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The Dumbphone Experience

When I went to dumbphone (Oct 2017, so more than six years ago now that I’m updating this), the model I got had an FM radio so I was like “OK that’s fine, I’ll switch from pods&music to listening to FM”. And that was frankly awesome! Until the headphone jack broke after a few months. And then I was like “OK that’s fine, I’ll just have to practice not having pods&music when I’m out and about.” And that was hell for the first few days but I ended up liking it.

I really appreciate smartphones for the maps feature, I woulda completely panicked in a new city without it.

Two unexpected things I’ve noticed:

First, I (subconsciously, but still) really strongly hoped people would be impressed by me not having a smartphone and think I was cool. But that has almost never happened.

Second, and this one is a good thing: I get way less annoyed at people whipping out their phones, checking their phones at dinner etc. For three reasons:

  1. I guess there was a guilt-based component to my annoyance and now that I don’t do it, I have a lot more compassion for, and a lot less annoyance at, those who still do it.
  2. I now see it as them seeking to maintain connection to their friends and loved ones—when I leave the home and my desktop computer, I’m basically disconnecting from everyone online. Sure, them sneaking peeks at their smartphones is them disconnecting from the local world, but it’s also them connecting to a wider, global world.
  3. It also happens way less often. Since I’m not doing it, they’re doing it way less, too. Not necessarily as a conscious decision.

My smartphone broke early October 2017, and I went three weeks without a phone altogether, and then got a dumbphone at the end of October that year.

In March 2020 I inherited my grandma’s old tablet. So that kind of put an end to the dumbphone experience in a way.

For the actual phone part of the phone I’m still on my dumbphone, but the tablet means that I’m never more than 3 cm away from what’s pretty much indistinguishable from the smartphone experience I thought I had left behind.

In the summer of 2021, I got to start leaving my apartment some more after being cooped up for a while. Getting away from the desktop and the tablet, and once more getting to experience the benefits of dumbphone.

In the fall of 2021 I changed tablet brand to an even more addictive version. And whenever I’m away from home I’m good because I don’t bring the tablet but when I’m home, I’m glued to it. In October 2023 (near the six year anniversary of moving to dumbphone) I started working seriously on becoming more offline. Working more often away from the tablet, and using app limits and fewer notification hours.

Although I have a better word for it now:


In a chat when I’m “talking to someone” online I’m usually right there waiting for a reply and that can be really important sometimes with some of the best of both worlds of talking (like sorting out misunderstandings right away) or writing (like having a written record so I can sort out what we really meant later) but also sometimes it’s a li’l of the worst of both worlds; slow and tedious as writing but can’t do other things because someone else is waiting for a reply.

When things are more asynchronous, I’m free from all that.

One of the points of GTD, not at first but after a while, is to make us less driven-by-the-latest-and-loudest and instead doing more deliberate and intentional things. An addiction to online messes with that, makes me go for a short turn-around-time, makes me be more LIFO than FIFO, makes me efficient within my li’l tiny horizon but it’s all at the expense of the larger perspective.

A level of indirection introduces a level of decision. GTD has the “two minute rule” but it’s dangerous because in this day and age, pretty much everything feels like it can be done in two minutes, at least subjectively, and while it’s fun to say yes to everything, every yes to something usually means a no to everything else I could be doing at that same time.

It’s taking me a while to get used to working this way because it introduces more overhead and lag. It feels super inefficient in some ways. I hope I can make up for it by reducing context switching and addictive check-check-checking.

We’re all doing what we can but I can only do so much in a day. When I focus things up and batch them up I can have a bigger perspective and stick to longer-term promises.