How to dumb down your smartphone to free up your brain

How to dumb down your smartphone to free up your brain

Buy a flip phone, a Light Phone, or try dumb phone apps

CultureAugust 05, 2019 By Reilly Capps

Folks worry about a solar flare or an electromagnetic pulse from space knocking out all communication — cell phones, TV, Internet. 

I welcome the destruction. 

After decades staring at a screen, and ever-more-addictive algorithms, I'm sick of tech. I'm jealous when New York or California have power outages. I envy uncontacted Amazonian tribesman. I wish for temporary blindness so I can chill a bit. 

I want a return to caveman days of fire and nature, or at least one afternoon without a Twitter notification. A factory reset on the First World. 

But until the apocalypse comes, I'm forced to jury-rig my own breaks from technology. 

People are taking online detoxes and having digital Sabbaths. The Twitter head did a 10-day silent meditation retreat

My main nemesis is my phone. All human knowledge, TV and sexy movies at my fingertips — no wonder I can't put it down. 

The average person uses their phone nearly three hours a day. It's crazy. 

No wonder 52 percent of teens have actively tried to reduce their cell phone use. And  65 percent of all Americans say “unplugging” is a priority. 

So how to release your grip on your phone? Besides amputate your arms? 

Here are some of the best tips for putting your phone down, which I've honed over 15 years of struggling to let go. 

1. No phone. 

Just don't have a phone. This one is very liberating. I've done it. I just had an office phone, and that was it. I felt much more relaxed in the evenings. I read more. I watched movies all the way through. I liked life more. But … this one is tough to pull off. I last went without a cell phone in about 2007, and this was when I lived in a miniscule mountain town [Telluride] where my deepest responsibilities included not missing powder days. If you wanted me, you walked five or ten blocks and knocked on my door. 

2. Flip phone. 

This is doable. And trendy. Writer Sebastian Junger ("The Perfect Storm") has never bought a smartphone. Comedian Ari Shaffir ditched his smartphone for a flip phone. Ditto for Rihanna and other celebs. They report greater mental space, deeper engagement with their world, less sore thumbs. Problems include getting constantly lost, replying to text messages super slow, and getting strange looks in the coffee shop. 

4. Slim data plan. 

If social media is what gets you — scrolling is the new smoking — how about a smartphone with meagre Internet? Google Fi costs just $20 with unlimited phone minutes and texts — but you pay for every morsel of data. I used to have Google Fi, and it did keep me off the Internet because data is expensive, and I'm a cheap-ass. So I was less likely to waste afternoons on YouTube. I would still be on Google Fi but latency on voice calls made me ditch it. 

5. Light Phone II. 

This phone is promising: a sweet new phone coming out in a couple months, the Light Phone II is dim on purpose. All it can do it the basics: call, text, alarm clock, play music and hail Uber or Lyft. You can get through most of your day with just those. It'll cost $300, and be available in October. Like the flip phone, Light Phone II might end up being a serious status symbol, but practical. 

6. Dumb phone apps 

These apps are the future. The answer. The way forward. At least for me. 

These apps stupid-ify your phone, blocking you or slowing you down from using most features. They basically turn your smart phone into a Light Phone, or a flip phone, for free. 

Set them up, and you can easily access just five or ten or fifteen apps … and that's it. Everything else is hidden. 

I've been using these for the past half-year and love them. There are several similar apps: Before Launcher, Slim Launcher, and ap15

I've mostly used Less Phone. It's fantastic. 

Right now, on my Pixel 2, I'm using the Boring Phone launcher, and I love it. 

With these apps, you can only access about nine things — but you get to choose them. 

For me, I chose: 

  • Phone. 

  • Texts. 

  • Google Keep (for to do list and taking notes). 

  • Spotify. 

  • Audible.

  • Google Play Books. 

  • Kindle. 

  • Camera. 

So I have communications, books, audiobooks, music and a camera. Things I value. I read more books when Kindle is easy to get to, but Chrome is gone. I take pictures of my own life, and look less at Insta and Facebook pics of others' lives. My phone feels more for me. The algorithms have a harder time getting to me. 

Stickier, more addictive apps aren't erased, they're just hidden: social media, Netflix and YouTube. (I can still access them, but I have to go into settings and jigger things. The extra steps remind me that my Highest Self flushes these time-sucking apps toilet-ward. It's a slim barrier that helps me #resist, like putting my chocolate bars on the top shelf.) 

photo - my phone screen

[My phone's home screen. Simple as a Kansas prairie, and just as boring.]

In a world where we're all super glued to our screens, dumb phones are the new smart phones, simple is the new complex, and real life is the new online. By worsening your phone, the rest of life looks starts to look better — walks, clouds, dogs, basketball, swimming, dive bars, your girlfriend, weed, live music, squirrel hunting, axe throwing, whatever. 

So until we can create our own electromagnetic pulses to disable Western ciz on purpose, try these dumb phone apps, to let you get back to your whole, animalistic, caveman self — which is who you really are.