Two Weeks with a Nokia N95

Remember when my Nextbit Robin mobile phone crashed to the floor of a VIA Rail car while I slept?

Well, rather than using this as an opportunity to buy a brand new phone, I took Nextbit up on its offer to replace the phone with a new one for $99. This process was conducted professionally, but required me sending back the smashed phone to Nextbit HQ in California, waiting for it to be examined, paying a PayPal invoice for the replacement phone, and then waiting for the replacement to be couriered to me. It just arrived, and it’s waiting for me at home.

In the meantime I needed a way of staying in touch with the people and machines in my life, so I took my old Nokia N95, purchased nine years ago, out of retirement, and I’ve used it as my everyday phone for the last two weeks.

It’s a testament to the robustness and backward-compatibility of the mobile telephone network that I was able to simply stick my SIM card (with a snap-on enlargener to accommodate the older full-size SIM format) into the N95 and, presto, it worked just like it did in 2008.

Well, not just like it did in 2008.

I could still make and receive phone calls and text messages, and sort of connect to wireless Internet. But it turns out that the world’s gone SSL in the years since, and the ciphers built into the Nokia web browser are old enough that the phone was unable to establish a connection with most websites other than Google. So I couldn’t surf the web. Or upload photos, or check my email.

In other words, it was a credible recreation of early-millennium mobility. And I loved it.

Not having the ability to do any of the distracting things that our modern phones allow us to do meant that I was forced to ruminate in the coffee line rather than check the CBC headlines or refresh my Instagram likes.

And the experience showed me the truth of the recent study Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity:

Results from two experiments indicate that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity.

As tempted as I am to stay within this peaceful garden of distractionless freedom, there were just two many practical downsides to not having my data at my mobile fingertips to make this a sustainable lifestyle.

I need to be able to connect to borked servers, to look up phone numbers, to get urgent Slack messages, to use Google Maps, to have 1Password at the ready.

While I was able to stumble through life for the last two weeks without any of this, doing so was only possible through a combination of borrowing others’ gear (I had to borrow Hon. David MacDonald’s iPad on Tuesday morning to do some emergency online banking so that Oliver could pay for art class), and using my clunky old iPad 2.

So as much as I’m mindful that my cognitive capacity is going to suffer, this afternoon I’ll dive back into the smartphone waters. Wish me luck.