‘WHAT’S that?’ asked my six-year-old nephew, perplexed. Thinking he meant the ganglion cyst on my left wrist, I replied: “Oh, that’s my on/off button for turning me on and off like a robot.”
Unimpressed, he continued: “No, no, what’s the thing IN your hand?” Looking down again, I realised he was talking about my phone, my old school drop-it-as-often-as-you-like-and-it-won’t-break Nokia 3310.
It turns out my six-year-old nephew had never seen a non-smartphone, or in technical terms a ‘dumb phone’, before. And why would he? Everyone in his life, including his tech-savvy grandparents, have smartphones, so this brick in my hand evoked the same confused ‘I don’t understand’ response from him that he hears from me every time he tries to teach me how to play Minecraft.
Having explained that it was indeed a phone — but you can’t download on it, watch Youtube, take more than two photographs before the memory clogs, or play anything other than Snake — he handed the phone back to me with utter disdain and asked his nan if he could play with her iphone instead.
He isn’t the only one to have looked at my phone with incredulity. Grown-ups, with wonder in their eyes, often ask if they can hold it like they would a baby. They gingerly pick it up and paw it with such reverence that I feel compelled to look away from what appears to be their intimate moment with a once-loved technology.
This nostalgia harks back to our first encounters with mobile phones; to the days when you ran to the local shop to buy credit so you could text your new beau; when there were no phone package deals so every call cost a small fortune and thus was kept exclusively for emergencies, i.e. calling the parents to collect you from town, to a time when ‘can you call me?’
The very first smartphone, the touchscreen Ericsson R380, arrived on the market in 2000 but it wasn’t until Apple released the first iphone in 2007 that the smartphone really took off.
By 2013, a billion smartphones were in use worldwide and, according to statista.com, this is projected to grow to around 2.5 billion in 2019.
Research by Deloitte shows nine out of ten 18-24-year-olds use their smartphones while meeting friends, watching television, shopping and on public transport. A quarter use them when eating at home or at a restaurant.
This, of course, comes as no surprise to anyone who has spent time with a young adult in the past five years. But this addictive behaviour, constantly checking one’s smartphone, isn’t just the preserve of the young. You only need to go for a coffee and look around to see a row of strained older necks eagerly refreshing their Facebook feeds or asking Dr Google why they’ve no energy. It’s no wonder chiropractors are so busy.
I was one of these ‘strained older necks’ in the cafe, until August last year. Up until then I was obsessed with my smartphone and would take it to bed with me so its glowing screen was the last thing I saw every night and it was the first thing I’d grab every morning.
I was constantly refreshing my screen, looking for updates, updates, updates. My concentration levels were diminished, my productivity was sparse, I had stopped reading books and had a very sore neck. But underlying all of this was a sense of unease. I knew I wasn’t being present in my life.
Time spent with the people I love, with friends, with my nephews and niece, and even with my dog, was diminished and drained by the constant presence of my smartphone.
And so I decided enough was enough. I wanted to be present in my life. I wanted to read more. I wanted to be more productive and I wanted a pain-free neck. So, I restored my smartphone to its factory settings, sent it off to a recycling plant and purchased the updated version of the original Nokia 3310.
To now have a single-purpose, minimised phone where all messages are coming from one source, SMS, not through SMS, WhatsApp, Viber, Messenger and email, is one of the best decisions I ever made. It means when I want to use Facebook, check my email or google symptoms of whatever mysterious illness I’m convinced I have, I have to wait until I’m sitting at my desk in the morning with a cup of coffee in hand, ready to take on the internet. It means that when I’m out and about I fully engage with being out and about and no longer have a hunchback from constantly looking down at my phone. I find myself talking to wonderful elderly Corkonians on buses instead of checking my phone. I catch up on my reading in waiting rooms, am fully present during conversations instead of twitching to glance at a screen, and generally feel better and of course slightly superior to those who are still walking around hunched over their devices.
Also, I’ve more energy, which means I’m out and about more and have more energy to engage with the people I meet face to face. For me, there really is no draw-back.
Am I a new-age luddite, frightened of new technology? I wouln’t say that, but I am definitely conscious that if I want to live a life where I’m present and not distracted, looking ahead and not down, then the smart option is not the smart-phone; it’s the old school drop-it-as-often-as-you-like-and-it-won’t-break original mobile ‘dumb-phone’.
Six months later, I’m still smartphone free, confident I made the smart decision.