Going Back to Basics: The Appeal of a Dumb Phone in a World of Smartphones

Jason Bartz
6 min readJan 24, 2023

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The Light Phone 2. Photo Credit: The Light Phone Inc.

Introduction

When it comes to technology, we’ve been groomed to believe that more is better. More apps, more features, more notifications — but what if I told you that sometimes, less is more? Enter the “dumb phone” — a device that has stripped away all the excess and is focused on one thing: communication.

For those of you of a certain age like me, the concept of a dumb phone may seem like a no-brainer. After all, it was the only type of phone available before the rise of smartphones like the Blackberry and iPhone. Smartphones became the default device due to the convenience they offer, but is this 24/7 convenience truly optimal for our well-being?

The dumb phone offers a different approach, one that prioritizes simplicity and disconnection and challenges us to question what we truly need from our technology.

The Freedom of Disconnecting

When I had my son in 2020 and daughter in 2022, I found myself wanting to be more present and less distracted. As a new parent, I found myself constantly checking my messages, Instagram likes, and email. It was a constant distraction and it took away from the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments with my kids.

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV

I found myself more engaged with taking photos of my kids rather than actually spending time with them. I made the switch to a dumb phone — specifically The Light Phone 2 — and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

The freedom that comes with using a dumb phone is liberating. Without the constant distractions of a smart device, I was able to focus on the present moment and be more present with my children. But it’s more than the present moment, it’s also about the future. Excessive phone use can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress.

We’re constantly connected, always on, and it’s hard to disconnect. Dumb phones allow you to disconnect and give you the freedom to spend less time on your phone and more time doing other things. It also allows you to be more present and not be too focused on capturing the moment but rather experiencing it.

Rediscovering Hobbies and Interests

For me, ditching my smartphone for a dumbphone opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Without the constant need to document every moment with a camera, I was able to rediscover the joy of 35mm film photography and capture memories in a different way. Going on long runs without music allowed me to connect with myself in a way that I hadn’t before, and it was a meditative experience.

It can be jarring at first — stuck with just your own thoughts and nothing to distract yourself with. But after the initial awkwardness wears off, it’s cathartic. I found myself getting into writing and reading more, as I was not constantly scrolling through social media or playing games. I was able to find my own entertainment and creativity in new ways. It was refreshing to not always have a device to turn to for instant gratification, and instead, I was able to find fulfillment in other activities.

Embracing Slowness

Ditching that 5" screen in your pocket can open you up to an entirely new way of life. The Slow Movement, which can be credited to Carlo Petrini’s protest of a Mcdonald’s opening in the Piazza di Spagna in Rome in 1986, is a worldwide movement advocating for a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace.

The Slow Movement encourages people to take a step back from the pressures of modern society to constantly be productive, busy, and connected and to instead focus on the present moment and the simple pleasures of life. This way of life is much in line with the spirit of forgoing a smartphone.

Going slow is not just about taking things at a slower pace, it’s about a holistic approach to life. It’s about enjoying food, enjoying nature, and enjoying life’s simple pleasures. It’s about taking the time to savor a meal and not just inhaling it on the go. It’s about getting out of the city and connecting with nature. It’s about enjoying the journey, not just the destination.

Using a dumbphone is a natural extension of the Slow Movement. It forces you to slow down and focus on what’s important. It encourages you to disconnect from the constant distractions of technology and instead focus on the present moment. It allows you to enjoy the simple things in life and not constantly be searching for the next best thing. It’s about being present, not just physically but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

The Essentialism Movement

Building on the principles of the Slow Movement, the idea of simplifying your life and focusing on what is truly essential is a concept that is closely related to the essentialism movement. This movement, popularized by author Greg McKeown, encourages individuals to focus on the things that truly matter and eliminate the excess. It’s about being intentional with your time and energy, and not just accepting the demands of modern society without question.

Dumb phones, by nature, promote this kind of thinking. They force us to consider what is truly important in our lives and eliminate the excess noise and distractions that come with smartphones. By simplifying our device and our digital lives, we are able to focus on the things that truly matter.

Greg McKeown, in his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” emphasizes the importance of distinguishing the vital few from the trivial many and eliminating the non-essential. He argues that by doing so, we can achieve success and fulfillment. Using a dumb phone aligns with the principles of essentialism, by helping us to focus on what is truly important and eliminate the distractions that keep us from achieving our goals.

Protecting Your Privacy

Another aspect to consider is privacy. Smartphones are designed to collect a lot of data on their users, which is then used for targeted advertising and other purposes. A dumb phone, however, does not collect (as much) data, which can help to protect users’ privacy. In a world where our personal information is constantly being shared and used for financial gain, it’s refreshing to know that there’s a device that doesn’t track your every move.

The Punkt MP02 New Generation. Photo Credit: Punkt Tronics AG

Popular Dumb phones

Popular dumb phones include The Light Phone 2, Punkt MP02, Mudita Pure, and Sunbeam F1. These devices vary in design, features, and price, but they all share the same goal — to provide a simple, distraction-free communication device. It’s worth mentioning that there are drawbacks to using a dumb phone. For example, there’s no camera or the camera quality is low, there are no apps, and with most, you can’t use ride-sharing services. It’s a compromise, but it’s also a realization of what is truly important. For a complete comparison of popular dumb phones, I recommend visiting The Dumb Phone Finder by Jose Briones.

Conclusion

Switching to a dumb phone can be a liberating experience. It forces you to focus on the present moment, disconnect from technology, protect your privacy, and save money. As a new parent, it allowed me to be more present with my children and make the most of precious moments. It opened up new hobbies and interests and allowed me to connect with nature in a way that I hadn’t before. It may take some time to adjust to using a phone with fewer features, but the benefits are undeniable. It’s a reminder that sometimes, less is truly more.

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Jason Bartz

Sunny Buffalo, New York. Dad, essentialist, startup enthusiast.