Before we start: this post got LONG. Just a heads up, especially if you’re reading on a mobile (ha). Here’s part one, part two and part four of this tenuous series.
I was going to share this sooner, but I wanted to take a bit longer to get to know the newest electronic acquisition in my life:
Yep, it’s a brick phone. It’s a 2015 model, so it has 3G and an okay-ish camera, but that’s about it. I got it because my smart phone is dying (at the stage where you take one photo and 80% battery becomes 2% battery) and because I was fed up with spending all my brain power looking at one small, overly-delicate screen. I’m also trying to look after my mental health more, and although a lot of studies are observational and although the internet is generally a Good Thing, we know that increased screen time often contributes to worse sleep, which contributes to worse mental health. We know that the behaviour associated with bad mental health can also be associated with obsessive phone use. (This is a good article looking at various evidence for what I’ve just mentioned.) I know that my smart phone contributed to my appalling mental health, through the very scientific study of having used one for 10 years.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about consumption and the environment, so I didn’t want to get a new-new phone. When I scoured Southend’s second hand tech shops, I realised I couldn’t actually afford an old-new smart phone, even if I wanted one, because smart phone prices are like house prices. It doesn’t matter how many are available or what the quality’s like; someone’s realised that they can get away with adding a couple of zeroes to the market price every year or so. £400 for a second hand mobile that will stop accepting updates in a year or two? Haahahaa no.
So I got this little Nokia. Emphasis on the little. I’ve had it about a month now, so I thought this is a good time to take stock of its pros and cons:
New Brick Phone Pros
- There’s no touchscreen; it’s harder to accidentally press something and message the wrong person.
- It’s so basic there’s no need to pick it up unless it makes a sound.
- Fits in most bags and pockets.
- It has Snake!
- It cost £23, aka a realistic budget for a full time student.
- I’ve owned it for four weeks and, after an inaugural full charge, have only plugged it in twice. Maybe three times, but I think twice. I do a fair amount of calling on it too. My smart phone needed juice every other day at best.
- It’s too early to say for sure (thanks lockdown), but I think I’m more present at social events. There obviously hasn’t been enough socialising to do a full study, but since there’s nothing to do on the phone unless I want to call or text, or maybe use the calculator or timer, there’s no point in it being in my hand.
- I have to be more deliberate about doing the things I used to do in 2 clicks on the smart phone. For example, I use Headspace, and I try to do a few minutes’ meditation (or sitting to try to meditate) everyday. Now my smart phone is usually turned off or failing to charge, I often use the desktop version of the app, which means I’m planning my meditation more. It’s the same for my banking app: I used to check it as though I had a nervous tic. Now I spend a minute logging in on desktop, so I do it less but now I know what I’m looking for when I am on there.
- I think I’m not tapping my card to pay for ‘little’ purchases quite as much either, because I can’t do a quick balance check to see if I can justify the payment. If I’m right, it’s probably going to save me cash in the long run because let’s face it, ‘checking to see if I could justify the purchase’ did not necessarily mean I could really afford it, but it meant that I told myself that I’d done my due diligence.
- I’ve done at least one Proper Drop and the thing damn near bounced. There’s barely a scratch on it, and it was second hand to start with. I can’t believe how much I’m going to save on screen protectors, cases, repairs, etc.
- No creepy adverts on the phone that reflect something I Googled on a separate device.
- No noisy, headache-inducing apps enticing me to stay a minute longer.
- I don’t feel like every tap is being tracked by the government or satellites or whoever owns or hacks the satellites. It doesn’t even matter if I am being tracked, man, I just don’t like the feeling that I might be.
Brick Phone Cons
- Manual button pressing for texts = painful on my achy fingers (on the plus side, I find I am saving things for when I can have a proper conversation. This might improve my memory in the long term?).
- No notes app (ditto; I carry a pen most places anyway).
- No track and trace (although the track and trace app fried my smartphone to the extent I couldn’t turn on the location or the Bluetooth until I was zapping a QR code, which called into question the point of having said app. Also haven’t they decided track and trace in England doesn’t work?).
- No emojis. You can insert basic smileys, but I miss the eye roll emoji.
- It’s so small I keep losing it in my pockets. Do you know how small a phone has to be to get lost in women’s cut pockets? I can actually keep the phone in my purse haha. I keep leaving it around the house, too, and forgetting where it’s gone because I haven’t needed to look at it for six hours.
- No WhatsApp or work banking apps.
- I would love a better camera.
All in all, I’m feeling pretty positive about the swap. For anyone wondering about phone contracts: I have a SIM only pay-as-you-go whatsit. At one point I topped up my smart phone with £10 or £20 a month, depending on how much data I thought I might need. Gradually I reduced it, because I wasn’t really using all the calls or texts, and I realised that a lot of my smart phone use was just me checking emails or messages that could wait until I got to a computer.
