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David Zax

A View from David Zax

My Dumb Phone Experiment: Week One

It’s not going great, guys.

  • December 14, 2012

Earlier this week, I announced my decision to try going back to a “dumb” phone for a month, following the theft of my iPhone. The idea was to try to wean myself off a mobile email addiction, while also reminding myself about the many affordances of the iPhone that I’d come to take for granted.

So far, this week, there’s been a lot more of the latter than of the former. I miss my iPhone far more than I do not miss my iPhone. Much as I’ve moaned about my hatred of a non-physical keyboard, I can tell you what I hate much more: having to write out SMS’s using nothing but number keys. I had thought my return to hunting and pecking might be endearing; in reality, I’ve simply dropped out of text message conversations that I really ought to be carrying on, or bullied people into continuing them over email or Facebook. 

I had thought that two of the most-used features of my iPhone–hands-free phone calls with headphones, and the regular use of my alarm–would be mostly replicable on my Alcatel dumb phone. Yes and no. I can plug headphones into my phone for interviews, but the sound quality is notably inferior. And I can set alarms, but the interface is so clunky that I sometimes don’t bother, or, as today, I accidentally set an alarm for 7 PM rather than 7 AM.

“Interface”–the very word makes me nostalgic for my iPhone, whose design was so lovingly crafted, where everything made sense. Now I have to navigate and click my way around a barbaric little menu in search of features that may or may not ever materialize: the ability to set my dumb phone to vibrate, for instance. Could someone help me with that?

Most of all, though, what I miss about my iPhone is the grab-and-go nature of getting from one place to another. In my iPhone days (may they return soon!), I could wait till the last possible moment to dash off to an appointment; the address would be in my email or perhaps in my calendar app, and my maps app plus GPS would send me on my way. Occasionally I’d be irked if I reached my subway stop (which is on my block) before managing to pull up directions. Ah, for the days of such First World problems!

In some ways, I must note, my experiment lacks full integrity. When I first wrote about the idea of going back to a dumb phone (see “Is It Time to Go Back to my Flip Phone?”), the notion was always to do so in conjunction with a 3G-enabled iPad. I don’t own a 3G-enabled iPad, though, merely a WiFi one, and feel a little bit as though I leapt into this experiment without building a sufficient supporting infrastructure to give it a fair shake. (One thing I definitely would have done was to ensure all my iPhone contacts were on my iPad; I recently returned a text from my father asking, “Who is this?”)

But one other thing I’ll say: even if I had created a virtual iPhone within my iPad, I’m not sure I’d always want to lug my iPad around, day in and day out. An iPad, while not too heavy, still weighs about a pound and a half–not negligible if I was otherwise only going to carry a magazine. And an iPad costs considerably more than an iPhone, making me somewhat loath to have it on me at all times (especially given my recent trend of losing things). An iPad isn’t a no-brainer vade mecum, in the same way an iPhone is.

That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed some benefits from being iPhone-less. It’s true that “spare change” time–the time waiting in line to order, or waiting for the subway to come–now gets funneled into thinking about projects I’d rather be thinking about than yet another compulsive check of my inbox. There’s undoubtedly something to be said for that. But so far, the brief bliss of moments like these is mostly overshadowed by the dozen other ways I’ve inconvenienced myself. I’m obviously and unequivocally at a net loss.

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