Dear iPhone: iQuit

Ricky Takkar
Created on September 13, 2022 (updated every now and then)

I still remember the joy I felt carefully opening the box for a gold 5S during my teenage years. But eight years and six more excited iPhone unboxings later, I'm done. 

Just as I was about to pre-order the 14 Pro Max and get a trade-in quote for my current 13 Pro Max, I suddenly questioned why. My quick-thinking, emotions-driven system of the mind that Daniel Kahneman refers to as “System 1” in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” was quick to squash further pondering on the topic by convincing me that this is just how things have been. Meanwhile, the question had also activated the other, more deliberate and pensive, system in my mind (Kahneman calls this “System 2”). I closed the tab with the new iPhone in my cart for the time being…

Hours of deep thinking and personal reflection within System 2 over the following days led to a revelation: I had thought of more reasons to ditch my iPhone (and smartphones in general) than to keep it, let alone purchase a new one. Below are some pros and cons I came up with about ditching my iPhone (and smartphones in general):

Pros of quitting a smartphone (e.g., iPhone)

  1. Exponentially slower, harder and inefficient access to distracting activities that boost procrastination. Slight tangent, but I theorize that humans possess a finite unit of attention, or at least high-level attention, per unit of time. Wandering around today's infinitely noisy digital world consumes those attention units at a rate that's second to none. Consider all the mental context switching one practices as they scroll through r/popular on Reddit or the YouTube homepage prior to questioning the source of their exhaustion. Before picking up their smartphone, unless one intends to spend their time at the cost of their precious units of attention, I suggest that they: (a) contemplate whether embarking upon a digital journey is necessary to achieve this task, and if so, (b) plan an exact route thereby minimizing the chance to explore any new roads en-route their digital destination. Today's leading smartphones make it too easy to succumb to engaging in activities unrelated to the one you unlocked your phone for. It's like unlocking a treasure chest of everything unnecessary and unproductive. If you're lucky, you might encounter a tiny percentage of potentially useful content out of the otherwise sizable amount of content that momentarily tricks you into approving its worthiness for consumption.
    Sometimes, like in real-life, one discovers some fascinating new thing when they take that new road. What is often the case, though, is that it's the ephemeral break from the mundane that adds to the goodness; unless what is discovered becomes in some way a productive part of one's life in the long term, it is usually best left as a distant yet semi-accessible treat. But suppose one has the discipline to rarely, if ever, let their iPhone be a big source of distraction. In that case, more power to them and honestly, I envy them! But I sure lack that discipline.  

  2. One less thing to worry about. Specifically, there's no longer a worry in the back of my mind about dropping this expensive device or scratching its screen.

  3. Less screen time. Although the verdict is still out on the extent to which smartphone use harms our eyesight, I'm erring on the side of caution. 

  4. Increased privacy. While I doubt companies are as incentivized in developing the infrastructure to harvest data from feature phones like they do from smartphones, it's unlikely a feature phone possesses the ability to gain, organize, and share user data like a smartphone. 

Cons of quitting a smartphone (e.g., iPhone)

  1. Harder to maintain quick and easy access for digital communication with contacts. But once I thought about this deeper, I asked myself, “why exactly am I enforcing the expectation on myself of being ultra-responsive to digital communication at all times?” Why does it make me anxious to even consider walking down the block to buy groceries without my iPhone? Is the anxiety worth it? What information am I constantly in fear of missing when I don't have my iPhone with me? It would never be the case anyway that I'd be gone for hours on end without access to my phone. My guess is that society has irrationally induced an artificial need within us to remain digitally connected at all times. Why should we be? I aim to retrain my brain into accepting that it's okay for me to not carry my phone with me sometimes. Moreover, I have no qualms about reducing the weight of the texting/snapping frequency parameter in a function that quantifies the health of my relationships with others. There are scenarios that necessitate timely, if not instant, responses, but almost always the related infrastructure relies on far more than just an individual's phone to reach them. 

  2. What about apps I find essential like Maps, 2FA (e.g., Duo/Symantec), Spotify, Uber/Lyft, Grubhub/DoorDash, etc.)? Apps like these are essential to me at my current stage of life. Had I not found the CAT S22 Flip (and Unihertz Titan Pocket), which offers these apps without the bloat and design choices I dislike about traditional smartphones, I wouldn't have made the switch. More on this later…

  3. No Apple Pay. No argument here; I'll miss using my phone as a credit/transit card. *Edit 09-18-22* This is no longer an issue for me since I returned my CAT S22 Flip phone for a Unihertz Titan Pocket that has NFC. Still, I miss the clean UI of the Wallet app to manage my Apple Card on my iPhone, but I make it work on my iPad.

  4. Involuntary attention attraction. Occasionally someone will notice my Unihertz Titan Pocket phone and strike up a conversation. It's kind of like being approached by onlookers who admire your car or compliment your vintage watch. Except what's different in my phone's case is the onlookers have no intention of ever wanting to use it, and the questions they ask tend to come from a place of bewilderment rather than appreciation. A small percentage of these people though are genuinely curious, and I hope they question the cost of owning their smartphone.

Obviously, I still needed a phone if I was going to ditch my iPhone, but it needed the right balance of smart and lack thereof. After doing some research, I found the perfect match: CAT S22 Flip. It's a flip phone that is as aesthetically unappealing as my iPhone was appealing. But now, only what's on the inside matters to me. *Edit 09-18-22* I returned my CAT S22 Flip for a Unihertz Titan Pocket given the latter supports NFC unlike the former, sports a QWERTY keyboard akin to yesteryear's Blackberry, and draws less attention than a flip phone. Anyway, the CAT S22 Flip (and Unihertz Titan Pocket) provides LTE connectivity and runs on Android 11 ‘Go’ which is a stripped down version of the OS (the Titan Pocket runs on standard Android 11). For those interested in stripping more features, there are tools like Universal Android Debloater. Personally, I also use the Niagara Launcher that helps set a minimalist home screen on my new Android device. One could argue that my new phone, rather than being a true feature phone, is merely a bareboned Android smartphone with a lackluster UI, so what's the point? One look at the phone, and you'll realize that despite it being able to run apps like YouTube and Reddit, you would have to be compelled to browse endlessly on its no-frills roughly 3-inch touchscreen. That's perfect for my intended use case: those sort of apps are still accessible when I'm in dire need, but I'd typically rather not use them at all. 

Ultimately, there is no comparison of how much more one can do on an iPhone than on something like my new phone. I guess what I'm more interested in, though, is seeing how much more I can achieve now that I am truly off of my iPhone than on it. At the same time, I doubt this is a panacea for all the aforementioned ills. I recognize that there are people out there for whom having a smartphone is probably not a net negative. I just know that right now, I'm not one of them.