Dr Mark Williams Neuroscience Professor Author Speaker Facilitator
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Dr Mark Williams Neuroscience Professor Author Speaker Facilitator

Can you go back to a dumbphone?

At the beginning of my keynote presentation (Smartphones Are Making Us Dumb) I ask the audience: “Does anyone NOT have a smartphone?” There’s usually an uncomfortable silence in response to this question. A few people look down at their laps to the phone they are holding onto tightly. However, at a recent presentation two people proudly put up their hands. A lady who still had the same phone she purchased many years ago and Paul Yacobellis who proudly said he had reverted back to a dumbphone. He said it was to save time and to be more productive. This fascinated me. If you have signed up on my website for the free downloads on How to Stop Smartphone Addictions you will know that I am a keen Dumbphone advocate.

The Dumb Phone Experiment

Lucky for me Paul and his wife hung around at the end of my presentation and we started chatting. Turns out Paul is an efficiency expert who writes a Blog and a regular newsletter on how to get more out of life. If you are interested you should check out his How 2 B Productive website. Paul and I caught up on Friday afternoon at a café in Manly. It was great fun to sit down and chat with someone who is deeply concerned about screens and the impact they are having on our lives.

What I found really interesting was that Paul undertook this experiment on himself because he wanted to know if he could give up his smartphone. Turns out he could. And not only did he find that he had more time on his hands but he was also less stressed and more productive. He has written a book about his experience called The Dumb Phone Experiment.

So many good reasons

Now Paul doesn’t have kids of his own and he is not a teacher (although his Blog and book are educational). So he and I are coming from completely different angles. He is really concerned about issues of productivity and innovation. A great concern for us all in a time when economies are starting to decline and jobs are becoming scarcer. He has seen his own productivity increase since he gave up the smartphone. He has also seen an increase in his overall wellbeing. We discussed many things including some of the health issues around device addiction and overuse. It was a great couple of hours and I’m sure there will be more to come.

So if you are interested in the positive and negative effects of going cold turkey from your smartphone check out his Blog or book. But why should you consider switching to a dumbphone? Well according to Paul you will have more time, be more efficient and more productive. I would recommend it because you will be less stressed, happier and more attentive to those around you.

Social Animals

We are social animals and we need social contact. Social media does not give you ‘real’ social contact. There is more and more evidence that the more time we spend on social media the less ‘real’ friends we have. We need ‘real’ friends to keep us real. What we see on social media is not real. It's edited and selected to show the best (and sometimes worse) of a person’s life. This is not real. What happens when you feel depressed or lonely. Well, you can fire up your favourite social media page and check out the latest feeds. But will that make you feel happy? No, it won’t. There is heaps of research showing the more time we spend on social media the less connected and more depressed we are. What you need is real friends to sit down with and chat. One good aspect of modern devices is face-to-face chatting like skype or zoom. They allow us to connect when we are far away. But of course, the best way to connect is in the same place and without the devices.

Put your phone away

But do remember, when you are with someone, turn off your phone and put it away. When you have your phone on and out you cannot attend 100% to the person you are with. Some of your attention is always on the phone. This happens even if you don’t look at it when it buzzes. The great thing about modern phones is that they store the texts, phone calls, tweets, and so on for you. You don’t lose them. You can attend to them later when you are alone. Give that person in front you 100% of your attention. Worry about that other noise later.

You might find that an interesting thing happens. See when someone places a phone on a table the other person is less likely to bring up issues that really matter. The reason is that the other person assumes that they will be interrupted by the phone buzzing. This means that conversations that occur when a phone is present result in more superficial interactions. Turn it off and put it away. Maybe even ask the other person to do the same. Who knows what you might end up discussing. Something really important like how you are feeling.

And just to be completely transparent, I am not getting any money or reward from advertising Paul’s book.

If you haven't already, sign up below and you will receive my handouts on how to stop smartphone addiction. There is one for kids, one for teens and one for adults.

If you haven't already, sign up below and you will receive my handouts on how to stop smartphone addiction. There is one for kids, one for teens and one for adults.

All the best!
Dr Mark Williams
Neuroscience Professor, Author, Speaker & Facilitator

Sign up below for my free downloads on how to stop smartphone addictions



  1. Peter Scammell says:

    Hi Mark,
    Amazing how intrusive the phone has become. As you say, its mere visual presence can change the dynamic of the conversation. I guess it is kind of analogous to the idea that when a tree falls in the forest, if there is no one there, does it make any sound?
    This phone issue is very pervasive even at home. My wife and i can be watching T.V (or better still, a meaningful conversation) and her phone rings.
    The T.V goes onto pause while the phone conversation takes place. It is worse than that actually, in fact my life also goes onto pause, as i sit uncertain as to what to do. Trying to read my wife’s tone for an indication of the likely extent of the call etc. Fortunately, our relationship is such, that we are able to deal with it smoothly.
    I suspect not everyone is quite so fortunate.
    It may well be argued that we have had land lines for years, so what is the difference? I say attitudes have changed. People didn’t normally call each other for a gossipy chat after 8 pm. The smart phone is being given a pre-eminence that it doesn’t deserve.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks Peter,
      Yes, the smartphone does seem to be taking over. I teach a large Neuroscience course (500+ students). So often I will have students email me because they missed a tutorial and want to catch up. My first response is talk to another student and ask for their notes. You would be amazed at how many of them respond with ‘I don’t know any students in the course.” And it is not surprising. Walking around campus they are all sitting around hunched over their phones. All completely isolated and cut off from the real world. Very sad.
      Glad to hear you and your wife are able to deal with it smoothly.
      All the best,

  2. Thanks for writing this article Mark. As surprising as it sounds (to myself included) – my adventures in dumb phonery have been mostly easy. I can count on one hand the number of times in two years I really wished I’d had a smart phone.

    As to Peter’s point above, I find am more able to connect with my wife at night, because I don’t have the constant distraction of a smart device by my side.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks Paul,

      I always put my phone on airoplane made after 6pm. That way I can only receive real phone calls and texts. And we have a charging space where both my wife and I put them to charge. It helps but I am seriously considering trying a dumbphone.

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