At the height of the pandemic, smartphone users spent 27% of their waking hours on average on their devices. That’s 4.3 hours a day.
I’ve been fairly strict about phone usage for a while (even before watching The Social Dilemma). I don’t have any social media apps or work email on my smartphone and I’ve turned almost all of my notifications off.
Despite these preventative measures, I still pick the damn thing up a lot. It’s now quite clear to everyone that most of the apps we habitually use are designed to be addictive.
I want to use my phone less, especially in the evenings and on weekends when I am not working. My original plan was to just turn my smartphone off (sounds simple!). However, I conceded that I should at least be available for calls in case of an emergency.
But I needed some solution to stop the temptation to “just check my phone”. I needed to not be lured into an endless barrage of WhatsApp messages, bad news or the inevitable doom scrolling through some random trending Twitter thread about what Barry from Slough thinks about the royal family.
And so, the search for a ‘dumb phone’ began!
Enter the Banana Phone
I’ve been a fan of the minimalist Punkt MP02 for a while. However, I’ve been struggling to justify the £300 price tag whilst the economy is tanking! So after trawling for a cheaper alternative I opted for the Nokia 8110 4G, fondly known as the banana phone.
Priced at a humble £50, the phone is a 2018 remake of the 1996 original (and famously used by Neo in the Matrix).
I can use it for calls and texts, and it has a WiFi hotspot (for if I ever go outside again to work). There is an ultra-basic web browser and the granddaddy of mobile games, Snake (albeit a rubbish remake or the original).
So far so good. Although, much to my horror, I also found a bunch of Google software including Google Maps (I’m sure Neo would be fuming) on the phone. But GPS can be turned off if this bothers you, and you don’t have to sign into a Google account to use the phone.
Anyway, the phone doesn’t do much, which is kind of perfect.
It’s oh so quiet
The first thing I noticed after switching to the banana phone is how quiet life suddenly is.
The sense of urgency I seem to put on myself melted away. I always think that for someone who controls his own schedule I rush about a lot. However, turning off my smartphone at the end of the workday suddenly makes me think that the elusive work/life balance we all strive for might not be far away.
It’s been good to watch films and actually pay attention to the plot rather than falling down an IMDB hole reading up on the filmography of some random extra I vaguely recognised.
I’ve been reading books instead of Twitter.
It’s so tedious to type a text message on the number keypad I’m more inclined to actually just call people instead.
To be honest it’s just been nice to enjoy my own company without the urge to scramble for my phone every time I feel a pang of boredom.
Back to the future
Yeah, living in my quaint 1990s bubble for a couple of hours a day all sounds pretty idyllic. But let’s not forget that smartphones are incredibly useful tools that can do genuinely useful things, such as:
- Being able to easily check the weather
- Playing music and radio
- Maps and GPS
- Paying for car parking with an app
- A decent camera
- Being able to send and receive picture messages
To turn my back on all that would be naive.
The good news of course is that if I do want to do any of these things I can just switch the smartphone back on, use it and then switch it off again and go about my day.
It feels good to use a phone for the great multi-tool that it actually is when I need it rather than feeling inclined to keep picking it up just because it’s there.
Tips for taming your smartphone
It’s really about finding a balance that works for you. Whilst downgrading your phone won’t be for everybody here are my top tips to help use your smartphone less.
- On WhatsApp, turn off the read receipts (blue ticks) so there is less urgency to reply straight away.
Settings > Accounts > Privacy > Read receipts
- Change the setting so people can only add you to a WhatsApp group via invitation.
Settings > Accounts > Privacy > Groups
Those who do not have permission to add you to groups will be able to invite you instead, and you can then choose whether or not to accept.
- Turn off the Google feed on an Android phone.
- Simplify your smartphone’s home screen – make the useful stuff easy to access and the addictive stuff harder to get to
- Keep logged out of social apps when not using them and ask yourself if you actually want to log in for a good reason.
- Consider getting separate phones for home and work. If I was starting my business again I’d probably get two different numbers.
Check out more of my thoughts on practicing digital minimalism to reduce your screen time.