The loneliness of the dumbphone user

29 Mar|Tom Hodgkinson

Committed dumbphone user Tom Hodgkinson wonders whether he’s made the right choice – does ditching your smartphone mean you miss out?

Do you really need a smartphone? I personally ditched mine for a dumbphone four years ago. In many ways this has been blissful. Whole swathes of idling time are opened up to me. On the train I stare out of the window and meditate. If the bus is late I relish the opportunity to sit and do nothing. I am not targeted by ads. Since I don’t have a Facebook or a Twitter account either, I can wander round like a sort of digital ascetic, feeling superior, gazing at the flowers and not taking photographs of everything I see and putting them on Instagram. On walks I am undisturbed. If the Epicureans were right, and the goal of life is undisturbedness, then ditching the smartphone would seem to be an obvious strategy.

My problem is that not more people have done as I have done. I seem to be literally the only person in the world without a smartphone. Even the best-selling Buddhist monk Haemin Sunim was glued to his smartphone when he gave a talk at an Idler dinner recently. This makes me feel left out and lonely. People send me pictures and links which I cannot see. I am excluded from Whatsapp chats. I cannot show friends amusing pictures on my phone. I cannot take selfies or quick snaps. I wander lonely, excluded from the cloud.

I had one friend, D., who didn’t have a smartphone. Then I bumped into him the other day and he got out an iPhone. Judas, I cried! Sorry he said, and shrugged. I can’t work out whether I am being deliberately perverse or whether I have made a sensible choice which is good for my mental health. And as I say, if it is such a good idea, why don’t more people do it? It saves money and makes you happy. It’s surely a no-brainer.


These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your views. Write to [email protected]. To receive editor Tom Hodgkinson’s free weekly newsletter, click here.

If your worthwhile efforts to purify yourself from the contamination of modern technology are giving you pain then it means you have a strong desire for it. Oscar Wilde said that the only way to defeat temptation is to give in to it. For years I have fought every demonic possession that came my way. When I eventually gave in, I conquered it! I have a ‘smart’ phone and I use it as I would a dictionary. For that alone, it is a great instrument. Get the damned thing and after a month you will not even notice it. This I swear. It is good that you resisted for so long but just once in a while give into it. You will then have the strength to boot the rest out with a swift kick!
– Steven Berkoff

I have a very simple Pay as You Go phone, which, if I don’t pay doesn’t go. I can’t take photos, watch films or YouTube, or send messages and make appointments with friends on WhatsApp. I can use the calculator, possibly listen to the radio if I knew how, and text, although I prefer to email as I have a tendency to be longwinded. I haven’t felt I’m missing out on anything until recently, when I’ve met artists who flash up their portfolios on an Instagram app. As an ‘artist’ myself, and none too proud for financial gain, I’m wondering whether I’m missing a trick here.
– Anni Shilcock

You’re not alone – I don’t have a Smartphone either and function perfectly well without one. I’m the odd one out on the train reading one of those examples of paper-based technology – a book. It’s portable and won’t startle you awake from the occasional snooze opportunity. Maybe we should start a club of non-Smartphone users and send newsletters in the post like we used to in the olden days (when life was far less complicated and disturbing)?
– Jerry Sims

I don’t have a smartphone either, Tom. Indeed, although I bought a mobile phone many years ago, I have never used it, and I do not even know where it is kept. I reckon that I have survived perfectly well without one, both professionally and in terms of general pleasure of living. Good for you, ditching yours, and some years ago.
– Mr Gwynne

I don’t have a smartphone, in fact, I don’t even have a dumbphone, just a landline in my home and office, as I have had for forty years. And it’s bliss. I don’t feel lonely and excluded at all. In fact, I tell people when we are out together that if they prefer to use their smartphone rather than to talk to me, then let’s not go out together – and they leave their smartphones in their pockets. Of course, it helps that my wife doesn’t have one either. When we want to communicate, we talk to each other face to face. I wouldn’t change this situation, which has all the benefits you enumerate in your email, for anything.
– Professor Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources

I would love to introduce you to my father who took great measures to obtain the same old Nokia phone after they had gone out of production. I can never send him photos of his granddaughter because he will “never be crazy” like the rest of us, to be targeted by marketers and be followed by google. He quit his high paying job in one of the biggest companies in the country to take care of his garden at the age of 43. And that’s precisely what he does: taking care of his wooden house at the end of the road out of the city. He has a tiny guest house and if you do make it to the Czech Republic again, I know he would love to host you for a night. Drink beer by the fire and if you are lucky, deers will come around at night. So whilst I am typing this on my iPhone, I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone and you are not the crazy one – the rest of us are.
– Tereza Peterkova

I agree with your sentiments on dumbphones v. smartphones. I have not had to make the decision to ditch my smartphone as I have never had one. My current dumbphone must be over ten years old and I appreciate using it for phone calls and sending a quick message. I have neither a Facebook account nor any of the other social media platforms, which I think is what they are called? This might be because I am in my (late-ish) sixties, but I have older friends who proudly show off the latest devices, assuring me that I can contact them or perform any number of inane tasks with so much more ease. I walk my dogs, garden and read books and have no desire to ‘catch up’ with the madness of the current world view.
– Ruth Postlethwaite

I admire you for sticking with your dumb phone. More and more business services require you to install an app, which doesn’t help. My mother had a smartphone given to her by a grandchild. Then one day she tried to call up her local cab company and it asked her to press 1 to speak to the cab booker. She was not able to work out how to display the keypad, and cried in frustration. She threw the phone away and went back to her old one. She was right to, smartphones are dreadful at just being phones. Anyway, you’re not alone. Sales of dumb phones are growing.
– Nick Wiseman

I’m with you all the way, although I do own a semi-smart phone (i.e. I can access the internet and do now use it sporadically to check mail and look at maps). The point here is not to rail against the technology, although clearly some of it is quite unnecessarily over-engineered and over-priced, but against the use to which we put it. Social media are an egregious example that are potentially quite damaging, both to individuals and to the wider social fabric. Many will make claims as to their empowering and inclusive benefits, but as a closet sociopath I remain unconvinced. In most cases, those who use them do so freely and gladly, although there is some degree of social and commercial pressure at work. [I realised some years ago that it was time for me to ease myself off of the corporate whirligig when ‘tweeting’ vacuous corporate bollocks threatened to feature in my annual performance objectives]. Both the car and the mobile phone (and television, and efficient heating, and clean running water, and anaesthesia, etc, etc) have their place and there’s no point into trying to turn back the clock even if proved to be desirable. The challenge, for the Idler and for other like minds, is to try to articulate a persuasive case for different ways of being that don’t leave us enthralled to technology that we don’t understand and can’t control. Personally, I’m less worried about phones than about the complete collapse of the internet, with which, in a very short space of time (less than 20 years) we’ve entrusted so many life-sustaining critical functions.
– Martin Danvers

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