Are you addicted to your smartphone? My experiences using a dumbphone and tablet combination to break the habit

Smartphones are incredible tools and toys that make our lives easier, more productive, more social and more fun. All great things, right? But like anything in life, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. This is especially true with smartphones (Android, or otherwise): we can actually use them to our detriment. I discovered this the hard way…but thankfully found a solution: replacing my smartphone with a “dumb phone” and a tablet to set some healthy boundaries on my “tech time”. Read on past the break to hear my experience of disconnecting.

If you’re anything like me, you love your smartphone. We use them for everything: checking the weather, tracking calories, reading articles, writing emails, social networking, taking pictures, texting, and more. We get so used to pulling them out of our pocket that we soon feel naked if we don’t have the thing in our hands. When we’re bored, we pull them out and mindlessly flick through our home screens, even if there is nothing to look at. We reach for them the second our lunch-buddy gets up to go to the bathroom to see if we’ve gotten a new message or check our Facebook feed. Instead of playing with our kids at the park we’re busy trying to capture the perfect picture of them, find the right Instagram filter, and come up with some witty caption to post to our social networks. Instead of enjoying dinner with our significant other, gazing into their beautiful eyes, we’re gazing into our lifeless screens, engaging with friends who are not even at the table with us.

The list goes on and on, but the gist of it is this: some of us have become  so connected to the “alternate world” found within our phones, that we have become disconnected from the real world in which we live. I was one of those people.

My smartphone was ruining my life by enhancing it. I had become over-connected. I missed the simplicity and slowness of life, the time to think, the deep conversations, the uninterrupted blocks of time where I wasn’t being bombarded by emails.  I needed a change, so I decided to take drastic measures: I would sell my smartphone, buy a cheap dumb phone, and carry my Nexus 7 tablet with me to work for basic productivity tasks (taking notes, adding events to my calendar, and keeping my contacts in sync). The benefit of the tablet was that I could retain some sort of connection, but I wouldn’t be able to take it with me EVERYWHERE. This would allow me to be truly disconnected from the bombardment of notifications and distractions while out and about, thus allowing me to be fully engaged in whatever situation I found myself. I liked my plan and was so committed to it that I even sold my coveted and hard-to-acquire Nexus 4 the day that it arrived (I didn’t even open it! Crazy, I know)!

I’ll admit it, the first few days without a smartphone were rough. I missed my constant companion and kept reaching into my pocket only to be let down. Soon, though, the letdown turned into a sense of freedom. Life became more enjoyable. It was the little things, like being aware of the beauty in nature while walking down the street (I was actually looking up for once, not down at my feet!). I didn’t feel the pressure and anxiousness of wondering when my next alert would come in. It was nice to know that my emails were locked in their “cage” (on my PC) and they couldn’t come growling at me whenever they pleased…indeed, I had the power to access them when I was ready. My wife and I began having more interesting conversations because my attention was no longer divided.  Besides the health and freedom that this new hardware combination brought, I found all sorts of time to do productive things around the house, play with my daughter more, and even earn some extra money.

As strange as it sounds for a guy who writes for Talk Android, I have really been enjoying life without my smartphone. There are some downsides, to be sure (like no contact sync or Google Voice). Some might even call them major inconveniences, but the health and joy that I feel now more than balances out the inconveniences that I only occasionally face. For me, for now, moving to a dumb phone / tablet combination was the right move for my health and sanity.

I hope by writing about my experiences, it has helped some of you who may be feeling the way I felt, see  that there may be a solution that allows you to have a healthy amount of disconnect, while still retaining the level of productivity (and fun) that Android has to offer us. If you’ve got some of your own thoughts and experiences to share, write them down in the comments.

About the Author: Alexon Enfiedjian

Alex Enfiedjian is an Android enthusiast and tech journalist from Central California.

