Dumb Phones by Jen Farrant

Cross-posted from: Jen Farrant
Originally published: 04.08.15

With our phones, computers, tablets and even smart watches if you are so inclined it is easy to stay switched on all the time, all the time! On call and ready to go at everyone’s whims…

Now don’t get me wrong, I love technology and I desperatley want to upgrade my iPhone, which hasn’t quite been the same since it fell out of my jeans pocket and into the toilet.

But I have decided to make it work for me. I have read a few articles about people who have made their smart phones completely dumb. This is a bit overkill to my way of thinking, but I do like the principle.

I also have two phones – a work phone and a personal one. I think this is vital for everyone who gets work calls (especially the self employed), it is difficult to relax when clients phone or text you at random times. 

There are a few things I have done to make me the master of my phone, it’s worth noting that I have an iPhone, but I am sure there are similar features on other brands:

Do not disturb –  my phone automatically switches into ‘do not disturb’ mode at 9pm through to 9am. This means that I can still use all the functionality, but I don’t get notified of texts and calls. This is especially useful as I am a light sleeper and I have friends who go to bed a lot later than me (I do have a very early bed time as I like to be up at 5am) and who do text occasionally. I also like to not be disturbed during my essential morning routine, and the bank and the library both text quite early in the morning. My husband’s phone number is excluded from this, so if he is away on business he can get through. Really helpfully if someone calls several times within minutes then the call also gets put through, so if there is an emergency I will get the call.

Notifications – I have turned every single notification, visual and sound,  off on my phone, apart from texts and phone calls. This includes from the home page and on the icon. If I see a little red dot with a number showing on the icon I find it very hard to resist going and reading what has arrived in there. I don’t have that level of self control.

Pull, not push – I have made every app so that I have to go into it to get the latest thing – for example it doesn’t download emails unless I go and get them. This saves on battery and data levels, but it also puts me in control of the information flow. This is a very good thing.

One thing – although this is slightly different, the principle of making my phone work for me holds true. I don’t use my phone to take notes (unless I don’t have my notebook- e.g. when I am out on a walk), I have a watch so I am not pulling my phone out of my pocket all of the time (I am a time based person, I like to know how long things are taking, it is especially helpful with pacing, making sure I don’t do anything for too long a period of time), I use a separate timer. I even have an actual alarm clock, which I keep in another room so I have to get up and turn it off.  All of these things help me to not be so attached to my phone. I am also thinking about getting a calculator rather than using my phone.

So why am I doing this? The whole point of a iPhone is that it can do so many things. Well yes, and I really love it – I love my audiobooks, being able to take good photos (although it would be better with a 6, rather than the 4), and having my music on hand is amazing. So is having Evernote and Dropbox – I have been in the hospital and been able to pull up my notes from a previous doctor while I was there for this consultant to see. That is amazing. Being able to access the shared shopping list with my husband via Evernote when I am in the supermarket is brilliant.

However, I found myself checking my phone ALL THE TIME. While I was watching TV, while I was out with my husband, in between things, while I was waiting for something, etc. When he started calling it ‘my boyfriend’ I knew I had a bit of a problem. And yet I did nothing. At all. I just carried on.

When I was a Ranger leader I taught them how to meditate and asked them the following week how they were getting on. One of them said that she tried for ten minutes, but she got 8 text messages, including 5 from the same person who wanted to know why she wasn’t responding immediately. I was horrified and was so grateful that I wasn’t a teenager today. I did try to explain that she could turn the volume off, put it into do not disturb or even turn the phone off. She looked at me like I had three heads.

As I have been working hard at reducing my stress levels, prioritising my health and generally trying to live a more balanced life, I have tried to change this. Yesterday I was early for a meeting, so I sat in a coffee shop and just listened to my music, I didn’t immediately jump onto social media. This gave me a chance to rest and relax for a while. It also meant I was with my thoughts, rather than consuming other peoples’ – giving myself headspace. I people watch and find positive things to think about each person I see and to wish them well. In my head, not out loud, I think people would be a bit scared if I started wishing random people well as I saw them!

I have even, and this is radical, started leaving my phone in the office at night. My phone is no longer next to me as I fall asleep, unless I am having a bad night and need music or an audiobook to fall asleep.


Jen Farrant Feminist writing about art, freelancing, creativity, education, and coming to terms with being disabled