There are as many iPhones sold per day in the UK as there are babies born. Smartphones are everywhere you turn. It has been suggested that companies who aren’t able to reach their audience through mobile searches or displays will not be as successful as those who do.
For young people it appears as though smartphones are an assumed purchase and one can predict, based on the current trajectory, that ordinary mobile phones will become a vintage commodity before long. Sitting next to art deco lamps and Persian rugs in a retro antiques shop will be a Nokia 7150. Perhaps selling for hundreds due to its rarity.
90% of people aged 16-24 own a smartphone [statista.com]. It seems a teenager receives or purchases a smartphone as predictably as a five-year-old receives a bike. Is this piece of technology as essential as we think? Is it possible for the next generation to live without one? Perhaps the important question is: should they?
Last year I lost my iPhone. I wondered how life would change if I didn’t replace it and used a Nokia 130 instead. This wasn’t a crusade to prove something but a desire to investigate the pull of an item that is jarringly magnetic. To me and most of the people I know.
Day one iPhone-free and I felt surprisingly indifferent. As the reality took hold that my smartphone was absent I felt free and present in a pleasing way. Predictable, I know. But I was struck by how powerful that nagging desire to constantly check it had been. Yet most checks would yield junk-mail, nothing noteworthy read and time wasted.
At home I could still connect to social media and use iMessage whilst on my iPad Mini. I did this more intentionally and thoughtfully due to the fact that I could not transport it everywhere nestled in my back pocket.
Throughout this experiment I became increasingly grateful for the fact that it had arrested some bad habits. But I missed how my smartphone made life more efficient and convenient. I travelled to the Cotswolds from my home on the South Coast with no Sat Nav. I wrote down the directions with none other than a pen and paper and familiarised myself with the route. Then left the piece of paper at home.
As I was thoroughly aware of my inability to rely on a staccato voice instructing me, I was rather conscientious and got there without a wrong turning. The time we travelled up previously we missed our exit and extended the journeys, both there and back. I concluded that I want a portable Sat Nav in my life but perhaps I need to avoid relying too heavily on my smartphone and treating it as though it actually has a brain.
After the third text that would not appear fully (*some text missing*) I was truly fed up with the old-school texting. Technology has moved on and probably for the better. Despite some of the drawbacks of its prevalence. I missed easy communication with a friend abroad. I’m no good at keeping a paper diary and being able to record and sync my calendar on my devices and my husband’s is a gift to me.
I felt somewhat like Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption, standing on the edge of a world that had “got itself in a big damn hurry”. Perhaps living without a smartphone would be the ideal scenario but is it actually possible?
Bethany Priest, aged 20, bought her first mobile phone when she was 14 years-old. A Nokia 113 that she has kept for the past six years. Making her a rare breed of teenager that has never owned a smartphone. As well as being practical for her job as a Riding Therapy Instructor, Bethany says, “I can talk to people instead of my phone taking over my whole life.”
Bethany accesses social media using her computer and never feels she is missing out on connecting with friends or finding out about events. “It’s not usually stuff that’s important, it’s stuff that can wait,” she claims.
Lewis Prescott, a 26 year-old Freelance Scenic Carpenter, has a Nokia 1112 and agrees that urgent contact can be achieved via an ordinary mobile. “[Smartphones] just support a kind of rush culture that’s present these days where people don’t ever want to wait for anything. They have to do it now, buy it now, reply to it now. I don’t get it and I don’t see the need. Most things can wait until you’re out the car, or the restaurant, or wherever.”
Lewis checks Facebook twice a week and finds phone calls and texts sufficient for keeping in touch with friends. “I don’t need to check Facebook every five minutes to have a social life. I quite like not being contactable 24/7,” he says.
Other young people asserted that they could not live without their smartphones. James Hickman and Josef Foreman, 21 [15/03/95] and 18 [16/11/95] respectively, said that they appreciated being able to communicate and organise their lives whilst on the go. “I would miss out on the quick communication as well as looking up/googling stuff,” says Josef.
Niamh Kenny, aged 19 [09/03/97], says, “I think my life would be way better without a smartphone. However, in life you’re forced to have one for convenience.”
Niamh claims that people exhibit “false personalities” online compared to how they are face-to-face. “Humans are not as good at interacting I swear!” There is pressure and expectation surrounding this capacity to communicate at all times. “People feel guilty for not texting their friends but they don’t need that constant communication that’s going on,” says Niamh.
Both Bethany and Lewis recognised the convenience smartphones offer but didn’t feel their lives were lacking by opting out. There was always an alternative to that “essential” smartphone app. Perhaps opting out is something all smartphone users need to do at some point during their week. This enables it to be used as a useful tool. But limits its capacity to become a dominating time-vacuum that is as addictive as heroine.
Would life be better without a smartphone? “It’s up to you, but don’t get sucked in,” says Bethany. Lewis’s answer: “it depends how you use it.” Then he added: “your life certainly would be better if you weren’t on it all the bloomin’ time!”
What do you think? Could you live without it? Perhaps you already do – comment with your story!