Smart man, dumb phone

A Smart Man With A Dumb Phone.

Last year I stayed with some treasured old friends from uni in the English countryside. They live in this fantastical house. It has a turret! It has a moat! It has one of those amazing freestanding roll top baths like the Cadbury’s Flake advert! It is a testament to the wisdom of the best piece of financial advice being to marry the right person in the first place, and stay married to them.

Now then, he is a big city lawyer, partner of a London law firm. Top level, big cheese, commercial lawyer…but….he is also easily one of the most laid back and chilled guys to be around. I was wondering how he pulled this off given the pressures of his role and a pretty epic commute…and then I saw him put his phone on to charge. It was a fully old-skool style Nokia 3310. The unsmartest of phones. It looked like it belonged in a 1990’s museum exhibition.

“Er….is that your phone?” I said incredulously.


“But you have a work phone too, right?”.


“That can’t be your only phone?” I persisted, my brain struggling to compute.

“Yes. It’s my only phone. It’s all I need”.

“But…but…you don’t have a smart phone? With a screen? With internet? At all? Anywhere?” I’m scanning the room as if to see a top of the range iPhone or Samsung magically appearing out of thin air.

“Nope. This phone is it.”


I don’t mind telling you I took a few quiet minutes to let that sink in. This is a man with a seriously massive job, running his life off a Nokia 3310. This is in great contrast to me and his missus who had had a fab day shopping and pottering but between us had used Google maps to find our way around a diversion, MyFitnessPal to compare protein consumption, Facebook to look up what country another old friend was living in (Denmark), IMBD to settle the score on who was the actor in a thing we couldn’t’ remember (Mathew Broderick), and Pinterest for a twist on a mojito recipe (raspberry and cucumber).

If you are dumbfounded by this dumb phone revelation, consider that one 2017 study found that Americans spend an average of 5 hours a DAY on their phones, another that some teenagers are spending up to NINE hours a day across assorted social media platforms.

A term has been coined to describe that mild (to (be honest now) extreme) panic that sets in when you can’t find your phone or it’s out of charge:

Nomophobia (No Mobile phobia, geddit??).

No wonder France led the way last year by passing legislation to reduce pressure to respond to work queries out of hours calling it the “right to disconnect”.

It’s a modern-day paradox that we are increasingly disconnected in an uber-connected world. That with some people if we don’t get an instant reply, we wonder if they have, in fact, been kidnapped. Is all of this connectivity good? No. Is all of it bad? No. It is, as it usually is, all about finding the optimal balance. Spending that weekend with someone in a huge job incongruously twinned with a Nokia 3310 did however make me consider that the belief, “I have to be connected and contactable for work”, might not be as true as I thought. Perhaps for many of us, “I need it for work” is an excuse for smartphone addiction and that comforting dopamine rush of being needed or liked with each ding or red flag notification.

Being over-connected to our phone dramatically reduces our capacity to be present. The perfect example of this is watching the telly with two screens. If you have ever sat in front of a show and been scrolling through Instagram at the same time, you will know for sure the impact that has on your comprehension of the show. You have missed key bits, only have the gist of what’s important, and the amount of empathetic connection you have whether that is crying at the sad bits, or being scared at the scary bits, or laughing at the banana skin fall will be significantly reduced.

Two screens equals a massively reduced emotional connection. It’s not just like this with the TV, of course, it’s the same with the person you are with if your attention is split between them and your (or their) phone. You miss the full emotional impact of the share about their mother’s dementia, or the child sharing their delight at bringing you the dandelion, or they miss your natural enthusiasm for the raspberry cucumber mojito recipe.

The present moment is where our joy, happiness and purpose live.

We cannot experience them anywhere other than the present moment. If you want to set your 2019 on fire then one way is to tweak your digital boundaries and balance. Thing is, for me, there have been a number of times where having a smartphone with Google maps, or a receipt in my email, has absolutely saved not just my bacon but the whole pig.

So, you also might not want to go the whole hog and ditch your iPhone for a retro Nokia, but you might want to think about the following:


  1. Can you take your email off your phone? Delete it completely? Do you really need it there? Really? Think about it: if your office knows you do not have email on your phone you reduce all expectation that you will check it or answer it out of hours.


  1. Do you want to delete your social media off your phone? What will you do when you would otherwise be mindfully scrolling? Hmmm…that’s food for thought isn’t it?


  1. There are a huge array of apps that have been developed to stop you using your other apps so much. Ah, the irony. So, you can download an app like Offtime which helps users unplug by blocking distracting apps like Facebook and games and filtering communications. It also includes some fairly alarming information on how much you actually use your smartphone and on what.


  1. Curfews and boundaries can be very effective. Studies have shown that the blue light from our screens affects our natural sleep response, so a no phones in the bedroom or a phone curfew an hour before bed might work well or you.


  1. A no 2-screen rule might work for you too. So if you are watching TV, do that, be fully present and enjoy it. When you are checking Facebook, do that and do the same. Split focus means reduced enjoyment.


  1. Choose to be present when you are with people. Be fully all there. Phone away and preferably on silent so the notifications don’t take your attention from the person you have decided to actually spend time with. Focus deliberately on real-world, real-time connection. Maximise your attention and reap the emotional rewards from that choice.


A smart man with a dumb phone? Just maybe he is onto something.


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