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Living without a smartphone: The definitive guide
A few weeks ago, France announced a bill that allows authorities to remotely activate the camera, microphone and GPS on people’s phones.
“France set to allow police to spy through phones,” wrote Le Monde.
Now, here is the thing.
An article like this would never see the light of day a decade, or two decades, ago. Why? Because a) back then the masses were not as stupefied and irrational as they are today, and b) an admission as serious as this would surely discourage the adoption of smartphones.
They can tell you now because now is too late. Humanity is so hopelessly addicted to their smartphones that they don’t care anymore — they cannot afford to care.
It may sound cynical, but if you take a moment to observe your fellow iPhone-grasping city dwellers, you will probably agree. Most humans have become dumb terminals. They can walk and breathe, they can feel and perceive, but their critical thinking function is downloaded from a central-control hive brain, one TikTok video at a time.
And most people don’t care.
Because they don’t have time to care. In fact, they don’t have time for anything:
Who has time to reflect, when they can Better Call Saul?
Who has time to cook, when they can track their Dairy Queen Chicken Strip as it’s riding to their door?
Who has time to date, when they can use Tinder to swipe through hundreds of yoga-pose girls or jumping-in-a-bikini girls with strong opinions about pineapple on pizza?
And here lies the grand fallacy, or deception rather.
What are humans doing with their time? If they don’t cook, if they don’t garden, if they don’t drive, if they don’t flirt, then what exactly are they doing?
You see, humans are humans precisely because they cook, because they grow their food, and because they exert the effort to do those things in the real world.
Think about it, what else could humans do?
And as for the “who has time?” selling point that got everyone addicted to their smartphones: humans seem to have less time today than they ever had before smartphones.
So, let’s not mince our words, ladies and gentlemen.
Smartphones are robbing us of our humanity.
But we still have time.
Yes, we can still break away from the ball and chain of our smartphones. I know we can, because I have done it. And today I will show you exactly how I did it.
But first, let me say this. The goal here is not to throw away our smartphone. In July of 2022, I wrote:
The secret lies in changing how we view our handsets. In as few words as possible, their default state needs to be OFF. They need to be a just-in-case tool.
Indeed, the smartphone should be in your toolbox, not on your desk. As such, our goal is to ruthlessly eliminate any and all reasons for keeping our handsets switched on.
Reason #1: Communication
All my personal digital communication happens on the laptop.
When I’m away from the laptop I am defacto out-of-reach because I don’t carry a smartphone. If that sounds impossible then you probably weren’t around 20 years ago when there were no iPhones and everyone survived just fine. Back then, people were good at planning things in advance. They gave good directions, they made backup plans, and were intentional and precise in their communication.
I’ve been living like this for more than a year now and I don’t see myself going back.
If you are a caretaker and need to be available 24x7, you can get a dumb phone that only does calls and SMS. It’s cheap, it’s practical, and it works.
Reason #2: Navigation
Google Maps is perhaps the most convenient smart technology in existence. Disentangling myself from it was certainly challenging but also feasible. I broke down my transition in 3 steps:
Use offline maps: To begin with, you can use Google Maps without a Google account. Once you get used to that, you can then start using Google Maps without an internet connection. Just download the maps you need to your handset — it only takes a minute, check out those easy instructions. Keep in mind that Google Maps doesn’t support offline routing, so you need to initiate your routes while still connected to the internet.
Drop Google: I then replaced Google Maps with an open source app called OsmAnd. OsmAnd doesn’t offer the wealth of live updates you get with Google Maps, but it does what it says on the tin: it gets you from point A to point B even when you’re offline. And if you are into hiking, or any activity that happens beyond urban areas, OsmAnd is superior to Google Maps in every way. You can download topographic maps, save tracks, waypoints, and much more. Quick tip: If you don’t want to run out of battery during your hikes, remember to keep your handset in airplane mode. GPS will continue to work fine.
Get a Garmin: A couple of months of using OsmAnd and I was finally ready to let go of my smartphone. After some research I bought a Garmin eTrex 221x. It runs on two AA batteries and comes with zero smart features. It’s a fully offline navigation device that is rugged, waterproof, shockproof, and you can even use it with gloves — no flimsy touchscreens involved. Oh, and it’s affordable too.
When someone sends me a Google Maps link, I open it on my laptop, right click on it, and Google Maps displays its exact coordinates. I key those into my Garmin and I’m good to go. All it takes is a minute once you get used to it.
Don’t get me wrong, handheld GPS devices are nowhere near as easy or immediate as you’d expect with an iPhone. Things like finding and downloading maps, and perusing them without a touchscreen, will seem foreign at first. But those who persevere will eventually enjoy the freedom of a purpose-built navigation tool that does not rely on any 3rd party. As long as those satellites work, you can navigate from point A to point B.
Reason #3: Podcasts
After some research I found that Sony still sells an MP3 player Walkman. It’s no bigger than a USB stick, it has no cables, and plugs straight into the laptop to charge and sync podcasts, music, and audio books.
On the laptop I use gPodder to download and manage my podcasts. From there, syncing to the MP3 player is a simple as copying files to a USB stick.
Reason #4: Books
What would you rather read? An AI generated, NLP-infused news article, or a classic novel that’s been around for decades or centuries?
Of course, classics are harder to parse because they are not dumbed down. Every other word in Orwell’s novels requires a dictionary, and so does Huxley’s — don’t get me started about Dostoevski. Those books tend to use long sentences, and employ words that have all but become extinct in today’s text-speech vernacular.
