Adventuring, Wandering, and Simple Living: Two Weeks With A Flip Phone

Walking down Telegraph avenue to my local Walgreens, I look behind the counter and see an Orbic V Verizon flip phone hanging off of a shelf. I asked the lady at the register to ring it up. I learned later the same make and model is available online for roughly $100, but on this lovely afternoon it happened to be discounted 80% off a previous 25% discount–$14.99 for the phone. I bought it.

I unboxed my new phone on the UC Berkeley campus, a few hundred feet from the store. Switching phones is actually very straightforward, all I had to do was take out the sim card from my iPhone and put it into the flip phone and that really is all it takes. I’ve done this upgrade before, climbing my way up the iPhone ladder from a 4S to my now iPhone X over the course of many years. As a result, It feels sacred to put a sim card back down the evolutionary chain of phones, reversing history.

Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t get the iPhone sim card tray open and the new Orbic V was low on power. I walked back to my apartment, plugged in the flip phone, and took a thumbtack to the side of my now case-less iPhone in a cautiously violent attempt to pop open the sim tray. I successfully managed to make the sim tray slide open. Surgically, I removed the sim card and placed it into the Orbic V flip phone. A bird chirps outside of the window.

My iPhone sat silently, glowing as it displayed an alert that the sim card has been removed. I manage to get the flip phone open, remove the battery (phones have removable batteries???) and slide my sim card into its new home. Success!

Two Weeks With A Flip Phone

My text messages grew shorter and shorter, as typing out a message with the keyboard was impossible. 3 presses for C 3 for R 1 for A 4 for Z… wait and then 3 for Y. A total of 14 button presses just to type out the word “crazy”. Typos were horrible, time consuming consequences to correct. Since texting was so challenging compared to what I had grown up with, I began calling my friends and family members more and more. I snapped some photos, got lost a few times, and discovered new places for lunch since I wasn’t limited to whether or not a restaurant was available on an app.

It was great. The highs were high, the lows were gone because I suddenly wasn’t spending hours per day on my phone. I started to notice a lot more on my walks. The sneaky thing about smartphones and modern technology is they don’t just take away your attention while you use them. Sitting on a bench on campus to relax after a long day, my typical and regular short iPhone breaks to check the news results in a continuous minor panic and anxiety. Most apps you use are designed not only to capture your attention while you use them, but also to influence your thoughts offline. So, after checking the news and putting my phone back in my pocket, I am disturbed at the state of the world: rising covid cases, looming inflation, a recession, my job, etc.

Then, as I start to relax and appreciate the scenery around me: light filtering through the trees, the piano in the distance, and casual conversation between friends and families as they slowly walk through campus. Just when it starts to feel great, I reach over and check my phone again to repeat the doom-and-gloom cycle.

Without the phone, I habitually would flip open my new phone just to be greeted by a screen with a few simple options: settings, phone, message, camera, gallery. There’s really nothing you can do with a flip phone besides call, text, and take pictures. I then snapped it shut and continued my immersion into the world around me, undisturbed by media designed to addict its users.

Over those two weeks, I became significantly more relaxed and easygoing. Getting lost didn’t bother me at all, since I wasn’t able to actually feel “lost”. I noticed that fear of missing out (FOMO) from social media and the frenzy of the internet were contributing heavily to my distress, not including the reduction in sleep quality and duration known to exist in smartphone users.

The Problems With A Flip Phone

Unfortunately, the good times had to come to an end. In short, there were three critical failures with flip phones that block me from using them to this day.

1. Group chats do not work on flip phones.

I’m not sure why, exactly, they don’t work. But, they don’t. Group chats send messages to me individually, so I quickly had trouble discerning if a text from someone was meant to go directly to me or if it was part of a larger group chat that I was a part of.

This ended up being a big problem at around the two week mark of my flip phone journey, since multiple group chats had formed to plan around summer plans and weekend group lunches. It all became a huge colossal mess in my inbox very quickly.

2. No navigation

I personally use my iPhone as a map. Unfortunately, this started to be a problem when I was out and attempted to meet up with people. I could only be late and miss so many things before it became a problem. Around the two week mark, I was flooded by a series of friends trying to coordinate a meetup. Sure, I could have called to get directions, but conditions on campus at that time were similar to a concert or professional sports game ending. Masses of people dampened my ability to make phone calls successfully.

3. Authentication and Vaccination

This one unfortunately and surprisingly was caused by my university. During the pandemic, when this flip phone experiment took place, we were required to show a QR code from a university website showing our vaccination status and the results of a daily symptom screener. Further, web access to our email and websites is gated by a 2FA check that requires a mobile app. Now, while UC Berkeley does not provide everyone with a smartphone, a smartphone is required in order to access critical campus resources and buildings. Alas, it was time to retire my phone.

Lessons Learned – Flip Phone Mentality on an iPhone

This past week, a year after this two week experiment, I dug my flip phone out of a dusty drawer. I was pleased to remember the times I spent wandering with this device, and reminisced about how much life can change in a year. It’s fantastic and terrifying how quick things can change. I booted it up, smiled when it still worked, and unfortunately broke it within a few hours of use. I tried to load 10GB of data on to the puny 5GB drive maintained on the phone. Many reboot attempts, and a phone call to Verizon later, I had confirmed that the Orbic V was broken beyond repair.

I yearned for the simplicity of my life back then, and after realizing how much extra time was spent on my iPhone, I decided to simplify my current device. There’s really no need to go out and purchase a new product. Smartphones have more than enough features, my issue was in finding ways to limit them. I’ve successfully limited my phone time to less than 45 minutes per day, and it is steadily decreasing, by deleting all of my apps, including safari and mail. This experience helped me out a lot, and I am now enjoying the benefits of modern technology without the extreme costs.

If you aren’t a regular user of group chats, and don’t require a smart phone, here’s a link to the phone I had (affiliate link). I can’t really recommend it that well, but it was a cheap and effective way for me to detach from my smartphone for awhile. Maybe you could give it a shot as well.

Afterward

Thanks again for reading! Right now, my analytics suggest I have around 5 regular readers! That’s fantastic, and I hope you enjoy my content. I am hopeful and optimistic that this blog will serve to benefit those who read it, so thank you for taking time out of your day to read.

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