Two phones are lying on my kitchen table: my Huawei P9 and a brand-new MP01 from the Swiss company Punkt. It has a particularly elegant design, in earth-brown, and has been issued to me so that I can report on how it feels to be returned to a time when it was only possible to use a mobile phone for making calls and sending texts. Because the MP01 can do nothing more than that.
At this point, I must say that I am one of those people you often read about nowadays, who pulls their smartphones out of their pocket 100 times a day, and afterwards needs several minutes to regain their concentration. Except that for me the ‘100 times’ is a hefty underestimate and the notion of regaining my concentration is a bad joke: I lost mine permanently years ago. The prospect of being freed from this yoke for a whole month looks extremely attractive.
But once I’ve removed the SIM card from my Huawei, I find myself unable to put it into the MP01. Just calls and texts? No WhatsApp? No Instagram? No chess? And how am I supposed to find out when the bus leaves? Intense isolation- and amputation-fears arise within me and paralyse my fingers as they hold the little chip, which then moves itself (seriously!) back into my smartphone. It’s clear that I’m so addicted that I can’t even manage to start my withdrawal.
For a full week the MP01 lay there: ready and willing to give me the independence from my smartphone that I kept longing for. But every time I wanted to go through with the swap some reason would occur to me, why this moment wasn’t right and I postponed the matter. This must be what it’s like for someone who wants to separate from their partner, but keeps finding familiarity and security within the unhappy relationship.
But today matters have come to a head, not least because I can’t take myself seriously any longer and I am finding it disconcerting that a device has so much power over me. So I have ripped the SIM card out of the Huawei, put it in the MP01 and left the house with a phone that can do exactly as much as my first Nokia from 1995. With that, I felt like a secret agent. Today, with the sparse range of functions I feel like a doddery old man whose family has had one of those senior citizen phones foisted upon him.
Very soon the first withdrawal symptoms make themselves felt: I keep taking the MP01 in my hand and looking at its display, just like I would constantly do with my smartphone. But there’s just a clock there. I don’t receive any text messages, because these days I communicate with practically all of my personal and business contacts via WhatsApp – as I am now becoming aware. But the MP01 can’t do WhatsApp. That is going to become a problem. Or a good excuse to soon stop this experiment again.
When I’m back home again, the first thing I do is take my smartphone back out of the cupboard. Just for a quick check of my WhatsApp messages, I tell myself.
I read the leaflet that came with the MP01. There it says that in no way is it intended as a replacement for a smartphone, but much more as a companion to one, to be used when you want to take some time out. This is a scenario that convinces me immediately and I try it the same day: the smartphone remains at home, switched on, and continues to receive WhatsApp messages via Wi-Fi while I take the MP01 out with me.
And yes, in the café I’ve sought out to do some writing in, I really can work much more effectively – because the constant reaching into my pocket no longer brings a reward I soon stop doing it. When someone calls, I hear it. Ditto when someone sends me a text. And as long as there’s no sound to investigate, there’s nothing to do – and that is very pleasant, yes, truly liberating. If I come across something that I find amusing, moving or angering, I don’t take a photo and send it somewhere. Instead I just let it have its effect on me. When I have a thought that I would previously have immediately shared, I enjoy it alone. This is how it must have been earlier, when we could only reach our friends by letter or landline. It must have been pleasantly quiet, and whatever was said must have borne more weight. The MP01 has a little of the aura of that time. I love it for that.
At the weekend I had my smartphone fully back on duty. I played chess against people from the Netherlands, India and Sweden, and received amusing memes via WhatsApp. I sent my girlfriend comprehensive declarations of love – with the Huawei’s touchscreen, where your finger can glide across the letters, vastly easier than on the MP01, where you need to press the ‘6’ key three times to get an ‘o’. And I took photos. I like taking photos, in particular pictures of people, things and moments in time. The fact that with a smartphone you constantly have a camera in your pocket is probably the most convincing argument for such a device. The fact that dozens of times every day you pull it out of that selfsame pocket, to gawp at it like an idiot, although nothing has happened, is a strong counter-argument – but not strong enough. The SIM card is now definitely staying in the Huawei. The experiment of giving up the smartphone for four weeks has, after two half-days, collapsed most pitifully.
I have found other ways to get a grip on myself. There are apps that disconnect either the whole smartphone or other specified apps from the internet for periods of your choice. I’m already doing this with my laptop: from 8am to 11am and from midday to 4pm is quiet-time, and that now also applies to my smartphone. And sometimes I also just deliberately leave it at home. Initially that feels like walking down the streets without any trousers on, after a couple of days this has eased to merely the sensation of having forgotten my wallet. But it’s okay.
The fact that it is all so difficult for me is embarrassing; I also find it slightly ridiculous. But the feeling of self-contempt has disappeared. I’m no longer annoyed that I can’t live without a smartphone. Why should I, anyway? I know precisely one person who can. But he is a photographer and always has a camera with him.