Why some people are dumbing down their phones

Dumbphones are not exactly popular these days. These types of cell phones are not connected to the Internet and only allow their users to make calls, send texts, and use already-embedded programs. Their sales are consistently declining as an increasing number of people purchase iPhones, Androids, and more sophisticated devices.

According to the information technology and research firm Gartner, global sales of smartphones passed those of dumbphones beginning in 2013. Sales continued to nosedive after that, with a 14 percent drop within the next year alone.

In a time when the world can be at our fingertips, and we can communicate with friends, family, and strangers with the touch of a button, it doesn’t seem to make sense that someone would choose to use a dumbphone. And yet, there are people who see the advantages of sticking to these devices.

Take Laura G. Jones, a writer who decided to ditch her smartphone last year because she says she was addicted to it.

“Some people drink too much,” she wrote. “I spent too much time scrolling aimlessly through my friends’ updates, taking pictures of my food instead of enjoying it, and consuming content instead of creating it.”

She realized that to kick the habit, she’d have to go cold turkey.

“When I realized how much it was controlling me,” she continued, “I made a conscious decision to give up the mindless Facebook scrolling while waiting for coffee, answering emails when I should be talking to my husband in the car, and skimming blog post after blog post when I could just enjoy being present.”

Aside from heading the congregation at Beis Knesses at Faircrest Heights, a synagogue in Los Angeles, Rabbi Elchanan Shoff provides counseling people in need. He says that owning a dumbphone lets him stay focused.

“It allows me to get things done professionally and not always be on immediate call for people,” he says. “I don’t see emails for hours, and I am able to reply when it’s convenient and focus on the task at hand without the constant distraction of connectivity.”

Laura Newcomer, the former senior editor of Greatist, once announced in a blog post that she still had a dumbphone for a variety of reasons. Instead of relying on a map app to get her around, she could use her wits and interact with people by asking for directions. She also emphasized that smartphones can weaken relationships between friends.

“I value the fact that my ‘dumb’ phone lets my friends drop out of constant contact with (read: ‘be lost from’) me as well,” Newcomer wrote. “As a result, our time together feels that much more valuable when we connect in real life. I don’t want to know what my friends are up to because I’ve been following them hour by hour on Instagram; I want to know because we’ve had a conversation.”

Keeping relationships intact can be difficult when people are constantly looking at their phones. Oded Israeli, a father of three, saw that his smartphone was impeding the time he could have been spending with his children. Thus, he co-founded O’Daddy, a Tel Aviv-based company that dumbs down certain smartphone features to encourage parents to pay attention to their kids.

“When we’re wasting time on our smartphones with our kids around, we’re hurting them in a number of ways,” says the WeWork Dubnov member. “First, we’re missing out on quality time, which is bad enough. Second, we make our kids compete for our attention, against a machine. A kid nowadays grows up realizing that the smartphone seems to be more interesting to mom and dad than he or she is. Third, we educate our kids to be as faulty as we are. They, like us, become addicted to screens, develop short attention spans, and lack face-to-face human interaction.”

Though Israeli and his team are still working on perfecting O’Daddy, he says that his product will help parents deal with their smartphone addictions.

“You want your time and focus to be uninterrupted, so you need to reduce the amount of digital distractions,” he explains. “Turning on airplane mode or shutting off your device altogether would be ideal for your kids, but it might be too hard for most parents. We have some creative ideas on the middle-ground that can take us back to digital sanity.”

Many workers these days cannot effectively do their jobs without their smartphones. Plus, socializing can be difficult if you’re not able to access Facebook and Snapchat messages on the go. Instead of giving up your smartphone completely, there are apps you can utilize to curb the distractions.

There’s the Digital Detach app, which dumbs down your phone when you need to concentrate on a task, or when you’re going out to dinner with friends and want to focus on the conversation. Focus Lock for Android users keeps you from accessing games, apps, videos, and whatever other platforms are holding you back from other activities.

Or, if you have more self-control, you could simply turn off your notifications, especially ones that aren’t directly influencing your life. Don’t go to bed with your phone, or check it first thing in the morning, and make time, at least a few hours per week, where you put your phone away and pay attention to family members, coworkers, friends, nature, your surroundings, and yourself.

Though smartphones are a necessary evil, you don’t need to be connected all the time. By turning off your phone and tuning into the greater things in life, you’ll learn to appreciate those things that much more.

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