Meet The Millennials Who Are Ditching Smartphones For Good
The Debrief: No Whatsapp, no Facebook app, and no Google maps. These 20-somethings are swapping smartphones and 24/7 technology for a less connected life. Could they be on to something?
Photographed by Jake Kenny
Look around you. Yes, that’s right, stop looking at your phone for a second and look around you. How many of the people nearby are also glued to their smartphones? I’m going to go with… most, if not all, of them.
According to research published by Ofcom in August smartphones overtook laptops this year as the Internet users’ number-one device of choice. Two thirds of people now own a smartphone. These devices have become the hub of our daily lives and live in the pockets of 66% of UK adults. For those under 24, the number of smartphone owners is even higher at 90%.
So why has a phone just launched which only sends texts and makes calls? The 'MP 01' was unveiled at the London Design Festival last week, and while the latest Apple iPhone 27 (or whatever it is they’ve just launched) might be more what you expect to see in the fashionable show rooms at Somerset House, this phone is a back-to-basics revamp of the trusty ‘bricks’ we all had at school.
Swiss design company Punkt designed the MP 01. It has a battery life of three weeks and is designed with a gently angled shape that makes it easy to hold. This phone is to the 3310 what Celine is to Zara – ie it’s a really nice, sleeker and lighter version of your affordable, unbreakable, trusty old brick phone circa 2004. Incidentally, it also retails at £229, which seems a bit excessive. However, the creators of this back-to-basics phone might just be on to something.
The designers say that their single function phone is designed with ‘taking back your life’ in mind. Petter Neby the CEO of Punkt says that ‘technology is a very powerful tool, but as our lives become increasingly complicated, it is important to find time to disconnect and rediscover the simple things.’
Do you ever wonder about the stuff you don’t see while you’re staring at your phone? About what you’re missing out on in the real world while you’re tweeting, facebooking, whatsapping or instagramming? We ask young people who've abandoned – or never actually owned – a smartphone what it's like to go against the grain...
Jenny, 22, student
Jenny has a Samsung something-or-other, ‘I don’t know what model or type it is, but I can look it up if you need to know’. She’s never had a smartphone.
Why hasn’t she jumped on the bandwagon? ‘It first started as a way of saving money because I didn’t really want to sign up to a super expensive contract. But I like not being constantly available on Facebook. It’s quite nice being out of reach, I’ve got calls and messages so if someone needs me they can reach me.’
However, she has recently begun to think about getting a smartphone. She admits ‘I do rely a lot on my friends because I’m always asking if I can play on their Snapchat. They get quite annoyed with me’.
Does she think the fact that she’s got this far without one will change the way she uses it if she does get one? ‘I’ll definitely try to hold on to the idea of switching off’ she says, ‘but while I like to think that I’m less attached to that kind of stuff – it’s highly addictive. I think realistically I’ll probably turn into a similar kind of reliant user to my friends – but hopefully not – fingers crossed! If I’m aware of it I might not become another addict.’
Maddie, 28, actress
Unlike Jenny, Maddie used to have an iPhone. ‘I’ve broken or lost so many of them’ she says. ‘The last one I lost at my sister’s hen do, the one before that I lost down the sofa in the Pit Bar at the Old Vic. I got it back eventually but then I dropped it down the loo. She’s currently using a white Samsung flip phone, ‘it’s very swish and I’m quite proud of it, it kind of looks like a love egg.’
While circumstances beyond her control have brought Maddie and her current phone together, she has found that there are perks to not having a smartphone. ‘Not being attached to Facebook is good, seeing stupid things that you don’t care about. And, although Whatsapp is good it’s annoying when you’ve got loads of people in group chats all messaging at the same time’. She has found that she reads on her commute now rather than just ‘mucking around looking through old photos’.
She thought not having a camera on her phone would be a problem but she actually thinks she has ‘enjoyed the moment more’ since not having one. ‘I was at my sister’s wedding recently and I didn’t take any pictures, there was a professional photographer so it was fine but if I’d had my iPhone I would have just been snapping.’
