Reactions of Others

It’s quite interesting that while I’m going through a process of trying to work out how to deal with a difficult issue in my life, albeit not exactly life-threatening, there has been some resistance from others in my life.

They seem to centre mainly around the fact that I’m not as easy to communicate with now. In particular, there are those from abroad that like to use whatsapp to contact me, which is of course not possible on a non-internet enabled phone. Also, I do not now manically check email at every possible moment. And as a small aside, imessages are not available to me, only texts.

But I think that texts and phone calls should be entirely sufficient. After all, we used to have a home phone with or without an answerphone, and we managed perfectly well. Add onto that a mobile telephone for calls that just can’t wait, and for work purposes, and surely that’s enough?

Aswell as that, the wife is finding it irritating that I’m not able to use maps and other internet things when we’re out and about. When I’m with her, we can use her maps. For the other stuff, I think that’s a blessed relief. And actually, I would love it if she went on a digital detox herself…

Forwarding

As I wrote in a previous post, I would like to structure things so that I have phone calls and texts coming to my dumbphone, and only keep the smartphone in a bag to use for features such as parking and passwords etc, that I can’t do without.

I therefore put the original sim card back in the smartphone, and bought a new sim card for the dumbphone, and was hoping that I could forward phone calls and texts from the smartphone to the dumbphone, so that I only needed the dumbphone in my pocket, so reducing smartphone checking.

Anway, it turns out that it is easy to forward calls, but not possible to forward texts from the iphone to a non-Apple product. This has put a bit of a spanner in the works, and currently I would have to carry around both phones – one for calls, and one for texts.

I’m going to talk to Vodafone about whether they can swap the numbers around, so that my original number is in the dumbphone and the new number is in the smartphone. You may be asking “Why not just swap the sim cards around?”. But that would mean that my masses of data allowance are being used for a phone that cannot access the internet, and that the sim card with very little data is being used on the smartphone, which has no sense. So if I ask Vodafone whether they can swap the data allowance (or ideally the whole plan) around then this will put things right. If that doesn’t work then next best is just to increase the data allowance on the new number and then swap them around, although this will of course incur extra cost, which really is a waste.

Lets see what they say…

Satnav vs Waze

Today I’m going to compare my new satnav, which I’ve now been using for the last 2-3 weeks, with the free Waze app on the mobile phone.

I bought the TomTom Go 5200 satnav after looking on the internet at which is the best one. Since I have no sense of direction, I tend to use a satnav for even the shortest journeys, and particularly use it to and from work each day. I was careful to get the one which has the best maps and also which takes traffic into account, as I know that it is traffic that tends to dictate journey time rather than distance.

So the things that I like about the TomTom:

  1. Intuitive design, good touchscreen, larger display than my mobile
  2. The holder means that you just “dock” the satnav, rather than having to insert a wire each time
  3. I really like the display, showing buildings, road markings, and best of all which lanes you can be in.

But unfortunately there are several things that are not so great about the TomTom:

  1. You have to carry around a separate bulky device. To some extent, this is what I signed up for, but it now seems like a relic of a bygone age, having to carry a big block of tech around. I wonder also why it has to be so bulky. I suspect that the company is just not doing well enough now with the advent of satnavs on mobile phones, so that it has not got so much money to invest in miniaturisation.
  2. The real bugbear is that it never gets the timing right at the beginning of the journey. I’ve tried this multiple times. For instance, it will tell you that you will arrive in 32 minutes, but you will not arrive until 56 minutes. Granted, there was a good reason for this, as there are always delays/traffic, but it is quite annoying never to know that in advance of starting the journey. This is where waze really shines.
  3. Also, yesterday, there were several road closures due to roadworks, and it didn’t know that, so that I had to improvise a route around, which was irritating, as it tried to take me back onto that blocked road.
  4. I know the various routes to work well, and it always seems to take me on the traffic-laden ones. Again, when I deviate to a generally clearer route, it tries to take me back on its favoured route.
  5. It does not automatically update – you have to do that when you have a wifi signal.

So ultimately the separate satnav route was a big waste of money (£271.42 to be exact). I will use it when I’m abroad, if I don’t want to use data, as it has inbuilt maps, but its use in the UK is quite limited.

 

Is it working?

Three subjects in one:

  1. Am I able to comply with the challenges of this project?
  2. Am I feeling better as a result of this project?
  3. What are the disadvantages?

Am I able to comply with the challenges of this project?

