How I exist without a smartphone

Some people can’t understand how anyone can exist without a smartphone. As someone who exists without a smartphone, I can tell you the short answer: easily.

The long answer is that I had a smartphone for a few years — a Motorola something-or-other with both a hardware QWERTY keyboard and a touchscreen — and it was nice but I got sick of the battery running out after a few days, I got sick of the bugs, and I definitely got sick of paying for data that I hardly used. First I downgraded to a Blackberry with almost everything deleted off of it except the basic call and text functionality, and then I downgraded again when my carrier insisted on charging me for data I literally never used. They only would exempt the data charge to flip phone users, so I became one and haven’t looked back since. So how do I get by?

Smartphones can do certain things that flip phones can’t (or at least can’t do practically). I’ll list them out and then explain how I survive without them.

  • Maps & navigation
  • Internet browsing, email, social media, etc.
  • Games and apps
  • IoT stuff

Before I do that, here are the things besides calling and texting that my flip phone can do:

  • Take pictures/video that’s good enough quality 99% of the time
  • Calculator/unit converter
  • Calendar
  • Alarm clock
  • Voice recorder
  • Send/receive vcards
  • Notepad/to-do list
  • Stopwatch
  • Voice commands and text-to-speech
  • My phone technically has email and web browsing but I’ve never used it and I’m not sure it’s really usable anyway.

With all those things, I don’t feel limited by my phone. Now to answer the question: How do I survive without…

Maps and navigation?

I keep a paper map in my car, and it’s never let me down. It’s easy to figure out which section to thumb to, even while driving. Only once have I had to pull over to look at the map. And that doesn’t happen often: most of the time I just look at Google Maps on my computer before I go somewhere. Even having to do that is unusual, since I rarely need to travel to a location I have no clue about.

Plus I have a good sense for direction and geographic placement. After a month or two of living in a new city I usually have a pretty strong basic knowledge of where most things are that I’d ever have to get to and how to get to them efficiently, even if I’ve only seen them on a map. In a pinch I suppose I could call someone and ask for directions, or even ask someone at a gas station. (Just last week someone pulled up next to me at a red light, rolled down her window, and asked me for directions! Proof I’m not the only one who still thinks asking other people for directions is normal.)

Theoretically I could imagine some scenario where my combination of computer and paper maps would be insufficient and really get me in trouble, like if I was a delivery driver or something, but even then I would probably just get a standalone GPS unit, or a cheap/free (promotional) Droid dedicated to that purpose.

Internet browsing, social media, email, etc.?

You know what I basically never need to do when I’m away from a computer, and often don’t need to do even when I’m at one? Anything on the internet. If I’m out to get a haircut or to see the doctor or something where I know I might be waiting for a while, I sometimes bring a book or an article to read. Other times I just sit and be quiet, which is good too. Boredom is a choice, and I haven’t made it since I was very young.

It’s common in conversations now for people to look up online something they are in the midst of talking about, to supplement the discussion. On rare occasions I’m curious to know what they find, but mostly I’m just as happy not knowing right that second what Wikipedia (or whatever) has to contribute to the topic at hand. If I’m really curious about it I’ll look it up later at home. When other people interrupt conversations to consult the internet on their phones, I patiently wait it out. I don’t wish I could do the same thing.

Games and apps?

I simply don’t have a need for games and apps, and I certainly don’t feel a lack for not having them. Games and apps, or the absence of them, don’t make the slightest dent in my lifestyle. I can’t imagine how they would. (And keep in mind what my flip phone can already do.)

IoT stuff?

You need a smartphone to control your smart house, your smart fridge, your smart toaster, your smart light bulbs, and to unlock your Tesla. Like games and apps, I don’t have any of that stuff and don’t want any of it.

I sometimes feel like telling people “you can live without a smartphone too, it’s not hard.” And that’s true, but it’s pointless for me to say it; I’ve probably wasted too much time saying it. People love their smartphones as much as they love complaining about them.

Instead with this post I hope people will simply get a picture of how life without a smartphone miraculously still works, and they will learn it’s not weird or even primitive.

A work-friend of mine, when he would see me with my flip phone, used to always say I was part of a trend of people who are abandoning smartphones. I never heard of nor experienced such a trend, but if there is one then that suggests the smartphone-less lifestyle is totally feasible for a lot of people, not just me.


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