Something needed to change. A quick assessment using Apple Screen Time (Settings > Screen Time) or Android Digital Wellbeing (Settings > Digital Wellbeing) will show how much of my day is wasted scrolling through twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It was time to ditch the smartphone and experience life without one.
To remain somewhat connected to the world we assessed the simpler mobile phones on the market. We needed something that was 4G, could be used as a hotspot for remote working, had a QR code scanner for COVID venue check-in and a bonus would be the addition of WhatsApp. The Nokia 800 ticked those boxes and at $199 RRP we were on our way.
Setup was obviously simple, no Apple ID or Google account required. We did however sign into our Google account to download contacts onto the Nokia, an unexpected benefit.
The small app store had us running on WhatsApp and even a podcasts player. Life suddenly felt rather quiet. No notification from Facebook that someone has posted in my community groups about when the bins will be collected, no notification from Instagram that a celebrity has posted a photo after a hiatus and nothing from Twitter to tell me what’s trending. With the Nokia 800 I had a small 2.4 inch display and the physical keys that meant if you received a text from me, it took effort.
My first full day started with a trip to the gym, since COVID they have implemented an app for members to access classes and the venue. My first obstacle but a paper workaround was available, even if the conversation was awkward.
A trip to the city was on the cards that day and in our neighbourhood we are fortunate to have access to the Cooee Bus service to make trips to the nearby Metro much easier. This service also relies on an app and without my smartphone we were on foot. At least our step count was going up.
At the train station we did something I hadn’t in a long time. Read a book. A real book. Immersing yourself in a book, made the world disappear and without a smartphone on hand to interrupt with a vibration or beep, I read page after page. At one point, looking up, every other passenger was doing what I used to do. Hold the phone and scroll, endlessly, until maybe you run into content you saw last time you opened that social media app. It isn’t just teenages. Parents glued to their phones ignoring their kids, or their kids also using a smartphone to keep them quiet. It looked so sad, I didn't like what I saw and I didn’t miss the old me.
Throughout the day when you stumble across moments you want to capture, the Nokia 800 has a camera, but at 2MP it is purely to prove you saw something. The images captured aren’t useful for much else.
Not that we had a social media app to share them on. With a 2 year old son, I decided to start carrying a camera. The Sony RX-100 is a compact but very capable digital camera that would at least allow me to capture moments that matter and usually in better quality than a smartphone could dream of. The pockets were getting full though.
Coming towards the end of the day and in front of a computer, I would open the three social media apps to see if anything major happened that day, ensuring I hadn’t missed out on anything. I hadn’t. What I had missed however was messages from different groups of friends and family. What I learned very quickly was that some people like to contact you via Facebook Messenger, some use WhatsApp, some Direct Message. With so many ways to be contacted, I wasn’t able to see many until the afternoon. Nothing urgent but just because you change how you can be contacted, it doesn’t mean others will change also.
As we settled for the evening one thing I wasn’t looking for was a phone charger. The Nokia 800 almost made it an entire week before needing a recharge, again, something you won't see a smartphone do.
Throughout the rest of the week I quickly learned I needed to get back onto a smartphone for everything except those social media apps.
Whether it was apps to manage the smart home, replying to emails, fitness tracking apps or using the COVIDSafe app, I was making life difficult for myself in many ways. Shifting to an Android device, the Google Pixel 5, I was able to set rules around my app usage. On an iPhone it is called Downtime. Between 9am and 5pm, Focus Mode would kick in. All of those apps that would be a distraction would turn grey and go dormant.
Timers were set for apps to ensure I wasn’t using them for hours and hours each day. When the allocated time per app was consumed, it would lock until the next day. I also turned off notifications from all social media apps, I didn’t need to know when someone liked one of my photos, I could see that when I wanted to, not when I’m alerted about it.
These controls meant that a task like reading (a book which I managed to finish in that week) would not be interrupted. A Zoom or MS Teams meeting would not be distracted by a smartphone notification. I would look at my friends and family, have both hands free and spend more quality time with them, not split with that window to the rest of the world. My attention could now be focused on what was important, and it is not in any social media app.
Geoff Quattromani is a tech commentator across radio, print, online and television. Check out his podcast “Technology Uncorked” for new information each week.