The answer is “to some extent”. As I previously wrote, I was hoping to get rid of the smartphone completely, so have had to change the parameters to having the dumbphone on me, and the smartphone elsewhere. I have been able to do this much of the time. The smartphone still charges in my bedroom, albeit on a desk rather than by the bedside. This does allow some access to checking, although less reflexive, so it is an improvement, but not 100% – perhaps 70%.

Also, it is available at home on wifi, so that when I’m around the house I can check things. Again, the fact that it’s not in my pocket means that I have been able to resist checking it much of the time, but sometimes it is still a temptation. So I’ll give myself 70% again for that one. However, having it on wifi does allow me e.g. to use facetime at home to speak to faraway relatives.

I do still have to take the smartphone with me to work, as it has all of my passwords on it, and I definitely have no solution to that one. Also, it allows me to see the family whatsapp chatter that can be quite helpful. Also, using work wifi allows me to scan and send documents by email, and also to see personal facebook messages.

I have been able to leave social media quite easily, and I don’t miss it. I’m still answering any direct queries (e.g. facebook personal messages, or work issues where I have been tagged to answer, or people who want to link via linkedin). But I’ve not been on a general trawl for a couple of weeks, which feels like great progress. So I would give myself 90% for that.

I also looked at the Sunday Times over the weekend while I had an hour free in a cafe with wifi. That was great, and really doesn’t relate to the checking impulse for which I had to delete the news app.

Am I feeling better?

That’s a tricky one, as clearly there are so many determinants of my happiness. But actually overall the answer is yes. I have slept a little better, have been more present in conversation, and have been more engaged with events around me. But most importantly my mind is a little quieter. I’ve also read about a book every 10 days rather than a book every 3 months. I now never surf on the iphone when I go to bed, and instead read my book, which allows me to go to sleep earlier, although the TV has become something that can also stop my mind quietening…

What are the disadvantages?

  • I am carrying around a lot of “stuff”. In particular:
    • Change for parking
    • Satnav (had to buy it new)
    • Dumbphone and smartphone
    • Digital dictation machine – got bought it by work
  • Some things are a little more tricky to do.
    • Parking – talked about in the last post.
    • Maps when you are walking – very tricky – will have to think about this one. Do I need a paper AtoZ?!?
    • Communication – don’t have so many channels of communication. Will write a post on this, as this is both good and bad.
    • Music – do not now have spotify unless I have wifi
    • Cannot get an uber
    • Banking – have had to get a card reader rather than use the mobile app
    • (Taking photos – can do on the smartphone without wifi)
    • Activity monitor – cannot do, unless buy e.g. a fitbit, and I was previously monitoring activity for Vitality, as it reduces insurance payments
    • Weight monitor – having been on a diet and put on weight again, I do like to keep a record of my diet, and this is on the iphone weight diary app
    • Work – I’ll cover that (e.g. live spreadsheets) in a separate post

It definitely does not feel like I’m there yet. My next steps are:

a. Consider buying a second sim card for the feature phone, and enable call forwarding from the smartphone, so that I have the advantages of both. I will carry the feature phone only in my pocket, but the risk is that having a sim card in the smartphone increases the likelihood of using it in the “old” and “unhealthy” way

b. Move the smartphone charging station to out of the bedroom. Interestingly, this feels very sensible, and yet also feels like a challenge in itself. Reason enough to action this one…

Parking

In London it used to be a nightmare to park, as you would have to carry around bucket loads of change with you to feed the meters, if there even were any working meters around. Since apps like paybyphone and ringgo came along, it has been made a whole lot easier to park using the mobile phone, and never to need cash to do this.

However, they do, of course, require a smartphone in order to use them, and this seems to be one of the major issues at the moment with this project. I have to pay for parking at least once a week. This is mainly with family, when we visit other places in London, or when I drop the kids off somewhere. And without a working smartphone (i.e. without a sim card in it), this is virtually impossible.

So what are the potential solutions:

  1. Carry around an enormous amount of change. Yes – this works – but you have to be very careful not to run out. And we are increasingly living in a cashless culture, so where is this change supposed to come from. I have to make a special effort now to take out money so that I can pay for things and get change, which I have to remember to carry around in a special wallet
  2. When I’m with someone else with an iphone (or other smartphone I would guess), I can use their phone as a mobile hotspot and therefore use my phone to pay for parking
  3. I can install the app on the other person’s phone, including my credit card details – would work with the wife, but clearly not going to happen with anyone else.
  4. Phone the number that they give to be able to park.

