Giving Up A Smartphone

First prove I'm not some digital minimalist...

  1. I am a full time augmented and virtual reality researcher / software programmer. I am an iOS developer, and I program augmented reality apps with Apple's ARKit. My favorite podcast is atp, where they mostly talk about new Apple products. So, I am not against iPhones. I will continue to devleop iOS augmented reality apps.

  2. Second, I am not a skilled photographer, and I love that I can point my iPhone at anything and it will do a ton of work for me to get a photo that looks great and isn't blurry.

  3. Third, my whole family uses iMessage, and we send each other a lot of photos of our lives.

  4. Fourth, I intend to increase the amount of youtube videos I make. I enjoy making them, and my iPhone has been my main camera. I just point it at what I want to film and it looks great to me. I can even sort of blur the background which looks cool.

But...The Problem

I do not like how much time I spend staring at the news, or youtube, or what other people have created on my iPhone, instead of creating something myself or reading the stack of books I always have lying around. I do not like the impression I am making on my young daughter who must think I "always" or "often" am looking at my phone. Whether I'm reading politico for no good reason, or texting a friend, or checking my bank account..those activities all appear the same to a young girl on the other side of the room who doesn't have a phone.

I am aware there are people who create a lot of valuable things in the world, and manage to avoid getting sucked into a smartphone. see Cal Newport. And there are others who create interesting art and skip having a cell phone altogether: see Jack White. Then there are other artists who have switched to a dumber phone over time: Aziz Ansari, Ed Sheeran.

The Plan

So, I have begun my dumb phone search.

Jose Briones

This led me to Jose Briones who makes videos on this topic, and created

Light Phone

An interesting one is the Light Phone. It has plenty of downsides, but the main thing is that it looks like a tiny Kindle. It uses e-ink.

What I am concerned about is: they actively take and consider suggestions, and it's a fascinating object. That makes me wonder if I will spend time admiring the Light Phone, reading about features they are considering, etc. From their site:

While considering additional functionality for the Light Phone II, it's important to remember all of the features it will never have. The Light Phone II will never have social media, internet browsing, email, news, or ads.

Again... $300 is a lot!

Sunbeam Wireless

$200 is also a lot.
We can contrast that with Sunbeam Wireless, a company started by mennonites. They take an off-the-shelf boring flip phone and customize the OS to be minimal. No web browser, no ability to add apps.


What about just getting whatever Nokia is available, like Aziz did?

Well - those Nokia phones still have web browsers and youtube.

Update on Nov 6, 2022

Sort of unsurprising for me, I have been experimenting with having multiple iPhones instead of 0 iPhones. I am trying an iPhone 12 Mini, without a SIM card, as my Camera + Spotify + Overcast machine.

  • It has the Freedom App installed which blocks all websites 24 hours/day
  • It has messages disabled, no email connection, no calendar connection.
  • it does have Apple Notes, Voice Memos, and my favorite note taking app: Bear

All notifications are disabled. All automatic updates are disabled.

Surprising side effect - it is much snappier and seems to run more quickly than my "phone" which is also an iPhone 12.

Will it work? We will see. So far, using this has removed any feeling of foreboding that I usually get which is: 'man...if I pick up that phone it's going to demand something of me: there's gonna be some message or worse some unknown message text for some list I'm on, or some app update, or whatever.

Something I am learning from this: I am much happier with completely zero notifications. I thought I was had tamed them on my iPhone, but this iPhone 12 mini approach of just turning all of it off is much more relaxing. I suppose if it also had a sim card, and I turned on messages, I would need to allow phone calls to prompt a notification, but I could live with messages not having notifications.

Update on Nov 27, 2022

Just got back from a week vacation wih my family to Florida, including Universal Studios. What I tried was: I left my iPhone that has a SIM card at the hotel. I brought with me the iPhone 12 Mini which was my Camera and Audio player.

  • has no sim card
  • has no email
  • has Freedom app on a 24 hour session to block websites
  • does not receive SMS nor iMessage
  • does not receive Facetime
  • has all notifications off.

This was really close to being great. It runs very quickly, and I have zero sense of foreboding when I take this out of my pocket to use it. There is nothing to get distracted by. It is just acting as a camera and music/podcast player. The only time I found myself distracted by it was playing with customizing the wallpaper, etc. The main con: my wife & I could not call or text each other.