meandering creativity, symbols and emotion

Thursday, March 18, 2010

iPhone retirement: Celebrating the dumbphone

Since my post about getting a new cell phone a surprising number of people have asked me why I got rid of my iPhone. More than just a status symbol, it bespeaks of perpetual connectivity. And of course, it's sexy and fun to use.

What a lot of non-users miss about the iPhone is that you forget that it's a device. The hardware and OS are so finely tuned that it becomes transparent and all you are left with are the applications. It is not the first phone or portable device with applications. The Palm Pilot and Blackberry have been around for more than 10 years - but their use has been largely business related. As much as I enjoyed Simcity on my Palm IIIc the controls were bulky and hard to figure out. They were were constant reminders that this device was not the ideal venues for those applications. The iPhone doesn't suffer from that.

Why stop using something so awesome?

I kept finding myself in situations where I'd be out with friends, surrounded by several people I like and half the people would be doing something on their phone. Checking email. Showing off a new app. Downloading the app their friend just showed off. Fun stuff that completely misses the point of getting together.

How important is it that I have access to my email all day? One of my friends indicated they needed that constant validation that email updates bring. I get that but try to keep my needs for validation a bit more reined in. So I decided to take a break from my smart phone as a way of keeping myself in check.

Smartphones have created a false need.

I don't need to be connected all of the time. And neither do you. We did fine before we were perpetually connected. I'm not saying I hate technology; I like to keep myself somewhat grounded.

Several years ago I told someone that when I had children I didn't want to know the sex before they were born. I got looked at like I was an alien. Then this person tried to tell me how much better it would be if I knew the sex before the birth - it specifically revolved around colors of stuff to buy. So yeah, it was horseshit.

I'll jump through medical hoops to keep my child safe but I still want to be surprised on the day they're born. Having a phone that I can use when I get sideswiped on the tollroad is a NEED - being able to read emails while driving is not.

With that out of the way my criterion for a new phone was as follows:
1 - keep my number
2 - good camera (2+ megapixel)
3 - no data plan required
4 - preferably free but I was willing to pay up to $39.99. And of course I wanted to avoid a mail-in rebate scam.

Several folks recommended the Droid or another Android based phone but none of those are free and most require a data plan. Lara and I were spending $160 for my iPhone and her Blackjack. By cutting out our data plan I was hoping to reduce our bill.

3 Months Later

I've had my dumbphone for several months now and it's gone pretty well. I use it text, make calls and take amazing photos and videos. Of course, I miss parts of the iPhone. Specifically how easily it synced with my computer. And the control scheme: navigating the dumbphone OS is horrible. It might as well not even have GPS or wifi because they're too excruciating to use.

I no longer have a reason to have my phone on the table at dinner with friends. I don't get to use my phone as a way to disengage from people (the iPhone was a great way to avoid having to mingle). So ultimately it's a good thing, and I get the feeling that I'm not alone in that.

A few weeks ago at a restaurant with friends we were agonizing over a certain word. My friend turned to me and said, "I could look this up on my iPhone but I don't really need to." At this point I couldn't agree more.


  1. I have only had a smartphone for a year now (not an iPhone) and while it makes my life so much more convenient (especially when travelling), I could totally live without it. I constantly miss calls because I don't have it in my hand or on the table everywhere I go... I leave it in my purse and check it when I feel like it. I do enjoy texting, checking Facebook and getting emails but none of those things are necessary and I don't do them when I'm out with friends or my husband.

    I definitely think you have to find a balance when it comes to being "plugged in", and it sounds like you did the right thing by going back to a dumbphone!

  2. Shannon, I LOVE this and I'm really happy to say I agree. I never had an Iphone and never want one. I'm a crackberry addict but have been convicted myself of my own addictions to it. I should probably get rid of Facebook on my mobile and really - you're right - the internet and GPS are impossible anyways. Thanks for sharing. Iphones have become less and less sexy to me as time goes on.

  3. hmmm.... 3 months ago you hear "Guns in hand and fingers crossed" and ditch your technology. Heck yeah!

    Seriously though, I disenjoy being in a social situaion and half the crew is clicking away on their handheld computers insead of engaging with the human beings around them.

    I don't particularly enjoy being around other humans, but I really don't enjoy being around humans on phones.

  4. My iPhone has replaced my palm tungsten as my bedside quick reference medical device. For that, it's worth it to me. Now I have one device instead of two. Technically one instead of 3, although I don't tend to use iPod functions too much anymore except on long trips and cleaning/projects around the house. -Shane

  5. To further clarify, I think there are two points here. One is whether or not smartphones are useful, and te other is whether phones in general, smart or not, are used appropriately or inappropriately in social situations. One can just as easily misuse a dumbphone in the company of friends. -Shane