So what do I do if I’m alone and either don’t have change or the machine is not working? Well, in theory I can call the telephone number that they give in order to park. Have you ever tried that? I last did a few years ago, and if you’ve not already registered your credit card then it takes about 10 minutes. Also, there are a number of different apps, all of which need registering separately. Feels pretty unwieldy when you have 3 screaming kids in the car (which I often do).

So maybe calling the telephone number is the fall-back solution. Quite inelegant, though I may pre-register my credit card with the various apps so that at least I don’t have to do that whilst trying to park.

Quite inelegant, but that is clearly a theme of this project: The smartphone solution is convenient and often elegant, but ultimately interferes with a quality life.

Which phone?

The phone which I would have liked to get was the light phone #lightphone (https://www.thelightphone.com/). It says that it is “designed to be used as little as possible”. It’s a second phone that uses the existing phone number, and is very simple looking in quite an elegant designer-y way. The problem is that it only receives calls, and not texts. Since people often text me for work, that was never going to work.

So in the end, I decided to go for the #Punkt #MP01 (https://www.punkt.ch/en/products/mp01-mobile-phone/). Not quite as cool looking as the light phone, but still not as awful as the alternatives (various Nokias). It phones, texts, has an alarm, and that’s about it. Importantly, it does not have the internet.

So I was quite excited to receive my new phone. The things I like about it are:

  • Much smaller than the iphone, so fits in the pocket better, looks different from other phones that most people carry (although someone told me it looks like an air-conditioning remote control!)
  • Does not have internet, so does not allow me to check anything at inopportune moments
  • Quite quirky in terms of ring tones

Things I don’t like:

  • I forgot how easy smartphones make it to send a text. Sending a text on this phone takes at least twice as long, and often I have to spell each letter of a word separately if it’s not a word (or abbreviation) it recognises.
  • If someone sends me an electronic “contact” then I can’t read it. I can’t receive picture messages. If I am sent a link, I can’t press on it (as I have no internet).
  • The alarm is crazily jarring, and I wake up with a surge of adrenaline – not ideal
  • Changing the sim card around (which I’ve had to do a couple of times) is very clunky, and you have to put the phone backwards/upside-down to do it.
  • Putting the charger in is more difficult than the iphone
  • The menu is non-intuitive, and non-ergonomic
  • I’ve not worked out how to get my old contacts onto the new phone. I’ll have to spend time working that one out, as the instructions are really very scanty

I wish wish wish that I could have got rid of the iphone completely by now, but there are certain things that either I’ve not worked out yet, or are pretty difficult or impossible to do without taking my iphone with me:

  • I ended up getting very lost on a couple of journeys without a satnav. I had the iphone with me, and had uploaded the journey on the home wifi (thinking I was being quite clever), but the bridge/park was closed, and the phone had no way of getting the info it needed to work out a different diverted route. I’ve now bought a standalone satnav, so that is no longer a problem, although clearly I have had to spend money on that, and have to carry it around. I’m also a bit worried about it getting stolen.
  • I normally dictate on my iphone and email the mp4 file to my secretary when I’m at outside clinics. I had to type the whole letters out and email them yesterday. Today I have a new digital dictaphone, which is good as a solution, but another piece of kit to carry around.
  • I constantly have to get passwords, and also update them as I go. I ended up writing some on scraps of paper. Not ideal.

As a result, I’ve been carrying the punkt phone in my pocket, but having the iphone at hand (with no sim card), often connected to wifi, so that I have the advantage of not having the iphone literally in my hand or pocket, but can still use the iphone for the functions that are difficult to do without.

So at home I can control Sonos/Spotify on wifi, and at work I can use the wifi to put things on my calendar etc. But  I don’t have the heavy presence of the smartphone in my pocket, which is a little like having a packet of cigarettes, or a packet of sweets (depending on what it is you’re trying to resist) always at hand.

However, since I have a cellphone plan that includes a lot of data, it does seem rather a waste. I’m wondering whether I should put the original sim card back in the iphone, and do call forwarding to a new sim card (which is about £5/month), so that I get the advantages of both. Would probably defeat the point of the whole thing, as I don’t really want a working iphone on me if possible, but I will look into that possibility. One issue with that is turning off imessages, as the new punkt phone cannot receive them, so I’ve turned off imessages and picture messages on the iphone, so that it wouldn’t be a problem if they were forwarded.

