So, I’m a smartphone user! Reluctantly, but yes, I use a smartphone.
Like many smartphone users, I have concerns about privacy online. Growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s, I was accustomed to an online experience that was opt in; going online was an event and not a state of being.
The modern smartphone couldn’t be further away from this- you’re always online, expected to be maximally available to everyone who isn’t around you at the moment. I dislike it, but I accept it for now because my livelihood wouldn’t work if I wasn’t online all the time. As a Linux sysadmin and legacy systems developer, you can imagine there’s a requirement that I get notified when something bad’s happening.
That said, I do try and keep a healthy distance with my smartphone use, and pretty much always have.
This blog post is basically a background explainer to my GrapheneOS “first look” video. You might find it interesting- I do not think it’s my most exciting post. 😛
tldr: Android, email/texting, maps, sysadmin tasks, no social media
How have I used mobile phones in the past?
I came of age in a time period where cell phones – what we might today call “feature phones” or “flip phones” – were ubiquitous. While I came into adulthood with a pocket full of quarters for pay phones, I was certainly buying a cell phone with my first “real” paychecks.
I gravitated toward phones that included rudimentary “apps” for instant messaging, as I was an AOL instant messenger user right until the end. I had no hesitations for purchasing my first smartphone, the Google G1 (HTC Dream) on launch day.
Comparing early smartphones to the modern ones feels a little like comparing a VIC-20 to an Amiga 1200- the G1 was effectively no more powerful than my flip phones were, save for the basic web browser and fantastic keyboard. The apps were… OK, and the music player was not as intuitive as the iPod I still carried daily.
It wasn’t until I purchased a Nexus 4 on launch day that I started treating my smartphone as a laptop replacement. It was sleek, the correct size, and felt like something that could really make a difference in how I interacted with the online world. In hindsight, I could feel that I was becoming dependent on the thing- it took me some active work to put it away during social events.
Unfortunately, the Nexus 4 didn’t last long- it took on battery issues and eventually some battle damage- a sad string of smartphones followed from a variety of brands: OnePlus, Sony, Samsung, even Apple. In the end I was buying “whatever was cheap at the store”.
The only interesting item during this period is an employer-provided BlackBerry which also had some Android app capability somehow. I loved that damn keyboard.
Today, I’m using a Pixel 7 running GrapheneOS, which replaced a Samsung S20 that was falling apart. They don’t make them like they used to.
So what apps do I use? I mostly keep my applications to communication- email and messaging. I use the camera too, a bit, but thanks to the channel I’m becoming one of those people bringing a big mirrorless camera everywhere. Beyond that, mapping is pretty important to me- I’m a transit user and recently starting biking again after a 15 year hiatus.
For email, I mainly keep it to ProtonMail at this point. It works well enough for me. In the past I also used Gmail as a “burner” email address, but I’ve cut that out in the last year as I’ve streamlined my work and gotten rid of some Google services in my life.
Messaging is all over the map- I use SMS when I have to, but it’s mostly Signal and Nextcloud Talk at this point. I occasionally play with Matrix and will likely keep playing with it.
For mapping, I’ve historically used Google Maps. It’s probably the biggest thing other than my YouTube channel where I’m dependent on Google. I’ve tried OSMand but location searching is basically impossible- I keep trying it though. In the past I also used TomTom and I might try it again. I’m always on the lookout for privacy respecting maps apps, but haven’t found anything half as accurate and easy to use as Google Maps.
The only other thing I use my smartphone for is push notifications. There’s a few proprietary apps that I need for various customers – a suite of remote management tools which I don’t recommend, and would prefer not to talk about at this point. The only reason these apps are installed is for push notifications from servers.
You’ll notice there’s no social media on here- that’s intentional. I don’t use social media on my phone. This is a personal mental health choice, and I don’t want to sound preachy about it- you do you. I also avoid YouTube and analytics for the channel- in the past I used it on my phone and it sapped my sanity.
I also don’t stream on my phone at all. Any music on my phone is locally managed – I maintain a Jellyfin server but use Finamp for offline play (or I just play the FLAC files from a music player directly). No movies, no YouTube- the screen isn’t the right size for me to enjoy it.
Anyway, that’s about it. My smartphone needs might not be what yours are- that’s all OK and I don’t want to sound judge-y.
My phone typically lasts 2-3 days without charging, and I typically use the phone for 20-60 minutes per day. It’s not a goal of mine to “use my phone less” or anything – keep in mind I probably spend ten hours each day on a desktop computer. That’s where I do most of my communication- the mobile phone is really just for… mobile purposes.