Make Your Smartphone Dumb

Most of us already understand the perils of smartphone addiction: the biggest time hog and attention hog of our life. This is the intention of the makers- they want us to use it more and more.

It really makes me wonder about the whole digital minimalism/ digital detox rage. Does limiting tech usage boost personal productivity? Does it improve social relationships? Does it make us calmer?


The best way to boost mental well-being and productivity is to drastically cut down on smartphone use (and internet use in general).

For a long time, I struggled to walk the thin line between making good use of smartphones and getting addicted to the bad aspects.

I enjoy videos and articles of people experimenting with using old technology in the modern age. It takes me back to my teenage years when flip phones were the coolest and the only internet I could use was dial-up. All I did on the internet was to download posters of my favorite animes and print them for my bedroom. Images took a full minute to load back then.

Back then, the internet was just something you used as a utility but now it has become a compulsion to use all day long. Perhaps it was better that the internet was too slow to use for anything except for work.

I was intrigued by the many articles and videos of people switching to a dumb phone (that does nothing except text and call). I liked this idea so much that I gave it a shot. I used the Samsung Corby Plus (nostalgia: I had it as a teen) in addition to my then smartphone Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I took the dumb phone along wherever I went and used the smartphone exclusively on home WiFi so it never left the house with me. It was a good experiment but I gave up within a week.

Although I wasn’t checking my dumb phone every few minutes for a message, I was still using the smartphone on home WiFi too much. Then, I missed having useful apps. So I started carrying around both- the smartphone turned off and in my backpack for such emergencies. Pretty soon I gave that up and got my SIM card back inside the smartphone and that was the end of the experiment. Using a dumbphone was good experiment that helped me figure out which features of a smartphone I absolutely need.

So I realized that yes, many smartphone features are distracting and provide very low value and too much distraction. I recognized these apps and I deleted them all. I now have only the select few apps that actually provide value for me.

The whole point of going on a digital detox of this sort is simple: experience life without the modern tech comforts. This will help you realize what really matters to you. I recommend the dumbphone experiment because it helped me figure out what is absolutely essential to have on my smartphone and what has to go.

I have been on the quest of reducing my phone usage while using a modern fully-capable smartphone. It takes great willpower to implement these changes over a long period of time so a lot of people will prefer to just quit and either use all the apps they did before or go back to a dumb phone. The middle ground takes work.

However, there is a better way to use your current smartphone: Dumb it down. Remove all apps.

Then with careful consideration, add a handful of apps that give you the most value. For me these are:
1. Audio entertainment (music and podcasts)
2. Transportation (maps, train and cab apps)
3. Reading (e-books and articles)
4. Organisers (notes and calendar)
5. Communication (messengers and email).

You decide what is essential to your lifestyle. For me: the endless entertainment provided by Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Reddit do more harm than good. Even when I had removed these apps, I was still wasting time using the same services on a browser. I didn’t have the courage to remove a browser, fearing that I might need it in an emergency but now I know that was stupid.

So I took the next step: deleted (and disabled) all browsers. Now there was nothing that I could do endlessly. If I needed to look up something when outdoors, I made a note of it and checked it later at home on a computer. Most of the time it was something entirely pointless like ‘check the price of game console x’ . If there is an actual emergency and I need a browser, I can always install it using mobile data.

I used my phone with nothing, not even a browser for a couple of months. Only when I was sure that I wouldn’t use it for compulsive browsing, I reinstalled it. Social media still stays off.

Try this experiment. Use your phone mindfully for a week and see the wonderful effects it’ll bring forth.


Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

Initially skeptic, I was intrigued by all the praise heaped onto this book. I was hesitant to buy it as I was already aware of the general advice all over the nosurf community and was afraid this book would not tell me anything new. I was surprised when I did take the plunge and it turned out to be a wonderful book. It is a complete guide to help you take control over your digital life, not the other way round.

(Click on the image to check this book out. If you buy it, I’ll get tiny commission from Amazon which will help support this website at no extra cost to you)

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