‘You realise that you’re so much more in the present with people when you’re not on a smartphone – when you can’t use one you realise how much everyone else is.’
Ultimately, Madeleine says she will go back to a smartphone at some point – mainly she misses having maps, ‘you don’t realise how much you get lost until you don’t have them’. However, she will do things differently this time around. Far from being overcome by FOMO since not having a smartphone, Maddie has discovered the joy of missing out. ‘I’ve wasted a lot of time on smartphones. I’m thinking of not downloading the Facebook app when I go back – you spend ages looking at other people’s stuff and you don’t need to… it’s so pointless and time-wasting and vain’.
She thinks that time out from your smartphone is important, ‘on lazy days or weekends away etc. it’s important to actually be way from it all.’
Mary Erskine, 28, musician
Mary had an iPhone ‘for a bit about four years ago’ but ‘it was so expensive’. Now she’s got an old Nokia it’s ‘a drug dealer phone’, she says, ‘I don’t know what model it is but I’ve had it for two years.’
When she had a smartphone Mary says she ‘would just switch off the internet. I don’t need to be on the internet all the time – if I’m meeting someone I have that person’s number and that’s all I need’.
Now, she says, ‘I like choosing whether I’m on the internet of not – it’s freeing just to have this tiny little phone. I live in London, it’s not like I’m living in the jungle without GPS, so there’s no panic’.
Mary traded her iPhone in for her brick because she wanted to get an iPad for work. She also resents ‘Apple’s business model.' ‘I wanted an iPad to carry music and lyrics around on; it’s like my songbook. But it seemed silly to have both, it’s cheaper and easier to have an iPad for work and the phone just for communicating.’
The only thing she feels like she’s missing out on is Whatsapp. ‘I can’t get it on my iPad and all my family are on it. That’s the real struggle of my condition,’ she says, ‘but we’ve all got out crosses to bear I guess.’
For Mary it’s about functionality, ‘simplicity sums it up for me. I’ve decluttered my life.’
Jack, 29, artist
Jack’s been going strong with his phone for four years now. He doesn’t know what model it is ‘I stopped knowing the names of phones after 3310s, it’s a Nokia… it’s got a torch.’
Jack has never owned a smartphone. ‘It started in my student days where I tried to have the latest phone but, you know, when you’re a student bills roll into bills so I just stopped caring about phones. Ever since I’ve got the cheapest phone possible and used it until it dies.’
One of the main benefits for him is that he never has to worry about charging his phone. ‘If I had a smartphone I think the battery life would do my nut in’, he says, ‘I charge my phone once every four days for half an hour or so, and it lasts for days after that. I don’t even know where my charger is at the moment because I don’t need it.’
He also thinks his life is better because he’s not always online. ‘I’ve never found it useful to be on the internet all the time. I know most people use it to get places – with maps, but do you know there are ways to find out where you’re going?’ What are these other ways he speaks of? ‘There are loads of maps in London, bus stops for example’ he points out, ‘I’ve lived in London for 11 years now so I’m pretty good with general directions – but you can ask people if you need to.’
Smartphones are blurring the boundaries between home and work life, Jack thinks. ‘I read an interview with Armando Iannucci where he said he works 9-5 every day and refuses to work after or before that time, including emails and I thought fair play.’
Does he think he’s missing out at all? ‘Not really, there’s plenty of other ways that I speak to and message my friends. I like ringing up my mates to have a chat with them. I’ve got a few friends that hate talking on the phone, they’re my favourite people. I love chatting to them until they put the phone down – they find it really awkward.’
Of course, the advent of the smartphone has meant huge advantages for our generation. These devices have shaped our cultural experiences, transformed the way we live, changed the way we communicate, connected us to a wealth of information and, in many ways, made life easier. However, perhaps those of us who are permanently attached to our phones and their chargers could do with taking a step back from time to time. It seems that life is a bit simpler without one, even if it means you have to know where you’re going before you leave the house.
Like this? You might also be interested in...
Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt
Photographed by Jake Kenny
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating