How To: Thrive Socially Without a Smartphone

When it comes to finding service, the taller the better.
Photo by Paula VandenHeuvel

“On a planet swarming with billions of people, you must be the only person without a smartphone.”

Your friends like to remind you on an hourly basis that you are at a disadvantage, as they scroll through their Twitter and Facebook feeds while simultaneously checking their emails and uploading pictures to Instagram.

You can barely read the numbers on your faded keypad, and sometimes your phone’s screen flashes white and freezes.

Without GPS, you get lost everywhere you go. You’ve even been disregarded as a functioning member of society because you can’t seem to keep up with these gadgets.

That's not just me, right?

I have a feeling I actually don’t stand alone as the sole owner of a brick phone. Regardless, if anyone is qualified to advise others on how to thrive socially without a smartphone, it’s me. Not that I thrive, per se, but I have successfully honed the craft of surviving sans smartphone.

Keep it in your front pocket

Booty calls are never good.  It is important to remember where the phone is at all times when on your person. Leaving the device in your back pocket will guarantee disaster. Because even though the phone supposedly “locks” when it is not in use, it can unlock at any time without warning. In fact, unlocking the phone with your butt is easier than unlocking it with the OK button.

"It’s not you that’s dumb, it’s just your phone."
Photo by Paula VandenHeuvel

Keep your brick in a location where it is not subject to random pressures. If you don’t, the little (or not so little) rascal will decide to unlock itself, scroll through your phone book, call your most easily offended family member and then make sure you say something incriminating. They may not be smartphones, but they sure are schemers.

If it doesn’t feel like ruining our day by informing our super-conservative aunts and uncles of our weekend escapades, it’ll be sure to dig into the deepest confines of our photo albums. Dumb phones are professional diggers, and they love to set the most hideous or incriminating photo available as your background photo — just before you offer to let someone borrow it — which you should avoid doing anyway.

Claim it’s dead

If anyone asks to use your phone, save yourself an awkward conversation and tell them it just died. Make sure you say “just” died. This way, it at least gives the incorrect effect that it indeed has a battery life of some length — even if it is only 2 hours and 4 minutes.

 “Back when I had that phone...” Yeah, yeah, yeah — you walked three miles in the snow, uphill, with no shoes to get to school too. We get it — times are changing and the rest of the world has moved on, but this is what we’re working with, so let it happen for us. It is easier to avoid these comments by refusing the services of your brick to anyone.

It is recommended that you avoid any exposure of your ancient phone, but if the situation does arise, embrace it.

Enhance the mockery

Use some of the following lines to lighten the mood or stir up some nostalgia.

            “Hold on, I need to send a telegram to my friend”

That one always gets them laughing.

            “I love T9 Word. It's so accurate! It’s like it can read my mind”

Others will be able to relate to this. T9 Word is the first-generation version of the iPhone’s autocorrect function. T9 can predict exactly which word we dumbphone users want to say—at least that’s what it is supposed to do.

            “Touch screen sure isn’t as accurate as these buttons”

Poking fun at smartphones is one of the best ways to overcome the emotional struggle of not owning one. So belittle them as frequently as possible.

Always give your number out

Especially in times of potential relationship-starters, it is best to give your number to the interested parties. Unless you feel that you have expertly honed your skills of cracking jokes about the realities of your brick ownership, whipping out your slice of 2004 will certainly only set you back. Nonchalantly distribute your number — and ask the receiving parties to send you a text so you can save their number to your phone when you get some privacy.

Volunteer to drive

If you are the driver, you are excused from navigation duties. This is a similar concept to pulling the “I’m DD tonight” card at a party to avoid criticism for not participating in the vomit-inducing thrill of a lifetime. Anyways, if you drive, you don’t have to navigate. It’s not like our first generation devices are capable of navigation anyways, so we’ll leave that to the esteemed smartphone owners.

However, if you are walking toward your social destination, be sure to travel with smartphone-equipped personnel — because without them, you’re a lost cause. Literally. You will be lost.

Manipulate the formatting

Creativity is key.
Photo by Paula VandenHeuvel

Do some serious research and learn to work the symbols. Just because your phone may not be able to display a given emoticon does not mean that your partner in conversation lives the same disadvantaged lifestyle. Learn what codes are received as emoticons on smartphones. Just because your phone displays strange square-shaped figures and “???” does not mean you can’t make them think you’re up-to-date.

>:’)  B-)

Subscribe to mobile social media notifications

In order to stay as updated and socially apt as possible, it may be in your best interest to subscribe to Facebook notifications and tweets sent straight into your phone inbox. However, this social system will require frequent inbox-deletion in order to avoid the extra vibration that informs you, “INBOX 83% FULL.”  Believe me — the extra maintenance is worth feeling connected to the social media world.

Rename everything in your contact list

Use your contact list to your advantage. If you do subscribe to Facebook updates sent to your mobile device, rename the incoming number. Use a real human name so the incoming messages appear to be part of a thrilling conversation.

Be reasonable. Getting 20 texts per day from “Taylor Lautner” doesn’t seem too realistic. I tried it once, but saw no results socially. A simple name like “Nick” or “Ashley” can give the impression that you do indeed converse with members of the opposite sex. As a bonus, when you leave your phone on the table (although you should avoid this circumstance) your friends will think you’re wildly popular.

Creative manipulation and constant caution are key to maintaining a social life without a smartphone. Never let the snobby smartphone users belittle you.

It’s not you that’s dumb, it’s just your phone.


Contact the writer at or via Twitter @TheEmilyNichols


Update: Nichols has purchased an smartphone since the publishing of this article

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