Anyway, a bit of a splurge of information. I’ll try to keep the next post a little more focused. Perhaps I’ll concentrate on only one feature that I’ve had to deal with, and the various associated considerations.

The Smartphone Problem

I’m writing after having made a decision: To escape the tyranny of the smartphone. Why have I decided this? Well, for a few reasons: Firstly, while the smartphone bring various conveniences (more of which in subsequent posts), it has brought with it many problems, which I have found are affecting my day to day quality of life. Let me explain:

1. Checking

I am truly not an obsessive person. In fact, it is clear that my wife would like to me to be more so, particularly with regards to tidiness/cleanliness/remembering things. But the one thing that I have become compulsive about is checking my smartphone constantly. Not just a few times a day, but regularly throughout the day, whether first thing in the morning, while bored e.g. standing in queues, whilst walking (yes, I am a smartphone zombie), or even when all around me is chaotic (perhaps the online world seems more ordered than real life?), which tends to be whenever the kids are anywhere near.

What do I check? Email, social media, steps (i.e. an activity monitor), work spreadsheets, financial stuff, newspaper/other news, communication (e.g. whatsapp), the time. I’ll go into quite a lot more detail about this later.

2. Infantilisation

This refers to the fact that I am unable to perform many tasks without the help of smartphone. Some of which are actually incredibly helpful, for instance I have never had a sense of direction, so having a satnav is quite enabling. But having a map where you don’t even need to know which direction you are facing must make one lose the ability to even perform that task.

I would guess that many of us think that if our smartphone were lost, we would just pick up where we were before we got one, but I have found that some skills take a while to pick back up. For instance, I have started wearing a watch again, but found it difficult to quickly tell the time on an analogue watch for a while, as I have not had to do that for years.

It reminds me also of the cups that we all use for coffee, which allow us to walk whilst drinking our coffee. They have always reminded me of sippy cups, which in turn are very reminiscent of a teat…

3. So why is this important?

Well, I have found that it is:

a. Making me more jumpy and anxious, and making me sleep less.

b. At the same time as making me jumpy and anxious, the short-term “fix” is the checking. This seems to me, therefore, to be like any other common or garden addiction. Having given up smoking about 10 years ago, I feel that it has much in common with it – creating the need for the cigarette, then assuaging that empty feeling when smoking the cigarette.

c. It interferes with my ability to perform deep tasks. I’ve just read the excellent book by Cal Newport, called “Deep Work”, where he notes that “shallow work” not only interferes with performing deep tasks that require sustained cognitive effort, but also make us lose the ability to do those tasks at all. Again, I’m sure that many of us feel that we can easily pick up those abilities again at very short notice, but I wonder whether this is true or whether we are deluding ourselves.

4. The aims of this project:

a. To make it difficult for me to check internet-associated things

b. To become less jumpy, and to engage more in the feeling of downtime and being bored, with a view to having less distracted thought processes

c. To find solutions for many functions that have been taken over by the smartphone

d. To discover the best personal balance of smartphone to non-smartphone activity

e. To still perform my work and non-work things that may need the smartphone, and discover the ongoing place for the smartphone in my life.

5. The first steps:

a. I have bought a “dumbphone”, also known as a “feature phone”, and where possible I am carrying it in my pocket instead of the iphone. This has the ability to make/receive calls/texts, and has an alarm, but does not have any internet capability so therefore I cannot look at email/social media/whatsapp etc.

For the moment, I am keeping the iphone in my bag or coat, so that it is there if needed. It does not have a sim card in it, but can be used on wifi.

b. I have bought a standalone sat nav for the car, due to come today. I’ve also bought an A to Z for the car, just in case.

c. I am looking into whether I need a new sim card, or will just transfer the sim card between the two phones.

d. I am looking for solutions for all the things that I currently do on the iphone, for instance, passwords, notes, camera etc. etc. I’ll cover these in their own separate posts.

6. A disclaimer:

I have no idea whether this will be of interest to anyone, and am really writing it to get my thoughts down on paper, as there is a lot to coordinate for this project. If you don’t find it interesting then you don’t need to tell me – you are allowed to stop reading (if you haven’t already, although I guess if that’s the case, you wouldn’t be reading this).

By the way, thinking about it as a project makes it feel exciting rather than regressive and neo-Luddite (who knows what you think?!). I have also looked around the internet a bit, and have not really found anything to help with the practicalities of finding a new balance with the smartphone, so clearly there is a gap in knowledge out there…