A quest to tame technology-driven interruptions and distractions in my daily life.

Archive for November, 2010

Phoning it in

As I’ve detailed in previous posts, the last 10 weeks have been spent establishing new rules for my tech use, trading down my gadgets, and generally waking up from a long daze. While the point of these changes has been to get more out of all aspects of my life—and to be distracted less—the point of this blog is to help me examine why and how it is all working out. Plus I can answer questions I get frequently. Specifically in the next few entries, I wanted to write a little about each aspect of my new set-up and how they are working. I’ll devote this one to my phone.

Nokia e71x. Duh.

After many hours of research and correspondence with AT&T tech support and sales staff, I ultimately settled on a Nokia e71x smartphone, which I effectively lobotomized with a PureTalk USA monthly plan for unlimited voice/text only at $39.99 a month. This phone was the only one I could find that satisfied my requirement of a QWERTY keyboard and the ability to sync music, photos, contacts, and calendars with my Mac. These weren’t merely fanciful desires, but rather very practical daily needs relating to my job and parenthood. If I was to have any hope of leaving smart phones and laptops behind—while not spending lots of ongoing time on work-arounds—I needed something functional for me.

I found the handset on Craigslist for $50, popped in the $10 SIM card from PureTalk, ported over my number, and I was off! Gone are the apps, the internet, the costly data plan and contract.

After being a diehard iPhone devotee since the end of 2007, I assumed that I would really miss all of that functionality, access, and intuitive interface. However, what I found is that I was relieved. No longer was I carrying this time bomb of nagging alerts and distracting apps on my person. Suddenly, I was back to a slightly better version of what I had 2006 and prior: a functional phone that gave me no reason to mess with it unless I was calling somebody or checking my calendar. For the first time in years, I have found myself forgetting the whereabouts of my phone for hours at a time. It’s just a phone and there is no emotional or psychological connection to it as there was with the iPhone. No apps. No internet. Nothing much really.

It’s slimmer and lighter and the battery lasts all day and it is vastly cheaper than the iPhone, but there is a lot to dislike about the new phone. The sounds are cheesy, the interface is clunky, they syncing is tricky, and the buttons are hard to push… but these reasons are EXACTLY what make it the perfect phone. It is in no way tempting to pull out at a stop light or in line at the grocery store. I have zero desire to check in during meetings or conversations. It’s a dumb phone, just as phones should be. More and more, I’m feeling like the non-phone/text/calendar/contacts aspects on my iPhone were just an amped up GameBoy.

A big part of why I chose to ditch the smart phone, was so that I could leave the internet, emails, social media, and the rest of it behind when all I really needed was to be in touch by phone/text. I had an overwhelming need for off-time and to once again occupy unoccupied moments—to just follow my nose and to take in the world. For the most part, that has worked out.

The snags that have popped up really have come mostly out of bad habits. For instance, no maps or GPS on my phone mean that I have to remember to figure out where I’m going in advance. Or if I forget to send an email or look something up before I leave my desk, I just have to handle it with a call or be cool with waiting. It’s been a good exercise in self-discipline and accepting my own self-imposed guidelines—while also being at peace with others being at odds with it on occasion.

Still, you may be happy to discover that it is not all tin cans and string with a dumb phone. While I have enjoyed the continuity and freedom associated with pushing away from the internet and messages for portions of my day, there are times when I still need to look something up or even post to a social network for work. That’s where the wonderful world of SMS text messaging services comes in. Using various tricks and simple configurations—mostly from Google—I can use text messages to search for nearby businesses, driving directions, movie times, and a lot more. I maybe use this feature once a week, but it is good to know that it’s there. People can even email me on my phone and the first 140 characters will arrive as a text message, although for obvious reasons, I haven’t been handing that out.

All in all, it has been great. I haven’t missed the old iPhone one bit. While there have been some mid-errand messages I could have responded to more quickly, I doubt that anyone is really missing the sort of quick, half-minded replies I was making on the go anyhow. For my part, I’m just happy to be where ever I am, not partially in another world as I was before.