Newspeak, indeed, differed from almost all other languages in that its vocabulary grew smaller instead of larger every year. Each reduction was a gain, since the smaller the area of choice, the smaller the temptation to take thought.
1984, George Orwell
If you value free thought then look for the classics. And if you value reading, then look for real books. I get my classics from second-hand bookshops and I also keep a paper pocket dictionary handy.
Reason #5: Dating
Does Tinder and Bumble make it easy to meet people? Sure they do, in the same way Uber Eats and Just Eat make it easy to stuff your mouth with calories.
The optics of swiping humans left and right as if they were disposable menu items, strikes me as profoundly wrong — ethically, morally, and spiritually.
Put the effort in, step out into the real world and speak to a real woman. That’s right, do what men have always done — pursue. And if you are a woman, do what women have always done. What might that be? Dunno, anything other than taking pouting selfies, or uploading photos of your derrière on Instagram.
Deleting dating apps shaves at least another hour off of our smartphone usage. Big win.
Reason #6: Social media
In 2020 I deleted my Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram acounts and closed down my YouTube channel. The only social account I still have is Twitter (and Nostr), but I only access those on my laptop.
Having zero social media apps shaves at least an hour off of my daily smartphone usage. And if I need a distraction while on the go I can read my book or listen to my MP3 Walkman.
Reason #7: Photography
Most photos these days end up on social media feeds. But if you do away with your social media accounts you may find you don’t need to take that many photos.
Sure, iPhone has quad-pixel sensors, telephoto lenses, and “Photonic Engines”. As Apple eloquently puts it, their camera is in a class by “itselfie”. And yet, I find that life is better when I don’t have to capture every moment of it.
It’s been years since I stopped taking photos or videos. But that’s just me. If you are into photography why not get a dedicated camera and learn how to take good shots? The optics are better.
Reason #8: Everything else
With the major use cases out of the way, we get to focus on the long tail scenarios; the just-in-case apps that we may occasionally need access to:
Flashlight: The smartphone flashlight sucks. Instead, I use a LedLenser; a waterproof, shockproof, tiny little flashlight that runs on a single AA battery. You won’t believe the power this thing has, and you won’t feel it in your pocket or keychain.
Notes: I carry a pocket notebook and pen everywhere I go. When meeting people and I need to take notes (or refer to a note) it’s far more appreciative and respectful to use a paper notebook. Better optics here too.
Translation: Those of us living or traveling in non-English speaking parts of the world can rely on a pocket dictionary. I mean, isn’t that what we’ve always done in the pre-smartphone era?
All those knick-knacks weigh very little and they can stay permanently in my backpack.
“Okay, great, can I throw away my smartphone now?”
Not so fast.
So far we have eliminated the reasons for keeping the smartphone ON. Does this mean we should throw away our handsets? No, it means we can keep them in the drawer, switched OFF and ready to be used if and when some specific need arises.
Unfortunately, you see, we still need a smartphone to interface with mainstream institutions. Which leads us to the single most important use case of smartphones.
What follows is key, please pay attention.
The need to keep things separate (i.e. compartmentalize)
Every time I interact with bureaucrats, officials, banks, and KYC institutions, I use a very old iPhone. This handset has its own normie-friendly iCloud email address, iMessage, and Whatsapp for good measure — anything the institutions expect. The one thing it doesn’t have is any of my personal things.
In other words, I compartmentalize:
Laptop: I do all my personal computing on my laptop.
Smartphone: Any online service that is associated with my official identity — banks, hotels, travel agents, and so on — is installed on the iPhone.
That’s how I separate my personal life from my official identity.
In an increasingly dystopian world where uttering certain words can lead to debanking and prison time, you do not want to mix the two. In fact, it’s prudent to keep your personal life (and politics) as far removed from your LEGAL strawman as you possibly can.
Check out this recent article from The Telegraph:
The country’s biggest banks have quietly introduced the right to monitor customers’ social media into their privacy policies, The Telegraph can disclose. Despite public denials that they carry out checks on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the four biggest high street lenders and several others have buried in the small print of their privacy policies that they may obtain information from social media accounts.
Again, my smartphone is the interface to mainstream, regulated, institutions. As such, I only use it for a few minutes a day, at most — to check my bank balance, for example — and then promptly switch it off and put it back in the drawer.
Microphones and cameras are all covered by tape — because don’t forget that French bill. The SIM card is stored outside the handset and only goes in for occasional things like bank 2FA messages. When hiking or camping in remote places, I carry both phone and SIM card, just in case — switched off and tucked away, of course.
Finally, I have an old Android phone that I rarely ever switch on. I used that handset to activate my Signal and Telegram accounts — again, keeping them separate from my official ID.
You see, nothing is more disposable and redundant than old smartphones. You can walk into a second-hand, mum-and-pup shop, and buy an old handset for very little money. Both my handsets are at least 5 years old and cost next to nothing.
Keeping things separate with redundant handsets is very affordable and, in my view, increasingly necessary.
I do 100% of my personal computing on a laptop.
Occasionally, when I need something from the mainstream matrix world, I switch my iPhone ON and play the normie part to get what I need.
I then promptly switch it OFF, store it the drawer, and resume with my human existence.
Human nature is profoundly incompatible with smartphones and anything else that is “smart”.
Everyone can upgrade to a smartphone-free life.