When coronavirus hit, I began to realize that the data sent out from my smartphone could be weaponized against me in a quarantine scenario where leaving the house was “illegal.” I didn’t want to voluntarily help the elites monitor my every movement and then nudge me into performing their desired behaviors, so I made the decision to buy a dumb phone (a classic phone without apps) and tried leaving my smartphone at home when going out.
Very early into the coronavirus pandemic, Google compiled location data from Android users around the world to put out worldwide “mobility reports” to help Bill Gates know if his evil plan was working or not.
Community Mobility Reports aim to provide insights into what has changed in response to policies aimed at combating COVID-19. The reports chart movement trends over time by geography, across different categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential.
Google would then join Apple to hard-code contract tracing software directly into their operating systems. I could only guess how many other Silicon Valley companies were soaking up my location and usage data to aid pro-quarantine factions. Why should I give them all that information for free to simply search the web, send text messages, and use a navigation app?
I had to accept that I have become dependent on my smartphone. I took it everywhere I went and glanced at it incessantly to experience its warm glow even when not receiving notifications. I didn’t buy my first smartphone until I was already in my thirties, so did I really need the internet in my pocket at all times? I already spend most of my day in front of a computer, typing articles like this, so why take another digital screen with me wherever I go? I saw the coronavirus crisis as a prime opportunity to reduce Silicon Valley’s access to my data while lessening my dependence on digital screens.
When I shared my decision to buy a dumb phone on one of my live streams, a common response was that I would be tracked anyway through cell towers. This is true. Every phone, smartphone or not, is connected to a cell tower that knows your exact location within a few meters. This location data is then eventually packaged and sold to various marketing firms, but a smartphone is different in that it produces reams more precise data every day—I imagine several extra gigabytes a month—about who you are and everything you’re doing, and directly pipes all that data to Silicon Valley firms in real-time, allowing them to build a master profile on you that can easily be used against you. So yes, I know that using a cell phone gives up my location data, but with a dumb phone, nothing beyond that is given. The difference in data flow is like between a leaky bathroom faucet and Niagara Falls.
The smartphone alternative I chose is the Nokia 3310. For its sparse features, the price is surprisingly high, suggesting that smartphones are given away at razor-thin margins for companies to make money on the backend from the free data you give them. Since you don’t need any mobile internet with the Nokia, you can find a plan for under $10 a month with US Mobile or Tello. I pay $7 a month for a basic plan (about half of my monthly charge is taxes).
Sometimes when I go outside the house, I only take the Nokia. Less than ten people know its number. I’m trying to leave my smartphone at home more often and use it as a home tablet to stay in touch with friends around the world. In the case I need to take the smartphone outside, I leave it on airplane mode as long as I can.
How about for driving navigation? I plan my trip at home before leaving. Either I write the directions down on a sticky note or print them out.
How about music and podcasts? I have an old Android smartphone with no SIM card. I factory reset the phone and made up a new Google account. Using wifi at home, I load up my podcasts and download songs using Spotify’s offline feature.
How about meeting out with friends? I don’t meet friends out in public much anymore (thanks, Bill Gates), but if I do, I give them my dumb phone number. You can use phone calls and SMS to stay in touch with them when heading out to meet.
It’s possible that my attempt is futile and makes little difference to the powers of Silicon Valley, but I’m certain they have less data on me than before. Even better, I stare at screens much less. For short trips, I leave the house without taking any phone. I actually like the feeling that no one knows where I am or how to get in touch with me. My family is of course annoyed with yet another one of my eccentric experiments, but I simply don’t want what amounts to having an ankle monitoring device in my pocket, radiating my testicles, at all hours of the day. I wonder if in a year or so it’ll be wise to use a smartphone at all.
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