Saying no to smartphones

March 2, 2017

Flip phones can seem like a relic of the past as smartphones are widely used in the Whitman community and throughout the world. The PEW Research Center found that in 2015 68 percent of adults in the United States owned a smartphone. However, some Whitman community members have made the choice to use non smart phones — and some go so far as to not own a cell phone at all.

While the reasons for this decision vary, all agree that they have noticed a difference in the way they live. Technology does have a large impact on how an individual interacts with others, which Sociology Professor Michelle Janning gave an insight into.

Technology’s ambivalent effects

From cyberbullying to a loss of face to face interaction, the list of supposed ills that new forms of technology gives rise to is extensive. However, Professor of Sociology Michelle Janning, who focuses on family relations, technology and culture, emphasized that there is no conclusive evidence of the impacts of technology.

“The research is mixed on what impacts technology is causing and I think we are still trying to figure this out,” Janning said. “In part because we are still trying to figure out what the norms are for the interactions we have on social media. And we know we’re still sorting that out.”

Janning gave evidence of the mixed research through the contrasting findings of two authors. Social media scholar and author of the book “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” danah boyd argues that there are positive results to the connections teenagers make through social media.

“[Boyd] complicates that by saying in fact there are ways that teenagers are using social media to be more civically engaged and offer more social support and play with identity construction in ways that are intriguing and perhaps even beneficial,” Janning said.

In contrast to danah boyd, Sherry Turkle, Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology argues that through technology we have lost the art of being alone, which affects how we relate to others.

Turkle argues that in order to interact with others positively, one must know themselves. Having a knowledge of oneself comes from time spent alone and as social media increases the amount and forms of communication between people, personal social interactions have been damaged.

Janning emphasized the difference between the forms of communication flip phones and smartphones offer. While flip phones generally offer just a few basic features, such as making calls, texting and taking photographs, smartphones provides many more options, including video chatting, texting, social media communication through platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, or calling. The access to so many tools for efficient communication, provide an increased opportunity to create a culture of constant interaction.

“The multi purpose functions of a smartphone make it more accessible for us to have greater numbers of ways that we participate in contact through social media, and it makes it harder to measure the actual impact,” Janning said.

Despite the greater flexibility of a smartphone Janning suggested that some people choose to not have smart phones to limit the distractions that constant access to communication and social media creates.

“To make something more difficult for yourself can help you not do the things that are very tempting,” Janning said. “So I think people avoiding getting a smartphone might do that.”

Sophomore Julio Escarce on his flip phone. Photo by Caroline Ashford Arya.

Making the switch

The reasons for deciding to use a non smartphone, range from unforeseen circumstances and financial reasons to conscious decisions based on beliefs.

For sophomore Julio Escarce, the choice to switch to a flip phone was a conscious decision to allow himself to be more present in his everyday life.

“I activated [my flip phone] just because I was getting so distracted by my iPhone. It was just like I was missing out on life. You know?” Escarce said.

Escarce, who used an iPhone throughout high school and into his first year of college, switched over to LGVX 5400 last semester, a tiny Verizon flip phone with a one inch screen. This transition was not a complete move away from smartphones as he kept his iPhone in his dorm room for photos and Internet access. However, Escarce found even this limited access to a smartphone addicting. He decided to leave his smartphone at home this semester.

Junior Miguel Arneson has a flip phone purely out of convenience and circumstances. From the expenses of a data plan and the sufficiency of a flip phone for communication, Arneson decided to keep a flip phone when he was given the choice to get a smartphone.

“When I was given an opportunity to switch over to a smartphone…I was not very decisive about what I wanted and why I wanted it. I just kept a flip phone, and my only regret is I can’t mess around with snapchat,” Arneson said.

Like Arneson, counselor Rick Baez’s choice to get rid of his phone was based on convenience and price. However, he has come to appreciate his lack of a phone.

“We live in a one income household for a family of five with one offspring having special needs needing more supervision/care. We try to minimize expenses as much as possible…Quite a savings with minimal sacrifices thus far,” Baez said in an email to The Wire.

The upside of flip phones

For Escarce, the advantage of switching over to a flip phone lays in the removal of distraction.

“I wanted to be less distracted. And I also have pretty bad ADD so having one less thing to distract me from my homework is good,” Escarce said.

Having limited access to the internet has also helped Escarce to become less attached to technology and live in the moment.

“I used to check my email any time I had a device. I was like ‘email, email, email.’ But now I’ll get up in the morning and just go to class. Or I’ll just go to work or whatever and I won’t check my email. And just not checking it is nice,” Escarce said.

Escarce has extended his limited internet access to his laptop through blocking certain sites that have the potential to distract him, while leaving sites which will be useful in his homework unblocked.

