David Zax

A View from David Zax

Why I’m Not Going Back to My iPhone

For now, at least, my dumb phone experiment has reached a strange equilibrium.

  • January 25, 2013

In early December, I lost my iPhone at a McDonald’s. I decided to do something a little crazy: not replace it (see “I’m Going Back to my ‘Dumb Phone’: Should You?”). I found there were certain joys of not being constantly connected (see “My Dumb Phone Experiment: Week One”); however, in some ways, the connected lifestyle was inescapable (see “My Dumb Phone Experiment: Week Two”). One thing was always sure, though: this experiment was only meant to last a month, tops. The only question was whether I would fall off the wagon sooner than the January 10 endpoint I was hoping to reach.

Well, we’re two weeks past that deadline, in fact, and I still have not elected to replace my iPhone. I’ve come to be pretty happy, actually, in my dumb phone existence, and it’s one I plan to extend indefinitely.

Now, as some of you may recall, the sacrifice I made was considerably mitigated when my father gave me what amounts to a hand-me-down iPod Touch in the middle of my experiment. The device is actually a Verizon iPhone 4, so in a sense I’ve already been cheating for weeks (see: “What Is an iPhone Anyway?”). But since I don’t have a Verizon voice or data plan, 3G connectivity, SMS, and traditional phone calls are not an option on the device.

It’s exactly what I needed. When I gave up my iPhone, what I found I was missing most were the suite of productivity and scheduling apps that had come to make my life so much easier. My iPhone camera, my voice recording app, my maps and calendars–it stung to lose these. The one thing I most emphatically did not miss was the addictive, tingling urge to check my email (inevitably a disappointing sequence: swipe; buzz; no one loves me after all) that I indulged like the bad habit of picking a scab.

Well, guess what. That’s what an iPod Touch (or a half-broken hand-me-down iPhone) does for you: it’s a highly versatile miniature computing and productivity device, without the option of oppressive, non-stop Internet connectivity.

What I’ve found is that I’ve reached a kind of equilibrium. The fact that I’m just as frustrated by a lack of connectivity as I am by a surplus of it must mean I’ve optimized something.

As an example of surplus connectivity: I might be at a café, trying to write, with the Internet-blocking application Freedom running on my MacBook–when my inner email addict realizes I can pull out my iPhone and join the café’s WiFi network via that device. These are not proud moments, but I weather them.

It’s the head-banging moments of missed connectivity that worry me a tad more, and that someday may shunt me back into a connected-all-the-time lifestyle (either that, or the encroaching possibility of city-wide WiFi; it’s happened before, though in smaller towns).

Being without 3G data has forced me to adopt new patterns of behavior: I must search for subway directions on my phone before leaving my house, and I need to be sure to record addresses of appointments in my calendar, and to refresh my calendar before leaving my apartment. On Wednesday, though, I goofed. I had put in my calendar that I had a meeting at a place called Shetler Studios on 54th between 8th Avenue and Broadway, and even recorded the room number–but I had neglected to record the exact address. It was pitch black and 20 degrees outside, and I had potentially 10-15 dismal minutes of searching up and down two lengths of a midtown Manhattan block in the freezing cold.

Then I had an aha! moment. I recalled that my “dumb” phone actually did have 3G connectivity, only with such a primitive and clunky interface that I had never intended to use it (even checking email on it would be a massive chore, harder than finding a nearby Starbucks for proper WiFi). I pulled out my Alcatel phone, connected to its pared-down version of the web, and placed a search for “Shetler Studios.” My dumb phone’s limited smarts had saved the day.

I readily acknowledge the absurdity of all this: a portfolio of devices, swimming around various pockets, with deliberately hobbled and enabled in various ways, all to fit my mental whims. And yet, all I can tell you is that I feel happier and freer than when my whole life converged on a single, all-powerful, glowing rectangular slab. Apple’s one-size-fits all approach to its iPhone, with its constant connectivity, simply doesn’t fit me. Having shed myself of my 3G-enabled iPhone, I’m reading more books, I’m forming better scheduling habits, I’m even rehabilitating what’s left of my short-term memory. And for now, at least, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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