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Without a smartphone your reptile brain gets a workout

Whaddya mean I can't look anything up, anytime?

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Mobility Archaeology A couple of weeks back, I ditched my Galaxy S4 and adopted a Nokia 110 as an experiment to see if modern life is possible without a smartphone. The premise for the test is that I'm worried I'm spending a bit too much time with my phone and could probably disconnect from the online world without.

A couple of experiences illustrate how things are going.

The first came at a rather nice pub where I caught up with some industry friends . Conversation moved, as it will, to the topic of who'd seen which movie lately and a minor dispute arose over an actor's previous roles. “Look it up on IMDB,” one of my friends intoned. At which point the Nokia 110's tiny, rubbish, screen and anaemic internet connection became laughing stocks.

Story two: I arranged another lunch* catchup with a friend who has a very interesting new technology-related job. I wasn't entirely sure we'd confirmed the date but strode out anyway. Looking through email archives is impossible on my 2.5G phone. And because the phone's contact-syncing tools are so rubbish, I didn't have my friend's number in the handset.

No biggie, I told myself after 15 minutes of waiting. I hadn't put myself out. And it was my fault for not confirming the date, something that made sense before the smartphone age.

Self-delusion/justification achieved, it hit me: I could have called directory assistance, contacted my friend's employer and actually spoken to her. But it's been years since I called directory assistance and I've long since forgotten the number.

This failure marks me out as a dolt who has come to assume that information is always available wherever I go. I've outsourced my memory to Mountain View, an abrogation of responsibility that will doubtless end badly.

Using a feature phone has, thankfully, pointed out this state of affairs. Correctional actions are under way, so that my reptile brain gets some more exercise.

Beyond these revelations, a few other insights into feature phones have emerged:

  • They have wonderful battery life. The Nokia 110 goes about 3 days between charges, although its non-standard charger means I need to carry it around. I've become accustomed to my smartphone requiring an overnight charge and carry a booster battery and cable. The 110 has no such accoutrements, so the charger comes with me;
  • The phone's radios are not very resilient: when it loses signal, it struggles to pick it up again. A lot of rebooting has been required to stay on voice networks;
  • Forget photography. Yes, the 110 has a camera, but the compression it applies to the 640x480 images it captures is savage. Those shots of your kids doing something clever at junior sport are no longer available. Forget about getting them onto Twitter or Facebook too. The 110 has clients for both social networks, but is so slow that they're essentially unusable.
  • They make casual dull. The 110 came with a Golf game and a few freebies to download from EA. The former is a horror: 650-yard par threes on which the green can only be reached in four strokes are no fun. The freebies include Medal of Honour for the 110 is a travesty that must have been entrusted to the least promising interns. Long story short, the 110 means commuting is dull again;

Notwithstanding its radio resilience issues, the 110 is a decent phone for voice communications, especially through its included headset. That the phone also boasts a voice recorder app that can record calls is a bonus for journalists, perhaps less so for interviewees.

At the half-way mark of this experiment I've learned that life without a smartphone is eminently possible, but in my line of work requires remembering some good habits. I do, however, miss my S4 for several reasons and the calendar turning over the March 1 will be a welcome milestone. I'll report back once that day comes around. ®

* Hi, Boss. These people are contacts and these lunches do lead to stories. And I'm not expensing them.

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