Another conscience dissociation from technology is Escarce’s decision to abstain from consuming news on the internet. Escarce reads all of his news in printed newspapers and limits his access to sites such as Facebook and Youtube to once a week.

“I’m out of the loop on news. I recently decided that I don’t want to get the news through the computer so I started ordering the “New York Times”…I check Facebook once a week once the block goes off on my computer I check Facebook and sometimes I’ll look at some Youtube videos,” Escarce said.

The lack of certain utilities of a smartphone is not a big deal for Escarce and he believes that his phone does most things that he needs it to do. From communication to scheduling, his flip phone does it all.

“I’ve got a full calendar with my whole schedule in it. And it has alarms, I can make reminders and text people,” Escarce said.

He can even receive messages from the group message application GroupMe. Although GroupMe is usually accessed through an app on a smartphone, the messages in the group chat are texted to Escarce’s phone from one central number along with the name of the sender.

Smartphones can often be used as a crutch for their users in social situations. By removing the use of a smartphone from his life, Escarce believes he now has the autonomy to remove himself from uncomfortable social situations.

“If I’m in a situation where I don’t really want to be there, I just leave instead of hanging out and being on my phone. Especially at parties if I’m not enjoying myself, I just take off and go somewhere else, where before I would just be in the corner looking at my phone,” Escarce said. “It helps me say no to the things that I don’t really want.”

Escarce also finds that without a smartphone he finds himself noticing the small details throughout his life.

“I also find I look up a lot more. And I’ll just look and say ‘Wow the sky’s beautiful today.’ And sometimes I’ll be with someone and I’ll be like ‘Wow! Look at that!” and they’ll be like ‘Wow! I never saw that!’” Escarce said.

For Miguel Arneson, one benefit of having a flip phone is the satisfaction of being able to flip open the phone.

“Well you can flip it. That’s a nice feeling,” Arneson said.

Aside from the physical pleasure of a flip phone, Arneson, like Escarce, has also found that all of the functions he needs in a phone are available in his flip phone. Texting and calling are enough for Arneson, and although the capability to play music is one utility that he misses, he makes up for this through the use of an Ipod.

Baez found that his choice to not have a phone has given him a freedom that he did not previously have when he had a phone for work.

“I feel unfettered and free to be me. I’m not tied down to it. When I had a phone for work purposes I didn’t have boundaries and would get calls at all hours. So many things seemed urgent or an emergency which can be fairly stressful physiologically, psychologically and relationally,” Baez said.

Baez has also found that he can still communicate necessary information without a phone.

“I am not much of a phone person…I usually keep phone conversations brief and to the point,” Baez said.

Any communication that Baez has the need for can be done through his work phone or by borrowing others’ phones.

“I have no issues in finding and communicating with others. The close people in my life schedule regular times to talk with me by phone,” Baez said. “For example, my mom calls about twice a month; my friends who live far away call me periodically. I can use my work phone…or borrow one of my family’s trac phones if needed.”

Baez has also found that he prefers communication through writing and email.

“I like to write – so email, letters, cards is a good way for me to communicate,” Baez said.

Flip phones also have the ability to cling to breast pockets. Photo by Caroline Ashford Arya.

Are smartphones really smarter?

Although Escarce feels content in his use of a flip phone, one aspect of having a smartphone that he misses is the ability to immortalize time.

“Now the main thing I miss is I can’t really track my life as well into the past. I used to be like ‘what was I doing on that day and I find a picture.’ Or I used to do a lot of audio recordings of just like conversations you know to memorialize it. But now I don’t have any of that,” Escarce said.

Other downsides for Escarce are the limitation to words you can enter on the calendar and lack of access to Google maps. To compensate, Escarce has taken to memorizing routes from Google maps before he goes somewhere new. When traveling abroad Escarce says that he would use a smartphone in order to have access to this function.

“I think there are some drawbacks, but in the end it really accentuates life,” Escarce said.

Arneson, like Escarce, is mostly content with his use of a flip phone; however, some small glitches in his phone have caused problems for him. One of these malfunctions is that the alarm doesn’t always work.

Aside from the functionality of the phone, Arneson also feels as he is missing out on the ability to use technology as entertainment in social situations.

“A lot of times I just see many people holding smartphones and flipping through stuff and I’m a little bit jealous; I mean honestly I kind of want to flip through stuff. I want to not be bored, but I also don’t want to not be there with the people I’m with,” Arneson said.

For Baez there are few drawbacks to not having a phone. Any communication that he needs can be done through other channels such as his work phone or writing emails or letters.

“I really can’t think of any for me” said Baez. “I’m sure I am missing out on all sorts of opportunities, but what I don’t know, I don’t know.”

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