Why I’ve been using the same phone for the last five years
I’m something of an oddity in today’s fast-paced world. My current phone just had its five-year anniversary a month ago. It’s acquired a scratch since I’ve stopped using a screen protector a half a year ago, and one corner of the screen is starting to separate from the base. The battery, which formerly lasted for days, now drains with a few hours of sustained use. Increasing processing power demand from phone applications means I only have one app open at a time, and even that one runs slowly. The camera, which used to be top-of-the-line, now produces pictures that manage to look pixelated. These problems started around the three-year mark and have continued to worsen. Despite this, I intend on continuing to use the phone until one of its core functions is rendered completely unusable: camera, phone, or mobile applications. The kicker? When I bought the phone, it was already the second newest from the company, cost me about four-hundred Canadian dollars, and was region-locked to China.
The motivation isn’t anti-consumerism, nor is it to make a point about its longevity. I’m fully aware that my phone is well-past its planned obsolescence, and I probably couldn’t pay anyone to use it. As much as I care about the environment and the ethics of rare earth metal extraction and battery manufacturing, I am certainly well-justified in getting a replacement at this point. Cost is certainly a consideration. A new flagship phone would cost upwards of a thousand dollars, which I have been opting to spend elsewhere. But to get another mid-level Android phone from China wouldn’t break the bank, so that’s only a part of the reason.
My main justification is that I want to spend less time on my phone. My attention is easily monopolized by electronics, and I find the cellular phone to be much less efficient and productive than a computer. Its battery life and the app launch time make it prohibitive to use too often during the day: I can only look at it so much on a day out with friends before it runs out of batteries, and the time it takes apps to start makes it waste of time to look at when walking to the next meeting or running to the washroom. Phone usage then becomes an intentional activity most of the time, and only for applications that are significantly superior to the desktop version, or for communication when I’m out and about. It’s no longer the default activity when I’m bored on the couch.
In conjunction with having an old phone, I also don’t have mobile data. Though this started off as a purely cost-conscious decision eight years ago, the marginal cost of adding data to my phone is now minuscule. When I do have Wi-Fi, I find that I check my phone often, even in the presence of others, and despite the age of my phone. To prevent this from happening when I’m out with friends, I simply strip my phone of anything that’s worth checking, unless I take the time to find a Wi-Fi network. In that case, whatever I need on my phone is likely pretty important.
That begs the question, what do I use my phone for? Its primary purpose is for communication: people who are at all important to me have my phone number and can call or text me when they want to find me. The camera is also useful. There are a handful of apps with superior mobile versions that I use daily when I have Wi-Fi, and I am not in front of my personal computer: Duolingo, Instagram, and WeChat, among others. Duolingo and my eReader application both work without an internet connection, so I can distract myself when waiting in a long line or for a late meeting. And of course, in any sort of pinch, I can find some free Wi-Fi to look up whatever I need to.
There are certain drawbacks, such as being unable to look up directions on the go, or never being able to call an Uber for the group. Having to look up directions ahead of time has significantly improved my sense of direction, though only mooching on other’s rides has certainly not improved my social standing. At one point, I considered getting a flip phone, or a second-hand Vertu, but I quickly realized that it was still important to have a smartphone, unless I was completely unplugging from the world: many apps continue to be mobile first and having access to the entirety of human knowledge on the go is simply too valuable to give up. The question is if the trade-off makes sense?
Without a control group, both are hard to quantify, but the evidence seems to suggest that there are at least gains to be had. I still find myself mindlessly turning to Instagram or Facebook when I’m in need of a break, but the barriers to access these apps put me at an average of an hour a week across both apps, which I think is much less than any sort of average. I catch myself distracted by my phone while spending time with friends, and think that it’d be so much worse if I had a better battery. The time I spend on Duolingo or reading would be quickly replaced by frivolous distractions if I had mobile data. I’m aware that both my decision to use an antique and purposely disconnect myself from the world are as much stubbornness as rational decision-making. But I do think that anything to improve my attention span and mindfulness is valuable, and I’ll likely continue with my current strategy.
The next question is one of what will happen when my phone finally breaks? Will getting a new phone turn me into an electronic addict now that the self-imposed barriers are gone? Or will I simply not know how to use a newer phone? There has been a subtle shift in how phones are viewed. I feel that those even a few years younger than I are more likely to turn to their phone before their computer. Instagram and TikTok are one thing, but to send messages on the phone when the computer is right there? I’ve seen younger colleagues take meeting minutes on their phone. Cell phones are now the go-to and end-all omni-device, serving as entertainment, communication, and information. Perhaps it is I who has become technologically stunted after not using a proper mobile phone for a few years.
It’s inevitable that I’ll get a new phone soon, perhaps before the year is up. When I do, I’ll write an update on my experience. But for now, I’m going to continue using what I have, something that sometimes serves better as a paperweight than a piece of technology. It is still simultaneously a phone, a camera, and an eReader at the very least, in the way that Steve Jobs intended. And that much is good enough for me.