  • Emji

    Great idea. You know that I’ve been thinking the same thing? I might even try it

    • Pjit

      Me too…eschewed my alluring droid…the smartphone was making me dumb, so I have tried the dumb phone+android tablet combo…it works fine…

  • mostafa

    thats true i usually use nokia n 1280 outside and a galaxy tab 2 @ home

  • Ralf

    I just try to use my HTC one X less often or leave it at home, when I go out to eat or drink. The extremly short battery life is actually helpful too xD.

  • freeeeeedom!

    i tried something similar with mixed results. i went with a nexus 7/company blackberry combo. i too felt a little less handcuffed by my smartphone while out and about. the bberry still got me urgent emails but for the most part i wasn’t checking google+/instagram/reddit… every 5-10 minutes. i had also eliminated a cell phone bill.

    it lasted about 3 weeks. what happened? i missed all the tools i had grown accustomed to. i needed Catch notes, good turn by turn directions and a decent mobile-camera.

    as much as i love android, a break can be very nice (for yourself and our loved ones).

  • TimXer

    I was an early smarty adopter at work with my Treo a few years back. I soon felt trapped by the emails, etc and went to a dumb phone after a year and what a breath of fresh air that was! Now I’m a junkie again :-!

  • SMARTPHONE is EASIER for to CARRY_than TABLET:::::

  • GraveUypo

    wall of text ahead:

    i’m the kinda person that rarely ever had my phone on me before i bought my first android. i hated the annoyance of having to talk to people whenever THEY wanted to, and didn’t really need a phone in most occasions, so i just used to forget it or leave it behind on purpose.

    a smartphone was a good cure to that. now i almost always have a phone on me.
    though i still feel the same about the annoyances. first week it was cool to check emails and such on my phone wherever i was, but then it got annoying. really annoying, to the point i was feeling like leaving it behind like i used to. so i disabled email notifications and any other that would get in my nerves. peace, thankfully.

    then whatsapp came. cool, no longer need msn to talk to my friends and we could have chat groups. but same story, got old soon. disabled group notifications at first, then left them entirely. only group i’m still in is the one with both my parents, my sister and my brother. but even that gets annoying with my brother posting pictures of his son every 15 minutes, so i “mute” the group for the day on the first sign of annoyance. i’ve been managing with that.

    i hate social networks and i don’t participate in any of them, despite having a empty facebook account in which i do not accept friend requests. for the same reasons i didn’t carry a phone on me. i don’t want people i don’t like pestering me, so yeah. facebook is nothing more than a work tool for me. i don’t hate it because i make money off it.

    so i can safely say i’m not addicted to my smartphone. i carry it because it’s a good tool to have on me. for the GPS i sometimes need, for whatever tool apps (like smart tools) i have need for, for the camera, for calling, for texting useful things, and for entertainment when i’m bored — usually when i’m at a farm laying on a hammock is when i use it to play games or read books. not really that often. for some reason, i just can’t grab it and play for 15 minutes when waiting my turn at the dentist like other people do, for instance. If i can’t focus entirely on the phone, i can’t play, and i can’t focus when i’m waiting to do something.
    i also use my phone for bluetooth audio on my car. but that’s about it.

    bottom line: i’m not addicted to my phone at all and could never even put up with all those things that made your life worse in the first place.

  • ben dover

    If you don’t want to be bombarded by email you do know you can shut off sync and stop being bombarded by emails right?

    • Alexon Enfiedjian

      but it’s too tempting to open the app and check. I guess I just lack self control.

  • Lucy_Psyc

    If you don’t even have the common sense… and willpower to “use your phone less”… that’s pretty bad. You need MAJOR help. Far more than “spend hours on the internet looking for TA articles about how to break the habit.”

  • Thank you for such interesting story. I’m definitely going to try.

  • james

    Curious…its been over 3 months since you wrote this article, do you still feel the same way? I am thinking of trying the same thing but am afraid i might be taking too many steps backward at this point. Everything seems to be pointing toward mobile, i.e. NFC, Passbook that sort of thing. Whats your thought?

  • Nneka Iloanusi

    Thanks for this life-saving write-up. I certainly will go off my tablet for a while to detoxify.