My Smartest Move Was Switching to a Dumber Phone
Trading my smartphone for a flip phone improved every aspect of my life
My son was born in 2006. The iPhone was born in 2007. They have been competing for my attention ever since.
I always knew it was wrong to steal a moment to look at my phone instead of my son. But I thought I had plenty of moments.
And then my son was 12.
My time as the father of a small child had come to an end. What had I given my device that I could have given my son? Like the average American, about four hours a day. Every day. Two waking months out of every year. Two waking years out of the dozen my son had been alive. Gone. And now my son wanted his own phone. Most of his friends already had one. What could I say? I wanted my son to see his thoughts as precious, private. I wanted him to keep his free time for himself.
“If the phone is so bad,” he asked, “why are you always on it?”
I wanted to tell him what Cal Newport wrote in Digital Minimalism, that “people don’t succumb to screens because they’re lazy, but instead because billions of dollars have been invested to make this outcome inevitable.” I wanted to tell him that when you look into your phone, you think it’s just your two eyes looking at a screen. What’s really happening is that 10,000 programmers’ eyes are looking back at you, following you, tailoring your environment so that you’ll keep looking. When you think about it, an iPhone is really an eye phone.
But nothing I said meant anything to my son. I had to do something. So, I quit.
At the phone store, the saleswoman keyed in the codes to switch me to a flip phone.
A “dumb phone,” some people call it.
“Did anyone ever ask you to do this? Go backward instead of forward?” I asked.
“Do you think it’s a good idea?”
“I mean, maybe. But how are you gonna get places?”
I thought of all the places I once got to. One July day, long before the smartphone, I asked my friend Molly to meet me at 11 a.m. on the ninth of September in the Piazza Margana in Rome.