In the age of smartphones, I still use a dumb old Nokia phone. Here are my seven reasons why.
According to Eurostat, about 83% of young people between the ages of 15 to 29 used mobile phones in 2016 to access the internet away from home or work. Three years on and smartphones are as omnipresent as the pigeons at the Piazza San Marco in Venice.
Especially in my age group of people under the age of 30, the percentage of smartphone users is slowly but surely creeping closer to 100%. All of my friends now own them too, the last bastion in my circle of friends fell in 2017. Surely, if everyone does it, how bad can it really be?
Whenever I meet new people, they never fail to spot my brightly-coloured orange Nokia 3310. The ensuing questions and conversations are basically always the same: First they look at my phone in slight disbelief and wonder, then they ask me why I don't own a smartphone and how I manage to navigate life in the 21st century without one. Finally, they usually breathe a wistful sigh and say: "I wish I still had one of those." The conversation usually ends with at least one person at the table playing the classic Nokia game "Snake" on my phone, beating my high score.
The thing that stands out to me is that not one person ever told me they are happy to live in the age of smartphones. "Would if I could" is the answer I usually get when I tell them that they could just go back to using their high-school era flip-phones.
Even my cat is on board with the whole "no smartphone" thing. Dinah seen here with an earlier incarnation of my Nokia phone. / © Sarah Cames
To be completely honest with you, the reason I don't have a smartphone isn't because I'm some kind of social revolutionary who wants to bring down the system, but rather because I have found a running system I am content with. Instead of constantly chasing the next shiny object, I prefer sticking with the tried and true and maintaining my peace of mind. Make do and mend instead of consume and overspend.
On a side note: I have never understood why "being content" has such negative connotations. I personally think that it is a much more aspirational state of mind than obsessively running after the next fix of perceived happiness.
Anyway. Since us non-smartphone users seem to be a dying breed, in a last ditch attempt at keeping the species alive, I have compiled a list of 7 reasons why "going dumb" could actually be better for you.
1. Smartphones are bloody expensive
It probably won't be news to you: Smartphones are expensive. To get hold of the latest iPhone Xs, you'll have to cough up €1,149. In comparison, my Nokia 3310 (2017 model) cost me €30.
And that is only the price of the equipment. According to new data from the price comparison engine Flipsy, the average North American smartphone user will pay a whopping €66,000 on their habit over the course of their life. This includes the equipment (€10,997 for an average of 22 smartphones between the ages of 18 to 78), phone bills (€50,781) and apps and in-app purchases (€4,654).
I don't know about you, but I would rather spend that money on travelling, or my retirement fund, or even this incredibly rare Princess Diana Beanie Baby from 1997.
© Screenshot Etsy
2. You'll hone your social skills and practise the art of "mindfulness"
It's one of my biggest pet peeves: You're out and about with friends or sitting at the dinner table with the family and suddenly, someone pulls out their smartphone and starts scrolling. I completely understand that people want to check their phones every once in a while and I know that FOMO is a thing, but if you're interrupting a real-life interaction to start a conversation online or check your Instagram feed, you might want to revisit your priorities.
I have had situations where pretty much every single person at my table was staring at their tiny screen, leaving me "the odd one out". People are often not even aware that they're doing it, so to give them a gentle nudge and make them aware of the the social exclusion I am experiencing, I usually just follow suit by busting out my phone and typing in random numbers until they take pity on me and put down their smartphones.
The thing I easily love the most about not having a smartphone is that it forces you to live in the moment. If I'm at work, I'm at work. If I'm out with friends, I'm out with friends. And if I'm online, I'm online because I choose to be.
I always pack something to read for bus, train or plane journeys, but I usually find myself just staring out of the window and letting my mind wander. If you allow yourself the time to do that, you'll soon find that your own brain can actually be quite the entertaining gadget.
With the "mindfulness" trend sweeping the western world, most people would probably be better off putting their phones down and experiencing the world around them rather than following social media gurus online.
3. It will keep you sane
In 2018, Luxembourg's polling agency TNS-Ilres asked Luxembourg residents whether they could imagine spending 2 days without their smartphone. The results were actually quite shocking: 26% said that they would not be able to cope without their phone while another 35% of respondents said that they might be able to get through 48 hours.
The survey revealed stark generational contrasts. While the older age brackets were more likely to survive time away from their screens, a worrying 38% of people between the ages of 16 to 25 said they would not be able to spend 48 hours away from their smartphones.
While smartphone addictions are often talked about in jest, they pose a very real threat - especially to the younger generation.
In just five years, between 2010-2015, the number of US teens showing classic signs of depression and anxiety disorders went up by 33% in large national surveys. During that same period of time, the number of suicides in people between the ages of 13 to 18 experienced a dramatic spike, going up by 31%.
