Friday 22 March 2019

Surviving a weekend without a smartphone

With the relaunch of the Nokia 3310, our reporter set himself a challenge - could he last two days using the tech dinosaur 'brick' of the 90s?

Retro active: Bill Linnane with the Nokia 3310
Retro active: Bill Linnane with the Nokia 3310
Enda Kenny with his Nokia 6210 in Brussels
Bill Linnane

Bill Linnane

The country was thrown into consternation back in 2011 when Enda Kenny was pictured attending a meeting in Brussels with what appeared to be a small brick in his hand. On further scrutiny, it turned out to be a Nokia 6210, a remnant of a bygone age when Nokia phones roamed the earth like cumbersome dinosaurs, before the stylish meteor of the iPhone came and wiped them out.

'A 6210: quelle horreur!' we screeched, as we laughed at Enda for not owning the biggest, brashest smartphone available. But he stuck with it, before his phone fell into a sink and was decommissioned, proving that water is simply out to get this Government.

But other diplomats had them as they were so simple they could not be hacked. But while the 6210 was the pin-striped executive phone of the 90s, its older, sturdier sibling was the stuff of legend.

The 3310 was famed as the most reliable piece of technology you could own, to the point where it became an internet joke. "Drop your iPhone, break the screen - drop your 3310, break the floor." Yet despite the obvious current advantages of a phone that is designed to withstand nuclear war, the 3310 has long since disappeared. Until now. Cometh the hour, cometh the brick.

Nokia relaunched the 3310 here at the start of the month. Despite the excitement, Nokia has actually been making phones like the original 3310 for years - 'dumb' phones as they are known, ie. not smart. The reason this isn't well known is that nobody really wanted a dumb phone. But Nokia saw how the 3310 was eulogised and decided to see if they could claw back some of the market share they lost when the iPhone came along and changed the world. But what is the reality - can we live without a smartphone?

This was the challenge I set myself. I took the new Nokia 3310 on a test drive for the weekend and said farewell to my smartphone. I love the internet - from the time I first started using it back in the late 90s, I have been an avid user of social media. I am the sort of person who wakes in the middle of the night to check the time and then spends 45 minutes checking notifications from various accounts before attempting to return to sleep. My wife says it's like I am having an affair with the internet. I usually quip that I just hope I don't get a virus. She never laughs.

Despite having the same number for 20 years, almost nobody rings me - all communications are via WhatsApp, Twitter or Gmail. So how would I fare without this direct line to the web next to my bed or in my pocket at all times? The short answer is - not very well.

First, the aesthetics: the new 3310 is slightly more svelte than it used to be and is no longer even close to what you would call a brick. This is disappointing - a good old fashioned brick of a phone is handy if you want to rob a jewellers or stick it behind the tyre of a clapped-out Mirafiori to stop it rolling down a hill. Also, for many men, having a thick lump of a brick in your pocket makes us feel more secure, even if it runs microwaves through your genitals like they were a budget croissant.

So the 3310 has slimmed down - or I have possibly have gotten fat since I last held one - but once you fire it up, it is still much the same. The screen is higher res, but still looks a bit eight-bit by today's standards. What strikes you first about it is the instant simplicity; upgrading your phone is an anxiety-provoking nightmare as a new phone means new features, and new features mean a good six months of me trying to adjust, or getting my teenage daughter to do things for me. I may love the net, but I don't like change, especially technological change, so the 3310 is the perfect antidote to the increasingly bleak future we are charging headlong into.

It has the old alphanumeric keyboard - where each key represents a few letters and you keep tapping to get the one you want - which reminds you that texting on these phones almost destroyed the English language as we abbreviated everything. It is now, as it was then, incredibly annoying to text on these keypads. There is a quaint familiarity about the 3310 - it's like reuniting with an old friend who doesn't know what the internet is. Of course, this version breaks with tradition by having the internet... sort of. What it actually has is Opera Mini, a browser that is great if you need to Google "what is the internet" or "what year is this". There are also Facebook and Twitter apps you can download, but with a keypad that requires repeated punching just to get one letter out, there was no point in using them.

The biggest excitement of all seems to be around the return of Snake. One of the most irritatingly addictive games in the history of mobile gaming, Snake is one of those games we used to play on the train or the jacks, those rare times when you would be using your phone for something other than making an actual phone call or sending a text.

Once you get into Snake, you fall into a zen-like state, as your mind drifts off and the snake gets longer, and you attempt to guide it around the screen without it curling back on itself, much like your web of lies these days about why you always bring your phone into the jacks with you and then spend 45 minutes in there (Candy Crush, obviously).

Whether this new updated version of Snake appeals to the purists remains to be seen. Beyond that, the new 3310 has all the many extras that made our phones more than just a communication device - alarm clock, camera, calendar, stopwatch; the bare necessities, plus some extras such as a voice recorder. It also has a battery life that puts almost all smartphones to shame, with a standby mode of a month, or talk time of 22 hours.

My weekend with the 3310 was meant to be a new start for me. It is incredible to have a phone that isn't incessantly beeping and buzzing in my pocket, or worse, on my nightstand. The 3310 simply lies there, silently waiting to connect me to someone when it matters. It strips life back to the basics and offers a less connected world. It's a smart little phone and at a price point of ¤60 offers an interesting experiment in digital detoxing.

However, I just can't quit the internet. The idea of getting back to a purer time is misleading - I spent less time on my phone (it only rang three times in three days, and I got two text messages), but I spent a lot more time on the computer. With a smartphone I can go places and do things, and though I check my phone every once in a while, I don't need suffer the fear of missing out - not just on social chatter, but on news and work. Smartphones are a blessing and curse, but it's all in how you use them.

I thought my weekend without a smartphone would be like an episode of The Wonder Years, where I suddenly became a half decent dad and headed out with my kids to play catch while my phone did nothing at all. Instead, I repeatedly interrupted a toddler's Paw Patrol marathon on the computer to check my email and Google "how to hotspot a 3310".

Enda's Nokia may be gone, and while Leo probably has one of those flash flipdown phones from The Matrix, the old Nokias, like Enda himself, had the power to endure (whether you liked it or not). Mobile phone shops have been swamped with orders, but it seems many people are waiting for the 3g version, due out later this year.

Perhaps this shows that while we romanticise the past, we don't necessarily want to actually go back there. As for me, I think I'm ready to go back to the future.

Irish Independent

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