As part of my approach to becoming a digital vegan, I wanted to test if I really needed a smartphone and if I could use one less device to maintain my life. Therefore I made an experiment. For a few weeks, whenever I grabbed my phone, I took note of what I was going to do. While I was running this experiment, my phone actually died. During the attempt to replace its battery myself, I broke the phone’s screen. Therefore I didn’t have a smartphone for about a month in the end.
Here are the main activities that I used to do with my phone. I also listed, if possible, their sensible smartphone-free or non-digital alternatives.
|online banking (payment confirmation)||virtual phone on computer|
|online banking (transfer)||virtual phone on computer|
|authenticator for 2 step verification||SMS and virtual phone|
|note taking on the go||physical notebook|
|messaging with friends and family||computer|
|video-call with friends and family||computer|
|video-call at work||computer|
|search in emails||computer|
|taking pictures||separate camera|
|language dictionary||printed dictionary|
|WiFi hotspot||dedicated mobile hotspot device|
|car navigation||prepare with directions, ask people|
First of all, I’m glad I had recent data backup of the dead phone.
Since I already had a computer, I could do many of the activities with the computer too. Although it is portable, I obviously didn’t carry it all over the place as I would often do with the phone. So while it’s definitely an option to switch to a computer for many tasks, it would require a significant life style change.
For online banking, a smartphone was required in my case. My bank didn’t even allow money transfers without their mobile app. I contacted them and their response was that they do so as a security measure. I gave it a try to install a virtual Android phone in a VirtualBox on my computer. It was incredibly slow, and barely usable.
I mostly use Signal to keep in contact with friends. I could keep using the app even without a phone only because I had registered myself in the past. New Signal registration requires a live phone number. Moreover, depending on which country you live in, using a certain messaging platform could be a must-have to perform daily chores (WhatsApp in my case). Delivery companies, second-hand sellers, and various shops often require to contact them via WhatsApp. Although I don’t have a WhatsApp account for a long time, my partner does. This can be one more reason that ties someone to using a smartphone.
I understand that this is a First World problem. However, I consider it a serious problem. Unless one performs a significant lifestyle change, it’s often incredibly difficult to keep in touch with friends or carry out jobs without the use of a smartphone.
As a funny coincidence, while I was doing this experiment, my partner’s phone died too. She wanted to get a replacement soon. We decided to use this chance and buy a fair phone for her (namely Fairphone). For a while, I was hesitant to get a new phone for myself. Then I was offered a second-hand, non-fair Android phone by a friend which I accepted.
As a result of not using a phone for a couple of weeks, I now use the device much less. (I believe I wasn’t an active user even before.) Most of the time, unless I expect phone calls from my partner or a package delivery, I keep my phone in flight mode. It saves battery and I got no distractions. I check my messages from friends once a day. I often leave the phone at home while going out.
Finally, I installed F-Droid, an app store for open-source applications to encourage myself to use ethical, non-addictive software.