camera is long dead. So my dad passed me the old Verizon iPhone 4 he’s not using anymore. The intention was to  use it only as a camera; I’ve since downloaded and used other apps, largely for productivity purposes, like Voice Memo and Notes.

What’s fascinating about this device is that, like a souped-up iPod Touch, it has apps but no data plan. I can’t receive calls or texts, so far as I know. I can only get Internet when on a Wi-Fi connection. Basically, it has afforded me all the utilities of an iPhone without that nagging, tingling, addictive sensation of needing to check my e-mail constantly.

So is this a relapse? Or something akin to smartphone methadone (a methaphone)? I don’t know. All I know is that I love this half-broken iPhone much more than my fully functional one. It’s actually made me rethink what an iPhone is, or could be.

This experiment has been as much a case of differential diagnosis as anything else. What exactly about the iPhone do I love, and what do I hate? Is there a path forward to a more healthy relationship with technology that doesn’t involve the “nuclear option” of throwing your smartphone out the window? And how can the Apples and Googles of the world help us to form this healthier relationship? As I experiment with different configurations of connectivity, I’m arriving at some ideas, which I’ll present in a future post.

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