📆 October 6, 2023 | ⏱️ 9 minute read | 🏷️ computing

Re: I've stopped using mobile phones in my life.

There aren’t many people who intentionally go phoneless in today’s society, especially not young people like myself. But there are some who resist the social expectation to carry a proprietary surveillance device at all times. Since we are few, it’s important to spread the word about our efforts. So today, I comment on Jakub Bidžan’s blog post written in January of this year, “I’ve stopped using mobile phones in my life.

Before I start, I must admit that I haven’t been completely or continuously phoneless since I wrote my entry about why I don’t use a smartphone, but I’ve resisted using one enough to feel qualified to comment on Jakub’s blog post. So I’ll start by introducing him.

Jakub Bidžan is a Free Software enthusiast, GNU+Linux enthusiast, and GNU+Linux systems administrator from the Czech Republic. He is an administrator of drgnz.club and other servers as well. Judging by his picture, he is also young, which is interesting because most people who reject smartphones are older. Let’s see what he has to say.

“By the end of January 2023 I’ve decided that I would stop using mobile phones.As a consequence I expected there to be much more inconvenience in my life, but actually I feel way more mentally free. I generally have much less temptations with it and can focus better on what I’m doing.”

My experience has been similar. Smartphones created this need in me for instant gratification. When it wasn’t provided by real life, out came my smartphone immediately. It was like a drug. I was often seeking the instant gratification it provided, making it impossible to achieve sustained focused attention for the long-term life goals which give me a deeper sense of meaning.

I relate to feeling more “mentally free” too. Besides improving my focused attention, my mind also felt more free to wander. Without the need to be entertained by something 24/7, boredom troubled me less and I found it easier to connect with the real world around me. I developed patience, realizing that it doesn’t hurt me to wait sometimes and consequently being less of an asshole to people around me.

“You might think that I stopped using phones because the insane privacy violations that come with it, or because I just wanted to be a hipster that walks arround with his librebooted thinkpad and looks down upon normies who scroll through Instagram on their phones.”

I think that being young and intentionally phoneless certainly creates this air of curiosity around oneself, and not just for the surveillance state. But, as the author is about to explain, there are better reasons to go phoneless:

“The real reason why I left phones is that I find phones to be utterly irritating. You can’t do anything useful on these bricks, they are designed to be debilitated devices that are used to coom to porn and consooming youtube.”

Phones are powerful multitools which are good for a number of purposes. Jakub’s hyperbole has a point though. Phones lend themselves to consumption, nay, overconsumption. They have no physical keyboard, so typing is inefficient. The screen is small, so the kind of work you can get done is limited. Users demand a long battery life, so apps that do too much computing aren’t used.

Besides not being that useful compared to computers, phones are also very distracting and addictive. They sound off at random times for notifications and calls, interrupting whatever their owners are doing and causing noise pollution that distracts others. Somehow this has become socially acceptable almost everywhere but movie theaters and business meetings.

As Jakub points out, they are also used to “coom to porn”. Having a smartphone makes watching porn way more convenient since it only takes one hand. This is bad because porn is itself highly addictive and masturbating to porn can degrade real intimate relationships by ruining sex. Also, it heavily skews your expectations by showing you one perfect body after another.

“Installing an operating systems of your choice them is a leap of faith and making them acceptably privacy-respecting is a herculean task. I actually wanted to install a newer version of lineage OS on my phone but I managed to soft-brick it. Now, A soft brick is fixable, but I think the right decision was to not waste time with these stupid devices and just not use them”

If you have an iPhone, forget about changing the OS. Unless you buy an Android phone that is well-supported by custom roms, trying to flash one can be a “herculean task”. You may find yourself following instructions you found on XDA Forums that direct you to download unsigned firmware from expired Google drive links uploaded by god knows who. Then, after hours of trying, the custom rom still won’t work and your computer is now infected with malware.

Desktop or laptop computers on the other hand generally don’t present so many obstacles to installing a privacy-respecting OS.

“Now, I do still use a phone. I use a nokia 6 with stock android on it, which I leave at home and never ever bring it anywhere with me. It basically serves as a kind of a landline. For the few normies that still for some reason prefer to use inferior communication methods.”

