Chuck Carroll

You Don't Need a Dumbphone

Published: 2024-01-04

Most of the "smart" features and apps on a smartphone are nothing more than distractions that opens up the floodgates of nonsense into our lives. Being able to access all the "knowledge" on the internet at the tap of my finger certainly sounds alluring, but the reality is that the vast majority of "information" on the internet is complete and utter shit. To me, most these features very often create addictive tendencies and distract us from ourselves. I sometimes catch myself shopping for dumbphones, only to remember that 1) smartphones admittedly do have benefits and 2) they can be dumbed down, especially on an Android-based device. Below are some rules and modifications I've made to my device, but I won't go into the launcher, operating system, root, and specific apps I use.

What's currently not allowed on my device

  1. No web browser
  2. No video streaming apps like YouTube
  3. No email
  4. No messaging app (other than SMS)
  5. No games
  6. No app store

What's Allowed on My Device

  1. Ebook reading application
  2. Podcasts and Audiobooks
  3. Music
  4. Map/Navigation
  5. Basic functions like alarm clock, calculator, contacts, phone, file manager, and camera

I know what you're thinking "What about X?!" and "What if you need to do Y!?". I do have an F-Droid APK saved locally just in case, along with an encrypted database of my passwords. If I am in a situation where I absolutely need to do something like book an Uber, pull up an email, etc and I can install the necessary apps if I'm in a pinch and these types of situations is also one of the reasons I don't straight up use an actual dumb phone (ie feature phone). The reason I don't just keep these applications installed is so I can't just reflexively pull out my phone when I'm bored.

People build their lives around the apps they use. Think about how much of daily life is effected by the internet, social media, and messaging apps. Don't believe me? Turn your phone off and put it in a drawer for a week. There are certainly some valuable use cases for a smartphone, but when you take them away, I don't think lose all that much. However, when I impulsively take my phone at any moment of boredom, I lose something. If I am simply just bored, my only quick option is to read an ebook.

I've decided not to switch to a dumbphone simply because I get too much value from ebooks, podcasts, music, and GPS navigation, which current dumbphones tend to handle poorly. Also, a smartphone can be versatile in that I can easily "un-dumb" my phone with a little bit of work if needed.

Why do I say is easier to do on an Android device? I had mentioned this in a HN thread a while back and had few Apple fanboys try and tell me otherwise, likely not understanding how Android works themselves. I am by no means defending Google or the disgusting out-of-the-box Android experience, but you have can more easily rip out the browser, app store, email, and other apps by a few simple ADB commands.

Some caveats here. My day to day life isn't planned in a way where email, browsers, etc are necessary, but this setup will absolutely change while I'm traveling, especially internationally. A web browser, email, currency exchange app, rideshare app, and Signal indispensable while traveling, and I plan for these situations far ahead of time.

How do I handle one-time passwords? I use KeePassXC on my laptop for that. If SMS is necessary, I have a Google Voice number that forwards two factor authentication codes which are then emailed. The Google account was specifically set up for the sole purpose of having a Google Voice number.

This is what works for me. What works for me, may not be what works for you. For me, having my smartphone set up this way means there's less nonsense coming from my pocket that's trying to pull at my attention, or tempting myself into pulling it out at the slightest bit of boredom, distracting myself even further. When I'm bored, say I'm standing in a long line, I can easily pick up a book and continue where I left off, simply just people watch, or allow my mind to wonder.

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