In praise of dumbphones


I am one of the only people I know who doesn’t have a smartphone.

I’m not bragging about this. I just have decided that at this point, it’s not something I want in my life. I’m not suggesting you do the same, so please, no need to get defensive.

My phone. No, really.
My phone. No, really.

But but but but

Here are all the reasons why I love my phone:

  • It never needs to be charged. Well not never, but I routinely go up to a week without charging it. On the other hand, a smartphone needs to be charged at least once a day. For a mobile technology, it’s kind of amazing how terrestrial that makes it.
  • It’s virtually indestructible. This thing has been dropped from great heights, stepped on, thrown, slid across rough ground, and pretty much anything aside from shot or run over by a train. And aside from a small crack on the outside screen, it’s still going strong. Whereas a smartphone’s screen is often borked by a single fall.
  • It’s cheap. I have a prepaid plan that ends up costing me $25-30 per month. And that’s only when I use it. When I was in Asia, my cost was $0.
  • It doesn’t cause me to complain. Technology is supposed to make our lives better (so they say) but I’m routinely struck at how often people complain about their smartphones. Either something crashed, the web is slow, the interface is wonky, the battery is dying, or some other computer-esque lament. I’m a big fan of eliminating anything from my life that would make me complain.

The big surprising reason

It doesn’t have email or the web. This reason is probably the most controversial. This is, after all, the primary reason why people get smartphones. But I feel like there is a high psychic cost from being online even when you’re on-the-go. I am in front of a computer all the time. I see Gmail’s interface when I close my eyes. I sometimes check websites unconsciously—I don’t even realize I’m doing it. When I step out, there is a lack of connectivity that feels positively liberating. (I’m not totally disconnected, as I can still get text messages, but I can’t check websites, which I probably don’t need to check anyway.)

Would I benefit from being online when I was out? Totally. Many of my travel mishaps come specifically from not having Google Maps on my person. But many of those mishaps actually turned into great adventures. And besides, periodic moments of wishing I had something would not be worth all those other benefits of not having that something. I can handle an unfulfilled desire or two.

Also, this lack of connectivity forces me to connect with others around me more. I ask for directions. I ask where places are. If I had all the information at my fingertips, I wouldn’t have as much reason to talk to those around me. And when conversations happen, more things are possible. Who knows, I might make a friend, or learn something I wouldn’t ever have known. I’ll never know unless I try.

Could I buy one and just leave it at home most of the time? Technically, yes. But psychologically, that’s unlikely, as I know my tendency is to make the most of something I’ve purchased, especially when that thing costs real money. By not purchasing a smartphone in the first place, I don’t need to ditch it later.

Am I saying that I’ll never buy a smartphone? No, it might happen. Actually, I’m pretty sure I eventually will. But for this balance to tip, something else needs to change to offset everything I’ve listed above.

It’s not about phones

This isn’t an anti-technology screed. I’m not suggesting that you ditch your smartphone. My thesis doesn’t even really have to do with phones at all. What I’m suggesting is that you consider the consequences of the tools that you use and the purchases you make. After all, costs are not always measured in dollars. Yes, of course you can find a spot to plug in.

But enough about me: Is there any popular tool that you consciously disavow?

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