sic transit phone

Next spring, T-Mobile is pulling the plug on its 2G and 3G networks, according to reports. Spectrum will be exclusively for LTE and 5G coverage. About a year after that, to all accounts, AT&T will do the same (and in fact sent out notifications to customers that slow-played the fact that the deadline was two years away and instead urged people to upgrade now). The future appears to be VoLTE across the board for voice and everything will just be data. Eight years after first going to LTE, I won’t be able to use anything else.

I bought the Nokia 3310 3G in November 2017. It was meant to be something to open up after my travels that autumn, something to look forward to as a gimmick distraction after I got back from Ireland and the DC reunion. It was something that could hold my old SIM and let me keep using one of my spare numbers. And then, I got the iPhone X from work out of nowhere, and the 3310 wasn’t nearly as distracting. It was cool, and it was interesting, and it was nostalgic. What it wasn’t was particularly useful.

I mean, at this point in history, actually placing voice calls is usually an emergency. What would you need a feature phone for? In my case, it’s probably audio playback (and even then, there’s podcasts, there’s the quiet time or pub night playlists, there’s SomaFA streaming, there’s RTE Na Gaeltachta…) and text messaging, which would need to include Signal as well. And depending on where I am, maybe access to Lyft so I can get home. And at that point you aren’t a feature phone any more. The solution at that point is just to take the iPhone, use Downtime to shut off anything that isn’t a critical function, and call it a night, which is more or less what I’ve been doing ever since Downtime became a thing. iOS 13? Was it 12? Whatever.

The other thing is…if you really get right down to it, the modern equivalent of the lightweight shutdown device is the Apple Watch with LTE. Leave the phone at home and just take the watch, which will handle calls and texts and audio, even streaming, while forcing you to bring a book and abjure social media distraction. Not a perfect solution, certainly, especially when your work plan or your prepaid service won’t support secondary eSIM devices or when you want to use the phone itself for Kindle books and Wikipedia lookups and maybe notes to yourself.

I’ve had a lot of devices I miss. That first DewBeep pager. The first DC cellphones, when I was trying to make myself need one (at no small expense to myself). The Siemens dual TDMA/GSM, which felt like another world, or the ever-slimmer Nokia candy bars like the 3590 and 3120. I still have my SonyEricsson Z520 flip and my e-ink MOTOFONE F3 in the keepsake box. But the day when you can usefully have a second device is pretty much done at this point. Better to donate that Nokia while someone can still get some mileage out of it.

I’ve had a mobile phone for 25 years now. It’s time to concede that the “phone” part of that is pretty much superfluous to requirement and accept that we all live by a touchscreen nowadays.

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