When trying to find an answer to the question of why mental health issues experienced such a significant increase in only five years, researchers found a strong correlation between mental illnesses and exposure to the internet. As it happens, the five year period between 2010 and 2015 also saw a dramatic rise in smartphone sales.
According to Pew research centre figures, the 50% threshold for smartphone ownership was crossed in late 2012 and by 2015, 73% of teenagers owned a smartphone.
Overall, the so-called "iGen" generation of people born after 1995, who grew up in an online environment, are much more likely to develop mental health issues that their millennial predecessors.
4. Smartphones are not as essential as you may think
People often ask how I get by without a smartphone. That's actually the easiest question to answer: You don't really need one. Sure, it can take a tiny amount of planning, such as checking out the way to a new address before you go out or writing down phone numbers you might need.
But even if you're a bit of a scatterbrain or have limited orientation skills, the solution to your problems is usually just a couple of metres away. With most of the population walking around with tiny computers in their pockets nowadays, it has never been so easy to receive the information you need by proxy. Just ask people to help you out if you're in a bit of a pickle and you'll find that they usually will.
When I went to London with my sisters last year, we had some trouble finding our hotel from the crude map I had scribbled down before we set off. A kind lady was able to point us in the right direction and even accompanied us for part of the way. You'll be amazed at how kind and helpful strangers can be (even big city folk!) and it really makes you appreciate the people around you a lot more.
Before my first longer road trip abroad, my mum got so worried that she basically force-packed a smartphone into my suitcase. While it was good to know that I had the possibility to connect to WiFi if I really needed it, I basically just used it for taking holiday snaps.
5. You'll stay reasonably (cyber) secure
Using a smartphone makes you more vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks and data theft. What happens on your smartphone doesn't necessarily stay on your smartphone. Modern phones have cameras and microphones and - most importantly - they are connected to the internet pretty much all the time. This makes them easy targets for hackers with nefarious intentions.
Only about a month ago, the popular facetime app was found to have a dangerous bug that allowed people to hear and even see those on the other end of the line even the the call wasn't answered. Linking different apps and social media platforms to each other is another convenient and common but risky practice.
But smartphones can also put you in danger offline. So-called "selfie deaths" are on the rise across the globe, with India experiencing the most significant number of selfie-related deaths. To snap the perfect holiday picture of themselves, some people are risking life and limb. A study found that between 2011 and 2017, 259 people were reported to have accidentally died across the globe by drowning, in transport accidents or by falling from a height while taking a selfie.
Believe it or not, not owning a smartphone might even give you more job security. Remember that bus driver that was caught watching videos while driving? The bus driver was sacked soon after footage of his incredibly irresponsible behaviour was uploaded to Facebook. But still, many other drivers are still out there putting the lives of others in danger by letting themselves be distracted by their smartphones.
6. You'll do the environment some good
The rumours are true: Good old-fashioned cellphones live forever. While your new smartphone can have a cracked display after a day, has a short battery life and can even explode in your pocket, dumb phones are reliable companions that will last you a lifetime.
I have only ever managed to kill off three phones and neither of them died of natural causes. One was accidentally crushed under a sofa bed (I am no "Princess and the Pea" apparently), one died after I unwittingly marinated it in water for a couple of hours (the bottle cap on my water bottle came loose in my incredibly watertight handbag) and one flip-phone was flipped to oblivion by yours truly. But if you treat them with a modicum of respect, they will return the favour.
You won't need to get a new phone very 32 months (average lifespan of a smartphone) and you won't need to pay for expensive repairs and new parts, so your environmental impact will be a lot lower if you stick with an old-school cellphone.
They also use up a lot less electricity. My phone can easily go for a week without being charged while smartphones need a lot more attention. No need to fuss about power banks before your next camping trip, your Nokia will probably outlive you in the wild.
Speaking of the wild: Basic cell phones can be very useful for some serious Bear Grylls survival skills. When I accompanied a teacher friend of mine and her pupils on an excursion a couple of years ago, our outdoor survival guide taught us how you use an old-fashioned phone battery and some mineral wool to make a fire. It doesn't work with smartphones, but hey - at least you can put on a YouTube video of a roaring fire to keep warm!
7. You'll waste less valuable time on meaningless stuff
Apart from 1997 Princess Diana Beanie Babies (apparently), time is the only truly limited resource. If it's gone, it's gone and you won't be able to get it back.
Why not spend that time on doing things that mean something to you instead of whiling it away on a 4 inch screen? Hug your kids, build you cat a cardboard fortress or start writing a diary. Start investing in your own life instead of giving yourself the illusion of being invested in other's people's lives by following them online.
If you happen to have read this on your smartphone: It's never too late.
Sarah Cames is a twenty-something freelance journalist with a keen interest in anything to do with politics, history and pop culture.