Welcome Back Smartphone!

The week-long flip phone experiment is over, and I’ve switched back to my old (or should that be new) trusty smartphone. Am I happy? Sort of. Frankly it’s a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, my pant pockets feel like they have shrunk: the smartphone takes up so much more space than the flip phone, and weighs considerably more too. Not to flog a dead donkey more, but the size is overkill for my needs; a three+ screen would be adequate for most, if not all of my use.

On the other hand, the switch back to a smartphone came just in time as I went to a music gig on Friday night and was able to record snippets of the show thanks to a great camera zoom and – just as importantly – amazing audio recording quality. Of course, by spending time recording bits of the show, one could argue that I was too busy recording to truly appreciate the show as it was happening around me, and so the sneaky smartphone villain once again disrupts my life. I’ll forgive it this time.

But beyond the camera – and related features, I really didn’t miss that much. The lack of apps didn’t matter as much as I expected, which drove me to realize that there really are not that many apps that I use on a regular basis. What I missed far more was the ability to reach out into the web to answer “what if/when” type questions. Having access to the web again is certainly a major plus for the smartphone. Over a longer period of time, I’m sure I’d notice more of the missing apps. I was fortunate in that I didn’t travel this week: if I had, then I would have regretted not having an airline app for the boarding pass convenience perhaps. I may even have missed my email at that point, but I’m not convinced.

I would like to believe that I’ve come back to smartphones as a somewhat reformed character. I am trying to avoid some of my old bad habits, especially with respect to email. The past week has taught me that email doesn’t have to be in my head ALL the time. Step one was to remove the new email alert from the lock screen. Then I moved the email app to be lower down on the page so I would have to scroll down to see it. Even so, it still called me too often. So it was time for the ultimate step: I removed the auto sync option, putting me in control of when the email would flow in. The result: I can get email when I want it, but I’m no longer controlled by it. Or at least that is the plan. I fear that I may be the smartphone equivalent of an ex-smoker who has slipped back into bad habits. The story one tells oneself is that THIS time you have the inner beast under control. Yes, you’ll smoke (or check email), but only occasionally and you will no longer blatantly flaunt the habits of an addicted person. So we’ll see if the email use remains under control or if the bad habits sneak back in. Of course, what would probably be ideal is a more flexible email sync system that allows for a differentiated week and weekend sync system.

And finally, one of the things I realized during the week long abstinence was that I had always expected the smartphone to become more of a replacement for my laptop. It hasn’t, except for extending email access into my pocket. But could it? My phone offers basic Office applications and while Excel isn’t well suited to a phone screen, Word could be. This blog is proof that the phone can work well for Word: the entire blog was written on the phone in small increments of downtime. This highlights two key points: firstly, the smartphone is capable of doing so many things that we typically forget about quite a lot of the potential, happy enough that it will take great photos and download a million and one random apps. And second, by now using my phone to write blogs (even if it is only to prove that I could) I’ve contradicted myself on the desire to protect downtime. It’s a contradiction I may be okay with: at least working in Word is a creative process that comes out of having the time to think things through, whereas email is more a stress-laden response reaction to other peoples thoughts and ideas.

I started this blog series by declaring my addiction to the smartphone. In hindsight, the declaration may have been inaccurate and the smartphone may not be to blame. Perhaps instead the smartphone is a tool that helps address the bigger issue, which is the need to always be occupied doing something. Me and 170 million other Americans apparently…