Using a Dumbphone in 2024: How to Overcome Phone Addiction

Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

Recently, I spoke about my plans for a grand life reset. One of the things I mentioned was replacing my smartphone with a dumbphone. Almost two weeks into this change and I can say without a doubt that it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made this year. 

It’s not like this is completely new to me; a few years back, I did the same thing, but it was more of an experimental detox to reset my social media addiction.

This time around I simply felt that enough is enough, and it’s not just social media addiction that’s the problem. Every day, it seems that almost every person I see has their face glued to their phone whether they’re walking in the street, meeting with friends or eating a lavish meal. 

People bump into me in the street and are so stunned at the jolt back to reality that they don’t even say sorry. Then they get instantly get sucked back under their screen’s spell. 

Parents are ignoring their children for their phones the second they leave the school gates, shop workers are ignoring customers for the lure of their screens, kids are walking straight out in front of cars and bikes on their way to school because they were so engrossed in their phones.  

But as soon as I got home or stood in a queue I’d be doing the same thing. Before I knew it, hours had passed and all I’d gained was anxiety from following the news, and a feeling of having wasted frightening amounts of time. 

We’re a nation of addicts.  Fear-filled dopamine junkies. We’re terrified of missing out. Of not being heard. And that’s just the way that companies like it. Modern apps and services are cleverly designed to exploit human behaviour and our need to be noticed and informed. 

We are the product. 

Phone addiction changes the brain in a slew of harmful ways, including killing our attention spans, taking away our communication skills, and reducing grey matter in our brains. It also steals our valuable time and dulls real-life relationships. 

When was the last time you had a truly deep conversation with a friend or partner? 

When was the last time you watched a movie without pulling out your phone? How many details can you remember from that movie? 

Can you honestly remember the last time you sat and just daydreamed? 

What about the last time you truly experienced a moment without scrambling to take a picture and share it?

It may sound extreme, but swapping to a dumbphone (or feature phone as they’re sometimes called), can rapidly reset phone addiction. The benefits to switching to a dumbphone are immediate, however, like with any addiction, it can take more time for the cravings to die down and for ingrained habits to start falling away. 

Swapping to a dumbphone has had so many positive benefits from me in such a short time that the cons are negligible. 

The Benefits

When I’m standing in a queue or am waiting for something, I now either just daydream, or I pull out my pocket notebook and write down ideas for my book or next blog post. These ideas wouldn’t come to me if my head was in my phone. 

I notice so much more that makes me smile or watch in awe. For example, from my garden I saw a Kestrel flying high in the sky which often glides majestically around our area. Suddenly, a blackbird flew at it and began to attack. It was quite the spectacle, and eventually they both flew their separate ways. I also noticed a tiny wild strawberry growing in our garden which excited my husband and which he quickly took some cuttings from and potted it. 

I’m completely present. While my mind does go at the speed of a mad hamster on a wheel, and I do daydream a lot, I’m so much more present. I’ve been getting ideas much more frequently as well as being available to talk to my family (when I’m not physically off doing some random project or task which happens a lot). 

The craving to take photos and share my life constantly has almost gone. The inner peace that brings is indescribable, like having a weight removed that I didn’t even know was there. 

I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all. Even though I’m not reading the news, I always hear about it from other people or see headlines on the front of newspapers if I go shopping. It’s also much better to have things to talk about with friends and family instead of them already knowing about it through social media. 

I no longer have the automatic urge to reach for my phone. After the first few days that urge completely went away. 

Battery lasts forever! Whereas your typical smartphone lasts a day or so before needing a charge, my Nokia went for a full five days. This took ‘charging anxiety’ away where I was always worried that my phone was going to die on me and always had to remember to put it on charge the night before. 

It’s small and light. I can fit it just about anywhere.

I don’t worry about it getting stolen. Because I’m no longer carrying an expensive phone, I don’t worry about it getting lost or stolen. I can also cheaply replace the battery. 

I remember things better when I physically write them down rather than digitally save them. Phones have contributed to The Google Effect where you can’t remember things anymore because that information is readily available with a simple tap. This is pretty terrible because it’s rewiring our brains to be unable to store certain information, and it makes us susceptible to information bias because we haven’t done the research ourselves. 

The Cons

Texting takes a bit longer due to traditional buttons, but I’ve found that I kept my speedy texting skills from the nineties so it’s not really that much of a con for me. 

The internet is torturously slow and looks like the old WAP pages from the nineties. It’s incredibly painful to try and look things up on the go but that’s the whole point. Not having access to that has made me so much more mindful, and I remember things better by physically writing them down rather than saving them from the internet. 

There’s no WhatsApp support. Again, this might be a con for many people, but for me, WhatsApp just seems to demand ‘reply right now!’, even though I never have. I’ve even had people be upset with me in the past because I haven’t shared certain photos through it or haven’t seen their latest picture they shared with me. I don’t like WhatsApp for the reason that it’s as demanding as social media, even if you can turn off read receipts. 

The camera is awful, like you’ve stepped back through a time machine. Once again, a problem with smartphones is the addiction to taking photos and being unable to enjoy a moment for what it is. Without my smartphone, I’ve experienced much deeper enjoyment of moments. If I wanted to take photos I would just take a digital camera, or take my smartphone with me and turn it on as needed. This makes the photos I do take much more intentional and stops thousands of random photos taking up storage. 

How I use my smartphone now 

Despite the benefits of switching to a dumbphone, it’s 2024 and there are services which require an app or make life much easier. I’ve been leaving my iphone turned off and shut away in my bedroom drawer, only turning it on when I want to use it for something specific. This includes internet banking, to listen to music when I’m out, to take a lovely photo, or to scan money-saving cards in supermarkets. 

The way I use my smartphone now is the equivalent to pulling out a screwdriver when I need it. It’s a tool and nothing more. Once I’m finished with what I need, I turn it off again and store it away. Sure, it means I now rely more on my physical bank cards when I’m out, and I have one more device and charger in my life, but the benefits far outweigh that.

You see, for most people it’s impossible to control a phone addiction, no matter if you do a 30 day detox or a year. I know from experience that once you go back to using a smartphone, the old cravings and addictions will return. 

That’s not your fault, it’s just how they’re designed. Even if you watch certain influencers detox from their phones, they’re soon back at it and making yet another detox video later on. Detoxing becomes a cycle rather than a solution. A constant deep-seated need to escape the negative effects.

Setting limits on smartphone usage is as useful as trying to quit alcohol but still continuing to drink on set days. It’s exhausting and will put the object of addiction on a pedestal so that when your willpower finally runs out (which it will) you’ll binge the addiction even harder than before. 

This is because you have the illusion of being in control when really, your phone is still calling the shots. It’s always in the background of your mind and you’re still making a conscious effort to fight the urges.  

Even if you were to ignore those cravings and delete time-wasting apps, the possibility to access them is always there and that takes limited willpower.

The only way you can truly beat phone addiction is to take away the temptation completely. This works in the same way as changing your environment. You’re less likely to reach for a donut if it’s not in your cupboard to begin with, and to get one would take a lot of effort. 

By downgrading your phone’s use to a mere tool that you turn off after use, you no longer let it use you. You’re also no longer giving companies your data and attention (which to them is highly profitable). 

Sometimes a downgrade is the ultimate upgrade. 

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