Have I ever mentioned that I’m not very good at work-life balance. So I have a bundle thing that works out as £1 a week for calls, texts and data. I thought I might have to pay more when I bought the brick, because it doesn’t have wifi capability – you have to use 3G. But the internet system is a) quite shit and not worth bothering with unless it’s an emergency, and b) so low tech that your data gets you more browsing time.
There are a couple of things I’d like to improve.
Number one is WhatsApp and the banking apps. I’m in a couple of groups with family and college people that are really useful. You can get WhatsApp on desktop (so much easier than typing on a phone) but it needs to connect to the smart phone. Which is entering that can’t-hold-charge phase of its demise. Can I really do without WhatsApp? Not sure. I also liked the Facebook messenger app, because I do a fair bit of selling on Facebook and it’s convenient to be able to message people in situ. There are also friends who I only get hold of through Facebook, so sometimes I’d like to be able to message them a bit more easily. Furthermore*, I did like apps like Depop and Headspace (infinitely easier on the app than on desktop) and my work banking apps. I can’t not use those banking apps, because they don’t have desktop versions. I could use a different bank to make up for it, but that’s a lot of admin (and I like those services).
Number two is the camera. I’ve still got the smart phone, because I don’t own a proper camera, and I do need a one for general photos/videos for members of the No. 1 Readers’ Club/product pictures. The brick does not cut the mustard, so I’m sort of juggling between the two if I need to film something.
Finally: you sort of need to tap more on a phone with buttons. Although I used to scroll various apps and send messages when I could’ve phoned people on the smartphone, I loved the qwerty keyboard because it’s kinder on my hands and fingers than the traditional brick phone keyboard (to an extent, of course. I fell down with the smart phone because I used it until my thumbs were numb and I could hear my wrist bones clicking). Now I have to press-press-press to get the letter C, or press-press-press to turn the phone on and off silent mode. On the plus side, I’m now more inclined to ring someone if they require a long text, which means the conversation is actually over faster.
Soooo the verdict?
The brick is staying for now. I really like that I’m less tethered to one device. There’s less risk if I drop it, it’s cheaper (both in terms of running costs and in terms of paying up front for the device) and my mental health is almost definitely better for it. I’m not feeling as though I’m beholden to something that ostensibly is there to make my life better and easier, but was actually making me anxious, frustrated and easily-distracted. It sounds ridiculous, but the plain-black screen is nicer on my eyes (no bright apps shouting in my face), the interface is so empty it’s quite calming and I’m not tempted to waste my life mindlessly scrolling. Those are things worth hanging on to.
That said: I am still juggling between the brick and the nearly-dead smart phone. The camera could become an issue, and if they ever improve test and trace, I’d like to use it.
My plan for now is to keep using the brick and eke as much life from the smart phone as I can. Depending on how much money I find myself with in spring (at which point I’ll have had six months of using the brick, so I’ll know what I’m willing to compromise on), I might do a spot of shopping. There has to be a smart phone on the market that has zero bells and whistles. Or a brick phone with a couple of bells. I know some Nokias do have WhatsApp options. I feel like there must be a kid on Kickstarter crowdfunding a phone that offers all the convenience and genuine positives of the smart phone, with none of the shouty, advert-y, brain-frying creepy tracking of the current market.
Of course, I could get a proper smart phone and just not load up the apps that had a bad impact on my brain (so basically, everything except Headspace and my banks. Sorry Depop, I love your convenience but I have made multiple purchases on you just to make myself feel better. WHICH THEY DIDN’T. Now I feel guilty when I look at those clothes). But do I trust myself not to crack and download Instagram when I’m feeling low, even though I know it’ll make me feel lower? No. I might download Instagram so I can do a fun Insta Live with my lovely followers, but keep it on there ‘just in case’ I do another soon. Which I won’t. I’ll just sit on it in bed, scrolling past the posts that I know are lies, let those lies make me feel bad about myself, lose sleep… and wonder why I feel crappy the next day.
So for now, the little brick is staying with me. Maybe in six months I’ll buy a smart phone but keep the brick as a back up, so if I notice myself falling back into bad habits, I can just pop back to the brick until I’ve rebooted my brain. We’ll see.
Have you ever considered swapping your smart phone for a brick? Do you know any good low-tech smart phones? Let me know in a comment! I’m curious to see how many people have thought about doing this, or have done it. If you can’t imagine swapping your smart phone, why not? (Okay, I kind of know the answer to that.)
Look after yourselves!
*Furthermore. Can you tell I’m writing essays again?!
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