The MP01 cell phone by Swiss design company Punkt allows you to call and text. That’s it. No mapping app, no Instagram, no games, no music. The minimalist phone by British star designer Jasper Morrison promises a conscious alternative to digital distraction overload. But what’s it like to drop your primary link to all things digital for a week? Our fearless author decided to give it a try.

The stylized silhouette of a cell phone adorns the sleek, matt black box. I lift the lid in anticipation: At first glance, the MP01 by Swiss technology company Punkt reminds me of a design classic, the iconic ET66 calculator by Braun.

Although it comes with fewer features than a 1990s flip phone, I’m immediately attracted to the MP01. But that’s exactly what makes this minimalist communications device so enticing. And why it will be my constant companion for a whole week.

No Instagram, no stress. Disconnect with the Punkt MP01.
Photo: Carolin Kielwagen

The minimalist approach starts with the phone book. How many of the hundreds of contacts stored in my smartphone am I really likely to call? I scroll through my address book – and decide to transfer a total of only ten numbers. Parents, friends, colleagues.

I’ve already warned some people that I would only be reachable via phone for a week. Their reactions: a blend of smirks, curiosity, and sheer incomprehension. As I leave the house on Monday morning, I grab the MP01. My apps: a notebook and pen in my pocket.

The designer phone can call and text – that’s it.
Photo: Carolin Kielwagen

The challenge: ditch those digital distractions

Anyone who opts for what tongue-in-cheek critics have called a “dumbphone,” probably needs it more than they even suspect. As part of a so-called digital detox challenge, Punkt targets stressed urbanites and digital workaholics who would never normally let their smartphone out of their own sight.

I, too, know this feeling only too well. It’s simply too tempting to enter a mental idle mode for a few minutes; in a supermarket line, at lunch, or just before falling asleep. Sure: Being able to check emails, schedule appointments, or find the nearest car sharing option when you’re on-the-go can make life quite a bit easier.

A notebook replaces music and social media.
Photo: Carolin Kielwagen

Entertainment overload: pull down to refresh

The real villains turn out to be entertainment apps. In my case, the culprits are quickly identified. Besides a fantasy football manager that I play with colleagues and Major League Baseball transfer news, I keep returning to Twitter and Instagram. While these apps do convey some information, they’re specifically designed to keep us coming back with their irresistible “pull down to refresh” function. Every time I pull down and release the top of the screen, I am treated to the latest updates.

Tristan Harris once compared this mechanism to the way slot machines keep us engaged. “Every time I check my phone, I am playing the slot machine. What am I gonna get?” The former Google employee runs a design thinking company, champions meaningful technology, and lectures on smartphone use and the social media phenomenon.

Calming reduction: the Punkt MP01 mobile phone.
Photo: Carolin Kielwagen

My smartphone hand twitches

Day 1. The first insight is brutal. Time and again, I catch myself reaching for my phone – it’s an unconscious, Pavlovian move that happens before I realize that there’s nothing to see on the MP01 screen besides the current time. Instead, on my way to work, I decide to let my gaze wander. On the tram, I spot an old man who has turned his face towards the sun, eyes closed. It would have been the perfect photo: His face exudes calm; he’s obviously at one with the moment. And so am I – without the usual thought-numbing social media swipe-a-thon.

Did I simply overlook and miss small scenes like these before? I look around – other passengers are busy staring at their backlit screens. My smartphone hand twitches. I imagine the sensation of thumbing through my updates. The first withdrawal symptoms?

Yet even on day one of my experiment, I notice the positive effects of my new lifestyle. During my lunch break, I call a friend – for no reason at all. Since we can’t swap emojis or funny Instagram pics, we entertain each other with recent anecdotes and it feels refreshingly real. And while I’m telling him about my laid-back morning with a newspaper and a bowl of fruit and cereal out on the balcony, I notice just how relaxed I feel.

No new messages.
Photo: Carolin Kielwagen

The design: less is more

Day 3. My mom sends me a string of texts filled with cryptic black squares –  which I assume to be emojis that my minimalist LCD screen doesn’t support. I chuckle. Not everyone finds it easy to understand – or deal with – my return to an ostensibly out-of-date technology. Though actually, the MP01 is by no means comparable to one of those 1990s candybar bricks.

The device’s sleek lines and clever button arrangement, courtesy of star designer Jasper Morrison, make my design-loving heart beat that little bit faster. It’s a real eye-catcher, but also comes with clever touches like thoughtful, user-friendly navigation, a cooing pigeon that greets me at start-up, and a ringtone library composed entirely of forest bird calls.

Whenever I receive a text, the phone alerts me with a pulse of vibration, lending messages added value. It’s almost as exciting and rewarding as opening a letter.

The Punkt MP01: clear lines, great design.
Photo: Punkt

Digital deceleration – and back

Day 5. By now, I’ve mostly mastered the old T9 keyboard again for texting. I find myself reading every morning, accompanied by birdsong through the open balcony door. I go to work full of zest and take time to review the day at night. I spend a lot of time observing my surroundings and filling my notebook. After work, my mind doesn’t need any more input.

I notice that I’m no longer missing my Spotify music library. I start to consciously enjoy and experience those idle moments. I have even made peace with the phone’s lack of a camera. Sometimes, it’s a shame that I can’t capture those curious finds or funny moments, but I also realize that my urge to share these is always fleeting.

Design icon Jasper Morrison created the gadget.
Photo: Punkt

The Punkt MP01 is no dumbphone. It neither vilifies today’s or tomorrow’s digital lifestyles, nor does it want to be a toy for analog punks. In our busy everyday lives, the Punkt MP01 reminds users to stop, breathe, and order their thoughts.

As the time comes to power up my smartphone again on the weekend, I hesitate. I really enjoyed my low-digital week. On the other hand, I know that I can return to the dumbphone anytime I like for a quick digital vacation. My recommendation: Go on and give it a try.

For more information on Punkt and the MP01 cell phone, click here.