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The flip phone experiment 

I came to Notre Dame wanting it all. I wanted incredible memories. I wanted success. I wanted to get holy, get fit and get involved. I wanted to waste no time. I knew that this experience, like high school, would fly by at an incredible pace. Like a fleeting shadow. A blink of an eye, a New York minute. Here, then gone. 

However, semester after semester, I found myself throwing those precious minutes down the drain. The time sucker? A cracked iPhone 8 in a dilapidated red phone wallet. Time and time again, I’d find that screen time app reminding me of the many hours I lost each week. 

I tried to get that number down. I really did. I set screen time restrictions, I ditched social media and I even put my phone in black and white to make it less desirable. But no matter how hard I tried, the phone would win. Even if I had a good week with phone use, a bad week would come, and I would find myself robbed of that coveted time. 

As a second semester sophomore, with everyone talking about jobs and plans and future, I heard my Notre Dame timer clicking louder than ever before. And at the dawn of 2022, I found myself having an intrusive, insane thought: What if I could eliminate the temptation altogether? What if I could simply guarantee hundreds of hours of more fun at the best place in the world? 

What if. I hate what-ifs. So I drove to Target, and I bought a flip phone. 

I originally told myself that I would try it for one month. One month, and then if I decide that I hate it, I can switch back. This was not a long term project. It was an experiment. 

Despite my doubts, here I am, nine months later, and you couldn’t force me to switch back. I love my flip phone. It’s brought me the results that I’ve always craved. My fears about the switch were illegitimate, and all of my hopes came true. 

The first immediate thing that I noticed was that I was swimming in free time. At first it was weird. I would get back to my dorm, sit on my futon, realize I had nothing to do on my phone, and then … Keep sitting on my futon. I would sit there as the minutes passed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for something to entertain me. 

Nothing ever did, so I got busy. 

I learned a few songs on the guitar. I read 14 non-school books. I spent more time laughing with my dorm friends. I studied more, I prayed more. I ate longer meals with my friends. I started walking the dorm dog, Rocco. I picked up poetry. I called my family more, I hit the gym more and I slept more. I had the time to write this essay.

I quickly found that my focus was improved without my phone’s constant interruptions. I was completely, entirely in the moment. I would find myself locking in for entire lectures. I worked faster than ever, and I was more able to attentively listen to my friends. 

I did everything that I love more and better. The flip phone increased both the quality and quantity of my favorite things about life. And throughout it all, there was not a battle that needed to take place. There was no tempting smartphone left to fight. 

The best thing about my flip phone is that it is not enjoyable to use. It’s complicated, it’s slow, it’s gross-looking. But that’s exactly why I love it. It’s there if I need it, but when I don’t, I’m as far away from that thing as humanly possible. My flip phone united my long and short term desires — I’m not constantly denying myself anymore. 

But the most groundbreaking realization did not hit me when I was happy. It hit me on a day when I was feeling particularly sad and anxious. 

I walked out of North Dining Hall on that miserable day with my head down. Normally I would have turned left, dragged myself to my room in Dillon and dove headfirst into the bottomless pit that was my smartphone. But I knew in this moment that the only thing waiting for me in that room was silence. 

Instead, I turned right. 

I headed to Stanford Hall, where some of my friends were hanging out. I walked through those doors reluctantly, but I walked through them nonetheless. I needed to cope somehow, and without my smartphone, I was left only with healthy options. I told them what was going on and they lifted me up. 

I was forced to lean on people rather than a screen. And now more than ever, I think that this vulnerability is beyond important for relationships. It has turned my friends into brothers. Rather than the emptiness I would feel after a couple hours on Instagram, I left that conversation feeling loved. I was left with the deeper desire of my heart satisfied. 

All in all, that’s what I’ve found to be the greatest superpower of the flip phone: It offers me no artificial solutions. It forces me to take the next step needed to satisfy my longings. 

When I am feeling social, I don’t send funny stuff in the group chat anymore. I set a time up to hang out and laugh with my friends. When I like a girl, I don’t text her about my bad country playlists. I set up a lunch to get to know her. When I’m tired, I don’t scroll mindlessly. I take a nap. When I long to connect with friends or family, I don’t like their Instagram post. I call them and ask them how they’re doing.

My iPhone was my Tylenol. It would numb the pain, but it would never remove it. It was like trying to pull weeds by cutting them at the tips. It made me feel like I was making progress, but it never solved the issue. My flip phone removes that artificial option, and it truly has changed my life. I’ve been forced to look my issues in the eye and find genuine solutions. 

One of the hardest things about making the switch was saying no to a good thing. My iPhone was great: It was convenient, it was entertaining and it was capable of many things. But this experiment has again taught me the importance of tradeoffs in life. 

Life with an iPhone was good. 

But this one is better. 

I’ve attached a couple relevant links below for those interested in trying the experiment. Please feel free to reach out: jhaskell@nd.edu. I am happy to talk flip phones, technology moderation or anything else! 

Two options I’d recommend: 

1) A solid flip phone for most carriers. I have had this one before. 

2) Wisephone. Very simple touch-screen phone with only a camera, maps, text, calls and a clock. My brother has this one and would recommend it. 

Some phone plans allow an immediate sim card switch, some don’t.

Joshua Haskell

junior

Oct. 26

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