29/09/2015 8:47 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

I Want My Dumbphone, And My Life, Back

Broken phone due to hammer!
Peterfactors via Getty Images
Broken phone due to hammer!

After a couple of genuinely bemused glances at the box in my hand, and whispering into her headset, the Manager at the Telstra store told me that a representative from the 'tech bar' would shortly be available to help me.

The help required was a full downgrade of my mobile phone -- from a (perfectly good) Samsung Galaxy 5 smartphone to a $39 Telstra Cruise 3G handset, including provision of a vintage SIM card and some help migrating over my contacts.

The Telstra Cruise, for those unfamiliar, is about the length of a Snickers bar, the width of a garden variety TV remote and weighs next to nothing in contrast to the pocket computers most of us haul around daily.

It's a bona fide 'burner'. It performs basic calls, and sends texts if you have the patience for the task -- there's no QWERTY keyboard, no predictive text and no suite of emoji (oh the humanity!). It's 3G, so you can technically get online, but it is too painfully slow to be a temptation, and when I tried, I kept getting directed to the week's hottest ringtones, which I didn't realise was still a thing.

I was honestly quite sheepish when the phone consultant emerged to help guide me through my transition back to 2003. This feeling didn't subside as we both struggled to remove the back cover of my newly acquired abomination, pawing at it like awkward teenagers on a first date, as other iPhone customers side-eyed the fiasco in bewilderment.

"Sorry" -- said my long-suffering helper, "I've never come across one of THESE before". This was followed by a slightly more earnest, "Can I ask why you're doing this?"

The 'why' in all of this is an honest appraisal of how much time I have been spending on my smartphone. Prior to my awkward downgrade encounter at the Telstra store, I would take my phone from my pocket and look at it at least 100 times a day -- grand total of close to 3.5 of my waking hours spent gazing at that addictive little screen.

And that's probably on the conservative side.

I had become unmoored in a sea of scrolling, double-tapping, favouriting, sharing and re-tweeting to the exclusion of whatever else has been going on around me. In a lift? Check my phone. Watching TV? On my phone. Dinner with my wife? Phone.

It has been into the shower with me more than once. But I'm only human, and who doesn't like the warm glow of a 4x5" screen on their face as they delve deeper and deeper into an Instagram rabbit hole, skulking around the profiles of strangers who have commented on the Paleo lunch picture of a guy only on their feed as a guilty hate-follow?

But those days are behind me. I'm reformed. And I am already starting to feel better, more attentive, more productive, and with more mental space during an average day. Thus far, my retreat from the convenience and connectivity of my phone has been just what I needed to start to feel more connected to what is happening right in front of me; and the things, and people that are most important.

But it's not all upside. Apart from being a social pariah, taking such a step change down in the technology that has become so ubiquitous in every part of my life, from banking, to catching cabs, to communicating at work, and keeping in touch with people I love that are very far away, means it is quite a bit harder to carry out everyday tasks.

On day one sans-SmartPhone, I couldn't check my weather app, so got soaked on the walk home, only to remember that there is no 1300 number for an Uber to rescue me. Once I got home, I actually had to boot up my laptop and try and recall my Menulog password, rather than just tip-tapping my pizza order quickly into the mobile app.

My long-suffering wife, who has been interstate for work, has had to decipher my hopefully adorably retro text speak (K, luvU2, spk 2u soon) because anything more coherent takes far too long to type on the 'dumbphone'.

I realise I'm coming across as a bit tone deaf to my privilege here. Let me be clear that I don't think there is a humanitarian award category for "Best white-middle-class-guy-in-the-first-world-throttling-his-internet-consumption", and none of these inconveniences are actual, real problems, but suffice to say the adjustment has been surprisingly uncomfortable.

I'm not trying to over-intellectualise this, martyring myself to the cause of unplugging from technology so that I have something to talk about with my bearded friends in Chippendale over a glass of raw-milk and roof-cultivated honey. I'm doing this to reclaim a bit of time in my day, ease myself off my addiction to the dopamine-inducing chirps and blinking notifications, and be more present in my life.

It remains to be seen whether this is a permanent move to being a Luddite, or whether this will be a flash in the pan. It's very early days. Maybe a digital detox is just something I need for a few months a year to reset my awareness of how often I have my face buried in a device.

I do miss putting deftly-filtered pictures of food on Instagram, though.