I’m a tech CEO who tried to give up my smartphone for a year. I wasn’t fully successful — but it did make me a better leader. – Business Insider

It turns out, dumb phones are way too dumb


Ben Crudo and “dumb phone.”
Courtesy of Ben Crudo

When I started this experiment, I was mostly concerned that my own inability to break my habits would be my downfall. Truthfully, there was some withdrawal at first, but I soon learned to adapt. Without a smartphone, I carried around a notebook and pen, I got a GPS for my bike, and I brought a book on the subway to occupy my time. But there were still things I needed a phone to do — make calls, send texts, and offer WiFi hotspot capability. Finding a device to reliably perform these simple tasks was, by far, the biggest challenge. 

While dumb phone sales are on the rise as more people seek to disconnect, I found the technology behind them to be seriously lacking. I scoured the internet for one that met my needs, but each new phone I bought proved to be more disappointing than the last. The first would repeatedly drop calls. The second refused to ring when there was an incoming call, and my latest — praised as being the best in the business for breaking a smartphone addiction — has an insufficient battery life and won’t upload all of my contacts. Oh, and every time I try and sift through the phone it freezes, to the point where even making a quick call is a complicated, multistep process. I even resorted to coding my own hacks to try to improve these devices, to no avail.  

The reality is, my business has been growing at a major clip. We’ve doubled in size over the last few years and I now run a team of over 100 employees. I just can’t risk missing out on crucial communications. Sadly, I had to go back to using a smartphone, although I noticed that after my hiatus I used it in a totally different way. 

Rather than allowing my phone to hijack my attention span and lure me down rabbit holes, I’ve limited its capabilities. There are no apps, no browsers, and all notifications are disabled — nothing buzzes, pings, or rings unless I allow it to. I use it during working hours only, and most of the time it’s buried in my backpack so it’s hard to reach. Putting these boundaries in place has helped me prioritize communication that matters — which has been essential as my company has grown. 


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