When talking to people about our digital wellness philosophy — which has a component of “unplugging” — the idea of a “dumb phone” arises. Dumb phones (a.k.a. flip phones) remind us of simpler times when phones brought great convenience but did not necessarily take over our lives. It didn’t abound with multi-level, ad-riddled, pay-to-play games (shout out to the original phone game, Snake). It didn’t bombard us with frequent push notifications from our newest social post and we weren’t constantly interlaced with the Internet.
We are not saying smartphones are the absolute worst, but I’m not sure we’re cognizant of how often and how heavily we rely on our phones. Since BOLDFISH champions digital wellness, we thought it would be interesting to experience life without a smartphone (for a week). The challenge involves us leaving our phones, powered-down, in the hands of a trusted partner and go about our daily lives with a company-sponsored dumb phone. The phone is the “dumbest” one we could get on the market, although it still has the two essential features you would want in a phone: call and text. (If you were wondering, yes, we found some old flip phones in the back of our parents’ drawers. Unfortunately, they neither worked nor were they compatible with the SIM cards telecoms solely support today.)
Our three internal team members all plan on doing this challenge, but I am the first to go since I proposed the endeavor. To be honest, the other two don’t think I will be able to do it, but I’m determined to prove them wrong. It will be a challenging seven days that I plan on documenting closely, showing just how far I’ve come.
I’ve been talking about doing this challenge since late March, but, as usual, life got in the way. My apartment lease ended in May and my two roommates were moving out. The apartment hunting process was almost as arduous as attempting to vet out new roommates. Both options, unfortunately, required a smartphone. Using various online housing groups, apps, and platforms, I could only contact most people via Facebook Messenger or the apps themselves. Apps and Facebook Messenger are non-existent on the dumb phone I got. Once April ended and my potential lodging crisis was averted, May came along with its own challenges.
I could have technically done this challenge in May, but it would have been difficult logistically. I was traveling for about two weeks and there were three main concerns: 1. Transportation, 2. Directions, and 3. Photos.
In this day and age, calling a car/cab is extremely simple thanks to ride-sharing services that are neatly packaged into user-friendly apps. When your six-hour flight is landing at 11:50 PM and you’re needed in the office the following morning, you might seek a certain level of convenience, as taking a bus to another bus to a train over the river and through the woods may be tough to tolerate (sorry grandmother). I could have planned to hail a traditional taxi or even called ahead to schedule a car service, but there were reasons I hesitated to do so. In NYC, the Medallion Taxicabs are not typically equipped with GPS. Living in Brooklyn, my drivers have gotten lost one too many times in the non-grid layout of Bushwick (although, I’m no better). As for the car service — what do you do if your flight is delayed? Or what do you do if you land earlier or later than the time you scheduled the car to arrive? I didn’t want to chance potential cancellation fees, crossed wires, etc.
I’ve been living in NYC for about seven years and I’m still geographically challenged. Just the other day, I got on the wrong train because I thought, “I got this. I’ll just wait on the opposite platform of the one I got off on earlier.” I didn’t bother confirming the directions and boom, I was going the wrong way. I often turn right when I should have turned left (perhaps I’m not an ambiturner). Now imagine this in a foreign city. I’d be lost.
Besides directions, having my smartphone is nice when I am constantly looking for something worthwhile to do, to eat, or to see while traveling in a new city. Hungry and want to grab a quick bite? Search a cute cafe. Gallery exhibit closed? Trawl the web for a different museum.
My last concern is around documenting my travels. On the day-to-day, I am not much of a photo taker. However, when traveling, I feel the need to take photos. I don’t really use social media, but I enjoying intimately sharing what I did, saw, and ate. It adds a visual element to interpersonal recapitulation. The reason behind my recent half-jaunt half-business trip was to attend my brother’s college graduation. It doesn’t seem practical to take pictures of one of his life’s milestones on my dumb phone’s 1.3MP camera… granted, it does have video capabilities.
Since May is coming to a close, I am finally ready to take the plunge. The concerns I’ve outlined above are still valid, but I’ve come up with remedial solutions. I am planning on borrowing my coworker’s printer so that I can have physical directions in-hand each time I head out. Other than that, I hope random strangers will be nice to me the next couple of days and that my friends/family will forgive me if I don’t respond to them nor share with them non-pixelated photos. Wish me luck!