The cheapest smartphone costs less than $100. I bought one in 2015. It had one GB of RAM, ran on a 3G network, and was powered by Snapdragon 200 processor. The camera was 5 megapixels. I bought it unlocked for about $85 at Best Buy, because I was committed to breaking up with all of the addictive features of high-end smartphones, and also because spending a lot of money on a phone came to seem a terrible investment. I utterly smashed two of them in the same week in 2014. Even though I had insurance on them, the copay to replace one is $180. Two months after I got the second replacement I dropped it.
So I went cheap and basic. It was going to be a turning point in my relationship with digital communications technology.
Within six months I financed a new flagship phone from my carrier. I’ve had it for over two years and haven’t destroyed it.
I think if you’re going to break up with smartphones, you need to break up with smartphones, not try to use one that’s just really bad at being a smartphone. I spent all my time on the cheap one searching for the lightest launchers and the smallest apps so that the spartan capacity of the device wouldn’t be stressed. I couldn’t perform more than a single function at a time. Playing music was taxing. Watching video was impossible.
I wanted both the functionality of a high end phone and the moral satisfaction of a cheap one. You can’t have both. If you want to break up with your smartphone, do it. Get a Nokia 3310. If you’re going to use a smartphone, use a good one.
I took a good long look at a 3310 myself the other day. The urge to ditch all the RAM and processor cores comes at me in waves, at least once a year. Usually it dies for lack of genuine enthusiasm and a sort of self-loathing hopelessness. “I couldn’t live without my smartphone.”
This time, though, I killed the urge proactively. I can live without a smartphone. I’m living with it less and less all the time. I don’t need to remove the tool from my life completely to prove to myself that it hasn’t irrevocably corrupted me. I’m following Time Well Spent and The Center for Humane Tech. I’ve gone grayscale. My phone charges in the hallway at night. All the notifications are off. I don’t have Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram installed.
I can live without my Android phone, but specific things would be noticeably worse for me if I did. Making use of a tool’s value does not mean you are addicted to that tool. The value I would miss the most, the function that doused the flame of my latest dalliance with dumbphones, is Lyft. Living in the city and using public transit almost exclusively, the ability to hail a car in minutes from my phone is incredibly valuable. That my payment information is stored in the app and I can print an email receipt makes it better for me than a cab. Giving up a smartphone means giving up a very useful service. I don’t feel I need to do that.
I’m sure I’ll want to ditch it again soon, though.