As I start this article I’m pulling the SIM card out of my
iPhone X Pro.
** record scratch **
I can never remember (nor care about) the random concoction of words after the number. A couple of years ago I ordered a phone case for the iPhone 11 Pro Max. To preserve my journalistic integrity, I open the settings screen to confirm the model name. I swipe my thumb on the screen and find the Settings app completely unresponsive. I wish I were making this up or that this was the first time this had happened. But the truth is, this is not the first time an app has randomly stopped responding. At least this time I was able to force close the app and re-open it finally allowing me to confirm it is an iPhone 11 Pro.
About a month ago another glitch left me with the inability to swipe up from the weird “home bar” at the bottom of the screen. I was stuck on the lock screen. When I was finally able to get to a computer, I had to search (not google) the magic Konami code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start) to force the phone to restart. There’s no option here to just rip the battery out like we used to do.
Have you ever realized how difficult it is to turn off your mobile device? Or how difficult it is to manage all of your notifications so you don’t walk around sounding like you are carrying a live bird with you at all times?
This post is the beginning of a long journey to reclaim my digital self. Step one is handing over the devices that have become figurative and, depending on how you look at it, literal handcuffs. I’m talking about ditching my Apple smart phone and watch.
I navigate to the button to erase all content from the phone. Even after clicking the button, I’m still nervous that something critically important lives on the device. After submitting, it then starts uploading data to iCloud. The previous screen said I have over 50 GB of space left, so I was worried it was going to try uploading all of that. This part takes only about a minute and then it asks me to confirm my Apple ID Password to disable the Activation Lock. I fill it in and hit the “Turn Off” button. The phone asks me one final time to confirm that I want to delete all data on the device. This warning comes with red text: “Erase iPhone”.
I push the button and the phone shows the Apple logo above loading bar. It cycles through a couple of times and then the screen goes black. Finally it reboots now with just the Apple logo. And once again a slow moving loading bar. Once this one is complete the phone writes “hello” on the screen in numerous languages. It is now ready for a new owner and new home.
How I Got Here
A couple of years ago, I shocked even myself when I switched from a Pixel 2XL to an iPhone. My Pixel had taken an unfortunate tumble that caused issues with the camera and audio. Shortly after I completed my set with an Apple Watch. “Wow”, I thought as I didn’t have to log in to my laptop when wearing my Apple Watch. But as time went on, each of these things started to lose its luster.
My night time ritual became more focused on making sure all of my electronics got tucked in appropriately so I wouldn’t be stranded with a dead device the next day. I never ended up finding it more convenient to tap my wrist or phone to make a payment. At first, it was exciting to see people messaging me on my wrist. But this eventually became a nuisance as time went on. Every 5 minutes some new distraction would pop up on my wrist. Early on I learned to disable the vibrate on notification. Unfortunately, your wrist is pretty much always in view when working at a computer. So even “silent” notifications would create a visual distraction.
I configured some more until I was left with something that was calming. This sleek, sexy, and over $500 device was now exclusively telling me the time. Decades of research went into making this device and the only thing I really wanted it to do was tell time. For me, I have no desire to have something whizzing colorful lights and sounds at all times.
And so, a small seed was planted in the back of my mind. If all I wanted was for my watch to tell time, why not just build my own? Long ago, in university I had seen how simple the hardware is for a digital clock. And now we have some interesting new displays like e-ink. I decided that I would build my own watch. Not only would it be a great learning experience, but it would also allow me to build the device I truly wanted.
Somewhere in between all of this, I read an article from someone about how they “downgraded” to a feature phone. I resonated with a lot of what the author had to say about smart phones. After reading this, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Would I be able to survive without a smart phone?
Battling Technology Addiction
I have long battled addictions with technology. This first began with video games at home on a computer. Once I started university it transitioned to silly mobile games that required constant attention throughout the day. Ironically, learning to build video games was the thing to finally put that nail in the coffin. I was only able to take back control once I became knowledgeable enough to see that every game is the same thing wrapped in different clothing.
At the time, Facebook was probably the largest social media addiction for others. Funny enough, my video game addiction helped me dodge that one. When I finally broke away from video games I was “free”.
Flash forward to today and I’ve found myself again in similar shoes. Despite my best efforts, I fill idle time with Reddit, Twitter, TikTok, HackerNews, news, etc. I “can’t wait” for a break in my day so I can scroll through endless mindless content that brings me little joy. I used to make fun of cigarrette smokers for not realizing how bad the habit is for their health but continuing to do it. But here I am doing the exact same thing (worse in some ways, I would argue).
After reflecting on it, I strongly believe I would be happier with a less “smart” phone. A mobile phone’s primary purpose has become completely lost in the modern technology world. In my opinion, a mobile phone should primarily be used as a device to call people. Currently, if I need to call someone on my smart phone, it takes me several seconds to figure out how to even do this.
I have intentionally left texting off this list. In many ways, texting on a mobile device is the worst of all worlds. With texting, a 5 second conversation gets strung across an entire day. Communicating with thumbs has to be one of the lowest bandwidth forms of communication we have. This should be a last resort, not the first choice.
Starting today, my daily carry looks different. I have written custom software for a Watchy (Open Source e-paper watch) and will use this as my daily watch. Supposedly, it should have a battery life of up to a week. I’ll do a follow-up post on my experience with it.
It’s taken me almost a full year to get the courage to take this leap. I will share my learnings along the way.