Ways to Break Your Smartphone Addiction

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In May of last year, Fabuwood, a kitchen cabinet manufacturer located in Newark, introduced a new corporate policy: Cell phones are prohibited during meetings.

To enforce the rule, the company set up “device shelves” outside of each of its six glass-walled conference rooms. In a recent Wednesday morning, three of the conference rooms were buzzing with meetings, and the shelves outside were stuffed with smartphones, tablets, and ’90s-style flip phones. The 1,200-person company sponsors the cost of a flip phone for employees who trade in their smartphones, and 80 individuals have taken advantage of the offer.

To the surprise of many, employees are positively inclined towards the policy. Rena Stoff, a project manager, expressed that she detested the thought of relinquishing her smartphone at first, but ultimately found that it had revitalized meetings, which she previously thought of as dull and unimportant, and made them engaging and fruitful.

“Being separated from my phone has nearly made my mind more receptive to information,” she stated.

Fabuwood’s founder and CEO, Joel Epstein, was prompted by his personal conviction that smartphones are “ruining our personal and professional existences.”

Seven years ago, he began using a flip phone after developing carpal tunnel symptoms in his hands due to relentless use of his BlackBerry. He reported that he slept better, felt more efficient at work, and had more meaningful conversations. Mr. Epstein, a Hasidic Jew, revealed that his choice of device was not uncommon in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, which promotes the use of “kosher phones” with minimal internet access.

Mr. Epstein polled Fabuwood managers last year to determine how much time their employees spent on their phones; they estimated an average of two hours per day. He discreetly asked a warehouse safety officer, whose duties usually involve observing unsafe conditions, to record each instance he observed an employee using a phone in the office. Mr. Epstein stated that many of the company’s least effective employees were on the list.

Mr. Epstein resolved to combat the devices that were vying for his employees’ time and attention through an “InFocus” initiative, urging employees to keep personal devices hidden while on the job. There are no repercussions for breaking the rule, but if managers observe any relapses, they will send reminder emails.

There was some grumbling when the proposal was put forward, with certain people predicting that others would quit. However, that did not occur, according to Mr. Epstein. Instead, underperformers improved. “Productivity was up 20 percent within six months,” he mentioned, citing internal corporate performance indicators.

What surprised him the most, he said, was the steady flow of messages from employees stating that the program had been life-changing.

I learned about Fabuwood’s initiative after I wrote an article about combatting my own iPhone addiction by switching to a flip phone for a month. Abraham Brull, a manager of software development at Fabuwood, emailed me stating that he had dealt with his smartphone dependency in the past, and found it beneficial to be part of a company that promoted healthier technology use.

He was one of many contributors to the emails I received. Numerous messages came from flip phone enthusiasts that disagreed with my suggestion that using a “dumb phone” indefinitely wasn’t an option. Long-term flip phone users from various age groups and occupations asserted that their lives had improved minus smartphones, enhancing their marriages, relationships with their kids, and mental well-being.

Alba Souto, 29, from Spain, mentioned that not having a smartphone had improved her relationship with her husband, who had also switched to an old Nokia, making it “more mysterious and thrilling.”

“Not being constantly connected via messaging apps has heightened the quality of our time together,” she stated in an email. “We have more to talk about.”

“I adore it,” wrote Christopher Casino, 29, from Brooklyn, who made the switch in October to a Cat flip phone that provides access to Uber, Maps, and Spotify, but not to social media or news apps. “I consistently engage in my hobbies. I read on the subway. I talk to my husband more. The overwhelming pressure of being constantly informed and saying the perfect thing online has dissipated.”

Sarah Thibault, 43, an artist in Los Angeles, noted that she is planning to take part in “Flip Phone February,” an idea I proposed to follow Dry January. She was inspired to give up her smartphone after watching a viral video of a crowd of phones ringing in the new year in Paris.

She established a Flip Phone February community on Reddit to exchange messages and tips with other participants. I joined and shared a link to a contest presented by Siggi’s Yogurt, which is offering $10,000, flip phones, smartphone lockboxes, and of course, free yogurt to 10 individuals who commit to a month-long digital detox. A spokeswoman for the company informed me that 322,935 people had entered the contest.

Veteran flip phone users advised new participants to “look things up” before venturing out, carry a pen and notebook, and notify friends, colleagues, and family members about the decision to go without a smartphone.

My personal recommendation is to consult the Dumbphone Finder to explore the options on the market; Sunbeam and Kyocera were popular recommendations from readers. However, be sure to cross-check with your carrier to find out which “feature phones” — the industry term for non-smartphones — your network supports.

You might also need to acquire other technology to fill in the gaps. I resorted to a digital alarm clock that I obtained while in middle school in the ’90s. (It still works!) Kelin Carolyn Zhang, a product designer who undertakes an annual smartphone detox, stated that this year, she is using an old digital camcorder so she can chronicle her flip phone journey on TikTok.

For those contemplating the switch, be aware: There were numerous complaints in my inbox regarding our increasingly smartphone-driven world.

“The aspect that troubles me the most, and one for which I wish investigative journalists and regulators would direct their focus, is the growing necessity of a smartphone to navigate daily life,” stated a 47-year-old father who doesn’t utilize a mobile phone. “A decade ago, not having a phone presented some minor social hardships; nowadays, ordinary life can be quite challenging without one.”

He has been disheartened by the frequent use of QR codes to enter sporting events and view restaurant selections. He and many others stated that payment kiosks at parking lots often prompted individuals to pay using a smartphone.

“This week, I received a parking citation because I was unable to make an online payment via their QR code or app,” shared a 31-year-old mother of Missouri with a flip phone. Nonetheless, she claimed it was worthwhile.

“Even in these circumstances, I wouldn’t revert to using a smartphone. I am finished being enslaved to a piece of tech that has stolen my attention and my kids’ attention,” she wrote. “The years spent raising children are fleeting. Your kids depend on YOU. Want to be a good parent? Want to raise well-adjusted offspring? The best thing you can do is toss your smartphone into the toilet, even if only for a little while.”

(Definitely don’t actually toss your smartphone into the toilet. You might need to connect to Wi-Fi at some point to obtain a two-factor authentication code.)

Some readers, including a corporate executive and mother of three, stated that they “could never make the switch to a flip phone.”

“The invention of the smartphone has enabled work-life integration in ways I couldn’t have imagined!” she wrote.

She shared her methods for making it less addictive, including disabling notifications and removing social media apps. She and others thanked me for mentioning a study that concluded switching a smartphone from color to grayscale mode significantly helped people reduce their screen time. “Super pleased about the grayscale tip,” she wrote. “Enabling it today!”

For those who are curious, I have been using my flip phone as my primary device for two months now. However, I did get a second line for my smartphone to use when internet access is necessary. For example, I don’t think I would have been able to find Fabuwood’s headquarters, traveling on unfamiliar roads in industrial Newark, without it.

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