In an age dominated by smartphones, where social interactions and services are increasingly digitized, a study from Aalto University sheds light on why some individuals are opting for more traditional mobile phones or customized devices with limited features, and the significant challenges they face as a result.

Published in the esteemed Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction journal, the research delves into the motivations and consequences for those who, despite the inconvenience and sometimes higher cost, choose to forgo smartphones.

The study, based on interviews, reveals a range of reasons for this choice, including the desire to improve concentration, spend quality time with children without interruptions, evade online surveillance, and even adhere to religious beliefs.

The participants in the study faced numerous obstacles in their daily lives due to their choice. Finding a durable basic phone was challenging, and the absence of a smartphone complicated tasks like making purchases, two-factor authentication, and meeting employers' expectations for constant availability. The COVID-19 pandemic and various mobile-dependent access rights further restricted their lives, and in some cases, the lack of a smartphone even posed safety concerns, such as the inability to quickly call for a ride in emergencies.

"Customized phones can be expensive, and some participants even imported phones from Africa that weren't available in their local markets," explained Janne Lindqvist, a computer science professor and department head. The study highlighted that living without a smartphone often required ingenious workarounds or reliance on the devices of family members and friends, indicating that this lifestyle choice necessitated either technical savvy or a supportive social network.

"This research shows that in societies like Finland, making such a choice is particularly difficult," Lindqvist remarked, underscoring the societal expectation and infrastructure built around smartphone usage.

Despite the difficulties, those interviewed found value in their decision, citing benefits such as reduced distraction and a more intentional engagement with the world around them. However, the study also emphasized that opting out of smartphone use requires a level of privilege, as it involves navigating a world increasingly designed for digital convenience.