Am I an Idiot for Wanting a Dumber Phone?

“I waste method an excessive amount of time on my cellphone and am attracted by the thought of simplifying my digital life. So I discovered a number of apps and tutorials designed to make my smartphone ‘dumb,’ however I’ve hesitated to make the leap. Am I simply attempting to flee fashionable life?” 


Pricey Dumbstruck,

As increasingly more of the previously mute objects in our lives (fridges, thermostats, doorbells, even bathrooms) are christened “good,” it typically feels as if the complete inanimate world have been present process a means of enlightenment. And “good” is a tough adjective to withstand, significantly in a society that regards intelligence as a type of foreign money—and even, at instances, a religious advantage. So whereas “dumbing down” one’s cellphone ostensibly describes a fairly mundane means of eradicating apps, blocking web entry, and selecting unappealing aesthetic options (grey scale, bland wallpaper), I perceive the anxiousness it could possibly provoke. It’s arduous to keep away from feeling that such digital minimalism is swimming towards the present of this awakening, that you’re not simply simplifying your life but in addition downgrading your thoughts.

Maybe that’s why one of the vital in style new-generation dumb telephones, the Gentle Cellphone, opts for the language of luminosity and its affiliation with mental brilliance. The unique mannequin, whose capacities have been restricted to creating and receiving calls, was described within the firm’s 2015 Kickstarter as “thoughtfully easy” and promised a life wherein customers might have interaction extra totally in cerebral and inventive duties, the pursuits of the upper thoughts, with out these buzzes and beeps that immediate a longing for the subsequent dopamine rush. However the story of the Gentle Cellphone additionally illustrates the backsliding acquainted to anybody who’s tried a digital paring down—the way in which options, nearly on their very own, creep again into the image. By the point the second mannequin was launched, in 2019, the cellphone had added a (black-and-white) touchscreen and textual content messaging, plus music, mapping, and ride-sharing apps. The promotional supplies stress that these additions are “instruments not feeds,” a justification that had the fairly doubtful ring of a dieter insisting that their indulgences are composed of “good fats.”

Even probably the most zealous makes an attempt to resign ubiquitous applied sciences devolve into rationalization and the invention of inventive loopholes. I occur to know a girl who was such an inveterate information junkie that she deleted all media apps and browsers from her cellphone, stripping it all the way down to the bedrock of textual content, calls, climate, and maps—an answer that labored till she found it was potential to find the New York Instances Firm’s headquarters in Manhattan on Google Maps and entry the paper’s homepage by means of the app’s inside browser. The outdated noticed about 
addictions—that they’re inconceivable to outsmart—applies doubly to good applied sciences, that are engineered for use compulsively and elude your most ingenious efforts to realize mastery over them.

With that in thoughts, I’d counsel a extra counterintuitive resolution: Cease preventing the concern of dumbness and as an alternative embrace it. Like most individuals who wish to “go dumb,” I assume that you just’re attracted partially to the time period’s affiliation with silence—the will to dial down the chatter—however unsettled by a few of its extra unflattering synonyms, like idiocy. However idiocy was not at all times weighted by the adverse associations it now carries. The phrase stems from the Greek idiotes, which referred to Athenians who have been basically laypersons—those that, in contrast to troopers, scribes, and politicians, maintained little connection to the affairs of the state. It meant “on one’s personal” or “personal” (meanings that persist in phrases like idiosyncratic) and was reserved for individuals who loved a freedom and autonomy from public life, the form of existence that always serves as a haven for impartial thought. Gilles Deleuze argued that idiocy was intimately linked to philosophy, starting with Socrates, who famously acknowledged that he “knew nothing” and claimed this made him wiser than those that believed themselves clever. Descartes, with a purpose to plant fashionable thought on a brand new terrain, equally willed himself to disown all of the data he’d lengthy taken with no consideration.

Few of these optimistic connotations survive as we speak, and but the resurgent nostalgia for dumb applied sciences is usually spurred by a not totally fashionable need to distance oneself from the bustle of the polis and the frenzied commerce of the agora. Maybe that is simply one other method of claiming that, regardless of the widespread celebration of smartness, many people secretly lengthy to know much less. The notion that data at a sure scale turns into one thing lower than informative was a reality colorfully voiced by Thoreau, whose complaints in regards to the Nineteenth-century information cycle learn as surprisingly acquainted as we speak. When he heard {that a} transatlantic cable line would quickly deliver updates from Europe, Thoreau imagined “the primary information that may leak by means of into the broad, flapping American ear might be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.” The suspicion that such “data” was making him denser was partly what spurred him to desert the town for Walden. And I sense in your query, Dumbstruck, an analogous inkling that the knowledge economic system obscures, someplace—maybe within the high quality print of its mammoth consumer agreements?—a bleaker existential cut price: that the moment entry to data has subtly atrophied your imaginative musculature; that your immersion in digital echo chambers could be foreclosing extra unique types of thought.

Idiocy shouldn’t be confused with stupidity, the willful refusal of data that may disrupt one’s inflexible convictions. The latter is rooted in a satisfaction that makes it the inversion of smartness, not its various. Idiocy could be seen as a situation of openness and adaptability, qualities that outline the idiot archetype that seems in lots of cultures, from the Sioux heyoka, a sacred clown who intentionally engaged in counterintuitive actions (driving a horse backward, carrying garments inside out, complaining of being full when meals is scarce) in order to problem in style assumptions, to the Russian yurodivy, or holy idiot, a determine whose seeming insanity was believed to lend him divine perception. Fools are usually shape-shifters who thrive at thresholds and bounds. This was significantly true of the Shakespearean idiot, who was regularly “balancing on the sting between actuality and varied constructions of actuality,” as one scholar places it. The idiot mediated the house between the play and the viewers—that dimension the place the digital meets the actual—transferring fluidly between the stage and the gang and sometimes breaking the fourth wall to touch upon the play’s themes.

I deliver up the idiot partially to emphasize the advantage of “dumbing down” versus opting out. As interesting because it could be to reside completely off the grid or go away civilization, it’s virtually inconceivable to emulate Thoreau’s retreat to Walden (as inconceivable because it was even for Thoreau himself). It might be that the dumbed-down smartphone affords a definite benefit: Even the barest smartphones may be restored to their full capabilities at any second, which locations the consumer within the idiot’s liminal house, a no-man’s-land that may supply perspective, and even knowledge. Your unwillingness to “make the leap,” as you set it, appears much less an indication of fearful waffling than proof that you just lengthy for these distinctive potentialities that exist someplace between the web and off, between the digital and the actual. Within the best-case situation, the stripped-down smartphone affords neither an escape from actuality nor a refusal of its situations, however a portal into new alternatives for outlining one’s relationship to public life—whereas nonetheless having the ability to name an Uber.



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