Seems like a reasonable compromise.

Jakub goes on to talk about how he makes purchases without using a proprietary banking app. This may be a little off-topic, but I think it’s also important to include:

“My solution to money is to just pay use cash. I can hear people who read this screaming in disbelief, but it is true. I only use cash, I always did and I dont know why I should stop. I honestly don’t even know why I get so many weird reactions when I say this, or actually very cheerful reactions from people involved in Free Culture or Privacy. As if it was something hard, almost impossible to do. I truly don’t know what is so hard about it. Cash is the only good way of transacting privately nowdays, without being surveilled by Big Brother. I think people should be more aware of how dangerous it is for democracy that the government knows what each and every person is buying, where they’re sending money etc.”

I live in Mexico where cash is universally accepted and many vendors don’t even have card readers, so carrying cash is necessary anyways. I’m happy that I never need to worry that cash might be rejected. But I’m keenly aware of societies that are trying to go cashless, making private monetary transactions impossible. I think this could account for why some people into free culture and privacy are so impressed. Where they live, it may be much harder to go cashless.

As for the weird reactions Jakub receives, they probably come from clueless people who don’t understand why privacy matters. In a world filled with people who either don’t know or don’t care that their choices are empowering a surveillance state that erodes democracy, hearing about other young people who see the problem clearly and do something about it cheers me up.

Jakub goes on to say what he misses about having a phone:

“I used to use a phone for some handy things. One of these things was having a flashlight. I bought a small flashlight that is much stronger and I have it on my keyring.”

This sounds like a good solution. Not having a flashlight when you need one can be a pain in the ass. The good thing is that they’re not needed in most normal circumstances and the need for one can often be anticipated beforehand.

“Other thing is that I sometimes listened to music in public transport. Well, I could spend money and buy an MP3 player I guess but I mean I can just not listen to music in public transport… so I did that.”

Same. One doesn’t have to look very far to discover that there’s unlimited free entertainment available even without a smartphone, but I find that it’s good to limit myself so I don’t become dependent.

“There are only two things that I seriously miss about a phone. One thing is mobile hotspot. Going somewhere in the middle of nowhere with my thinkpad and having access to the internet is a nice convenience. I’ve adjusted my computer usage more for offline use, and I’m able to go without it.”

The utility of a mobile hotspot depends on one’s lifestyle and location. People who live in cities for example don’t need one as much since free Wi-Fi is everywhere.

While most people’s experiences with mobile hotspots are limited to smartphones and smartphones are probably the most convenient way to use one, you don’t strictly need a smartphone to have a mobile hotspot. You can buy a standalone mobile hotspot or use a radio for emergencies. I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but if I’m not mistaken, you’re allowed to transmit on certain radio frequencies without a license in emergency situations.

“Another thing that I miss is a camera. I might just buy a physical camera from a second-hand store, that is my plan. I’m not exactly a photography enthusiast, so some basic one might suffice.”

I can relate. I own a PinePhone Pro running postmarketOS. It’s turned off most of the time and I seldom carry it with me. The mobile Linux application ecosystem is lacking, so I’m thankfully not yet tempted to use it like I am with Android devices.

I believe that the camera works for other OSes, but not for postmarketOS, which is disappointing. I miss being able to take pictures and record videos. Rather than buying a new camera, I’ve decided to just wait until camera support arrives, at which point I’ll probably start bringing it places.

The author concludes:

“Living in a city while not having a cell phone is becomming increasingly difficult, but with enough will it’s not impossible. I think everyone should try not brining their phone anywhere or using it for some period of time, just to experience true freedom. I feel as though I am more mentally free, less teathered to the system and less reliant on technology. Which if you ask me, is a good thing.”

Phones are undeniably useful and I admit that giving them up is a big sacrifice, but I agree with Jakub that we should try to get more people to not bring them everywhere, at least until they’re libre, non-addictive, and privacy-respecting. Maybe we can make it socially acceptable, expected even, to leave one’s phone at home sometimes? Surely that would be a step in the right direction.