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The Nokia 3310 gives the user almost no reason to look at it except for making calls or sending texts. Photo: Reuters
The Nokia 3310 gives the user almost no reason to look at it except for making calls or sending texts. Photo: Reuters

Letter from… an experiment in minimalism

The 'new' Nokia 3310 is a throwback to days gone bywhen phones were simple little things that didn't try to scan your face

Some weeks ago, there was much enthusiasm and hemming and hawing and teary-eyed nostalgic sentimentalism surrounding the launch of a “new" Nokia 3310 mobile phone.

The 3310 is really quite a remarkable mobile phone. For those who are not old enough to recall using the device, it is difficult to explain why so many people hold it in such high regard. It was a basic, functional mobile phone made of plastic that came at a time when all mobile phones were a bit basic, functional and made of plastic.

Without veering into too much sentimental exaggeration, I can say that the 3310 had three things going for it. Firstly, it was indestructible. And it was indestructible because the people at Nokia made it in a very clever way. They designed it with resilient plastic so that it could withstand most bumps and scrapes and drops and accidents without too much permanent damage. But then, the moment the phone was subjected to catastrophic stress, it just fell apart into its component pieces all across the floor of your office or factory or whatever.

You got on your knees, picked up the pieces, put it all together again and usually the phone got back to work smoothly. If one or two components went missing, replacing them didn’t cost the Earth.

So that was the first thing. Indestructibility.

Secondly, it didn’t have an antenna sticking out of it. If memory serves, this was the first phone we ever had at home that didn’t have one of those plastic nubs sticking out at the top. This meant you didn’t accidentally give yourself a hernia by leaving it in the pocket of your jeans and hopping on a third-hand Bajaj Sunny you bought from a business associate who went bankrupt.

Finally, it had that wretched Snake game on it. There wasn’t much you could do with that phone besides make phone calls. But Snake was amusing enough. And many hours were spent in engineering college trying to prove my manhood via high Snake score on some NRI quota fellow’s Nokia 3310. I was terrible at it.

So when the guys who own the Nokia brand announced they were launching a new version, I immediately asked them to send me a review piece (once upon a time, I used to review technology for this newspaper—with great panache and questionable competence).

A few days later, the cute little thing came in a box. And I immediately knew what I was doing to do with it. I would try an experiment in minimalism.

As many of you may have noticed, one of the great ironies of this age of information we live in is how much we try to restrict the amount of information we consume. There are countless apps and tips and tricks dedicated to wean you off Twitter, Facebook, and even just the internet in general. This writer uses many of them on a regular basis to make sure I focus on work and don’t get drawn into “just a quick peek at Twitter" that rapidly eats up the entire afternoon. On my iMac, I use apps called Freedom and Self-control. On my android phone, I use an app called Offtime.

All three essentially lock me out of Twitter for several hours at a time. This can do wonders for my productivity.

The 3310 seemed like an ideal way of doing this with much greater… finality.

Could I, I wondered, swap my trusty old Samsung Galaxy S6 for the new 3310? Would that save me lots and lots of time?

Turns out it did. But you should know that there were a couple of problems. Two of them minor, and one of them somewhat more problematic. Firstly, the 3310 is poor for listening to podcasts. But I listen to them all the time. If I am not reading or writing, and sometimes even then, I am probably listening to a football podcast of some kind. Secondly, it doesn’t help with my public transportation and mapping needs.

I figured out ways to deal with both of these. I loaded a podcast client on my tablet, and then also installed Google Maps, with offline maps of home and town, on it. Boom. Yes, this meant I had to carry a tablet with me mostly. But I carry a backpack almost everywhere I go anyway.

The more problematic issue was the phone’s lack of WhatsApp. There was no easy way around this (there are ways—just nothing particularly convenient).

But on the upside, the phone gave me almost zero reason to look at it except when I was making calls or sending texts. I just stopped fiddling with it and slipped it into my bag. Instead, I read my Kindle or listened to podcasts on my tablet—which is mostly what I did before, but now I was doing one thing at a time. Who even does that anymore?

And I loved it. I just wish someone would make a WhatsApp client for the Nokia 3310. Short of that, I loved the phone. It has sleeker lines than it used to. And the screen and interface has… shudder… colour. But otherwise, it reminds me of days gone by—when phones were simple little things that didn’t try to scan your face.

Letter From... is Mint on Sunday’s antidote to boring editor’s columns. Each week, one of our editors—Sidin Vadukut in London and Arun Janardhan in Mumbai—will send dispatches on places, people and institutions that are worth ruminating about on the weekend.

Comments are welcome at feedback@livemint.com

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