The Revival of Nokia’s 3310 Should Question our Digital Dependency

iPhones might be quaking in their silicone cases and tempered screen protection at the resurrection of Nokia’s iconic 3310. It had an effortless indestructibility and a battery life to match the life of a McDonald’s Hamburger. The updated Nokia 3310 is expected to be released February 26 at the Mobile World Congress (MWC), Barcelona, by Finnish manufacturer HMD Global Oy. The company has exclusive rights to market phones under the Nokia brand and will also announce the release of two low budget android phones, Nokia 5 and 3.

The excitement around the €59 relaunch of the iconic 3310 is a throwback to the simplicity of the Millenium. The days when a mobile phone was checked for calls and texts, rather than browsed for videos of yelling goats and photos of stranger’s dinners.

For many my age, the Nokia 3310 was their first phone. I inherited mine from my mum after she moved on to greater things, namely the durable, rubber 5210. Rather than eat through its battery, my 3310 had a taste for my £5 weekly credit, spent on texts and calls to the two other friends that had a phone at the time (and my mum).

As time passed and technology developed, the 3310 fell behind with its lack of internet. It increasingly became consigned to the miscellaneous drawer, along with keys, junk mail, and a battered copy of the Yellow Pages.

Enter, the age of the smartphone.

Relationship Status – Digital

We are in long-term relationships with our smartphones. For many people, it is the first thing they see or hear in the morning. I am no different. The first five seconds of my iPhone’s “playtime” (a melody of nightmares) alarm wakes me at 6.10 every morning. I spend five minutes in bed scrolling through the news and any social notifications I missed overnight.

The smartphone is the gateway to a connected world. Practically, we use them to check the news, the weather forecast, manage our online banking and pay bills. Used in this way we can boost our productivity, clearing our emails before work or learning a new language. However, I don’t believe it is these channels that fuel smartphone addiction. It is instead the craving to be socially connected. Pleasurable social experiences on a smartphone are rewarding. This results in us likely repeating these actions, a process-related gratification. Emily Sohn writes,

“Reward areas light up. Our brains surge with feel-good chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Down go levels of chemicals that signal anxiety and stress, including cortisol and norepinephrine. Meanwhile, an endless series of beeps, dings and flashing lights reminds us that a potential reward might be waiting.”

“Technological revolutions have made life easier for us: but we’re at a point where we get by without actively participating,” writes JD Martens. Relationships are reduced to Facebook comments and likes. We might share content to our friends on Instagram, but when was the last time we called them?

Is it time to rethink our digital dependency? (Marcin Milewski)

Available All Hours

A Dutch study by Van Deursen et al. (2015) found that social stress influenced addictive smartphone behaviour from subjects, along with a lack of self-regulation. It is admittedly difficult to self-regulate when habitually checking for notifications. I always leave my phone on silent, and manually check for updates, which exacerbates the issue.

There is also a social and professional expectation to be connected, and a smartphone is a tool in impression management. Unavailability of either party might have a negative effect on the other if we don’t respond or receive a response instantly. For many, including myself, leaving my phone at home during the week is just not an option. An authenticator application on the device allows me to log into my work laptop.

Breaking Habit

If going cold turkey isn’t feasible then we need to look again at our habits. Can we really blame younger generations who haven’t known life without smartphones? How can they self-regulate their behaviour when they have never known a life before Angry Birds and Candy Crush? Parents can moderate their children’s usage on these devices, but should they really techshame then if they are also susceptible to the bright lights and chirpings of their smartphones? A study by the PEW Research Center found 89% of US mobile phone users used their phones during social gatherings. If we look up from our own devices there is a whole city of others with eyes only for their smartphones. At restaurants, in bars, on bikes (in Amsterdam) and in supermarkets, we are connected digitally but isolated physically.

Living Life Unplugged

If owning a smartphone subscription is expensive, trying to unplug can be equally taxing. The buzzword “digital detox” provides only another avenue for companies to encourage you to fritter away your disposable income. Stylish, modern “dumb” phones allow their users to revel in 90’s nostalgia for a few hours. Light Phone, for example, links to your smartphone and only makes and receives phone calls, with a price tag of $150 (at the time of writing).

For those who looking to completely switch off, the US National Day of Unplugging runs March 3-4. It encourages participants to abandon technology for a day to spend time with friends, family, read a book or get outdoors for example. I think it says a lot when we have to be incentivised to spend time with anything other than our wires and devices. However, I am self-admittedly a part of that group, and blocking that time aside might be the first step in gaining control from the lure of the 24-hour digital world.

The Future of Digital Dependancy

Where do we go from here? The viral excitement of the Nokia 3310’s return points to uneasy questions within the industry – what is and where will the next big device come from? Samsung is smouldering on the sidelines after cancelling their annual phone launch at the MWC this week after the literal burnout of their Galaxy Note 7.  According to Ericsson mobility report (2016), the number of smartphone users in 2021 is expected to reach 6.3 billion people. However, the iterative updates to smartphones models do little to shake up the selling power of technology companies.

The iPhone was released ten years ago, the 3310 in 2000, and both marked monumental changes to the telecommunications industry. The revived 3310 won’t be a market driver like its predecessor. But it signals to manufacturers that there is a desire for a device to moderate our digital dependency.

– Sarah Maclean-Morris

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