Turning my smartphone into a dumb phone

Understanding digital tools don’t cause our digital addiction is one thing. The attention economy is a whole other beast. There is not enough willpower in the world to avoid the constant instant gratification and distractions a smartphone provides. We need a more aggressive solution to take back our precious time and attention.

One such solution is to simply opt out.

If you have it in you, switch to an actual dumb phone and be done with it.

No, you don’t need a smartphone. People who actually, really need a smartphone in all its glory don’t read blog posts about turning their smartphone into a dumb phone. That’s just a hunch. For the rest of us who don’t want to give up our smartphone, but still want to spend less time on it, there is a way to turn it into a tool, rather than an attention guzzling machine.

“What if I have an Android?” Click here to read what someone else somewhere else on the internet wrote about turning an android phone into a dumb phone. I hope you find it useful.


How did I turn my very smart iPhone into a dumb phone?

The first, and most critical, step is to have someone you trust— preferably someone who won’t make fun of you for all the extra measures you take to spend less time on your phone when you, ya know, can just pUt yOuR pHoNe dOwN.

You need them to set a passcode, so when you inevitably get bored and start rationalizing why you need to quickly check this app or that other one, you won’t be able to do so.

Hopefully, it’s someone you respect enough and don’t want them to see you weakly begging for the passcode; or someone who will straight up tell you “no, you wanted this.”

Some suggestions: your partner, a friend, or a family member.

After that, the rest is simple, technical stuff to set up on your phone. First three steps:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Click on Screen Time.
  3. Click on Content & Privacy Restrictions and turn it on. Here’s where you need your trusted person to set a passcode. Click on the option to set a passcode. Make sure they can stay around until your operation dumb phone is completed in case you lock yourself out before properly setting the restrictions.

You a few options here to set restrictions for, and you can tweak it to your needs and liking. You can disable apps for a specific time period, for instance. Poke around, experiment with some of the options, and see what works and doesn’t work. Trial and error is the best way of figuring such things out.

I went with the nuclear option.

  1. Click on iTunes & App Store Purchases and turn Installing Apps to Don’t Allow.

To make my smartphone “dumb,” I deleted all apps that promote addictive phone use: email, social media apps, browsing, etc. Then, I restricted my ability to download apps.

Why? Because when that boredom hits, and willpower is at an all time low, it’s easy to justify downloading that-app-that-keeps-wasting-my-time, and every time, without a fail, wastes my time. Now, I don’t have to deal with the temptation, or worse, actually wasting my time and attention on apps-I-should-know-better-than-to-be-on.

  1. Click on Allowed Apps and Turn Off Safari.

I don’t have access to web browsing. If you have ever deleted a social media appor the reddit app and shamefully kept checking it on the web browser version, you know the struggle. It’s not you, it’s the attention economy.

Removing browsing was what truly transformed my iPhone into a dumb phone. I have, so far, not have had a major inconvenience because I couldn’t access Google on my phone. It is inconvenient at times, yes, but it was worth my time, attention, and sanity I’ve reclaimed.

  1. Click on Content Restrictions, then Web Content, then check Allowed Websites Only. You can delete/add websites manually here.

Why bother with this steps if you don’t have access to browsing apps? Well, I found that some apps can give you access to browsing even when Safari is disabled. I found that out on my WordPress app.

You can also keep Safari or Google, but block access to specific websites. That way, you still have the ability to browse without getting distracted on time-wasting website.

Aaaaaaaand, that’s it. My iPhone is boring. Yay!


So, what is remaining on my phone?

Call, Messages, Camera, WhatsApp, Maps, Photos, Notes, Podcast, Google Sheets, Sudoku, Uber, Contacts, Calculator… You get the point. Apps that are useful but don’t have the features are addictive and time-consuming.

I mean, what can one possibly do on Maps besides use it to get to places? Sudoku? Well, it really isn’t that interesting.

Oh, and I have my library apps: hoopla for music, Libby for e-reading, and Kanopy for films. I keep Kanopy in case I need entertainment. Plus, Kanopy only gives me access to 10 movies a month, so even if I watched all the movies available at about 2 hours a movie, that’s 20 hours for the month; less than the average time spent on social media. Perspective.

Here is my dumb iPhone’s home screen:

my “dumb” iPhone

Annnnd, what is the point of all this?

There is a good reason why we spend so much time on our phones.

Usually, when we say we spend too much time on our phones, we mean we spend too much time on apps and platforms designed to be as addictive and time consuming as possible. But we also need our smartphone for many things: to get around, to order food, for group chats, and so forth; all valid reasons.

Well, how about having the best of both worlds? Remove the addictive apps and features. Keep the rest. A boring iPhone is still a very smart and useful phone.

Since we cannot trust our willpower, why not just use parental control features to opt out?

Adulting is not easy.

P.s. You can learn more about my experience turning my iPhone into a dumb phone on The Dumbphone Show podcast, plus tips for simple offline pleasures.

Until next time…

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