Life / Health

I switched to an old-school flip phone for the sake of my sanity

Genna Buck trades in her smartphone in an effort to end a common fixation.

Metro reporter Genna Buck and her flip phone.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

Metro reporter Genna Buck and her flip phone.

On Friday, I made a huge life change.

After nearly a decade in the grips of an addiction, I got sober.

Smartphone sober, that is. I traded in my iPhone 5 for an $80 Alcatel GO FLIP, a little black flip phone with no touch screen, no app store, no social media and a texting feature that makes use of that old reliable algorithm, T9. It’s just frustrating enough that I don’t use it unless I really need to. And that’s the whole point.

Statistically, I’m a bit of a weirdo. According to the research group Strategy Analytics, two per cent of phones sold worldwide in 2015 were dumb, and that number is falling. Lower-end smartphones are replacing the flips of yesteryear.

So why would I want to go back? I’ve had a smartphone since 2008.

The reason is simple: I’ve been glued to my smartphone since 2008.

The idea of going back to a dumb phone first came to me last fall while binge-watching the TV show The West Wing. It was made during that early 2000s sweet spot when cellphones were no longer the size of pineapples but the only “apps” most people talked about were nachos.

Seeing those (fictional) people interact with machines that can only be used for talking and texting made me realize my relationship with my phone was unhealthy.

Until this week, any time I was stressed or bored, I’d turn on my smartphone and basically turn off my conscious brain. I’ve lost hours that way, and I honestly don’t know exactly how.

Also, I’m convinced that thousands of hours of flipping from app to app on my smartphone have killed my attention span, making it hard to sit down and focus on one thing long enough to, say, read a book.

The time between idea and execution was almost a year, and that’s because, for me at least, smartphone addiction is a real addiction. My reasons for the delay were an addict’s excuses: “I’ve had a hard day and I deserve this decompression time”; “just one more hour and then I’m putting it away for good.”

Whether phone addiction is a distinct disorder, like problem gambling, is still being debated. Research tools such as the Problematic Use of Mobile Phones (PUMP) Scale have been developed to try and answer this question scientifically.

The PUMP quiz asks how much you agree with statements like, “When I stop using my cellphone, I get moody and irritable,” “It would be very difficult, emotionally, to give up my cellphone,” and “My cell phone keeps me from doing other important work.”

Check. Check. Check. If phone addiction is a thing, I have it. And like many addicts, moderation wasn’t an option for me. Attempts to cut back in the past have gone nowhere.

On the last night of our relationship, I fell asleep with my iPhone clutched to my chest. When I called Telus the next morning, the representative wished me luck and said, “A lot of people are cutting the strings.”

If phone addiction is a thing, Metro reporter Genna Buck has it. And like many addicts, moderation wasn’t an option for her.

Eduardo Lima/ For Metro

If phone addiction is a thing, Metro reporter Genna Buck has it. And like many addicts, moderation wasn’t an option for her.

It’s hard to gauge if she is right. Am I part of a (presumably small) trend? Obviously, flip-phone devotees don’t have a social-media movement behind them.

That’s not to say they don’t exist. Actor Eddie Redmayne publicly broke up with his iPhone in favour of living “in the moment.” A few thinkpieces in the past few years have extolled the virtues of ditching smartphones for something simpler, and a mini-boom of products has arisen to fill the need, from the screenless, credit card-sized Light Phone to the NoPhone, an iPhone-shaped piece of plastic you can hold to help soothe the symptoms of mobile withdrawal. And then there’s the Razr flip phone, which Motorola seemed set to re-release last year before backing out.

That’s emblematic. Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to about my choice to unplug said they wish they could, but there’s something stopping them.

We live in smartphone world now. Major mobile retailers don’t even carry dumb phones any more, and most don’t offer basic talk-and-text plans — I had to call for a custom one. For being a loyal customer I got complimentary “data block,” which disables data but leaves picture and video messaging on. It’s normally $2 a month.

During my first smartphone-free weekend, I went to the beach with friends, listened to classical radio, read half a novel and suffered from continual cold sweats and twitching as my right hand instinctively reached for a phone that wasn’t there.

Going smartphone-free requires a lot of planning ahead. I write down travel directions and print tickets I used to display on my phone. Mobile internet is integrated into so many aspects of our lives that I know I’m going to have an “Oh God, what have I done?” moment in the near future.

So ask me how I’m doing when the honeymoon is over, in about a month. For now, I’m really enjoying ending all my conversations with a snap.

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