I recently did a guest post over on So Much More Life comparing multifunction and single purpose devices, using a smartphone as an example. It seems that while some commenters agreed with the general premise of the post, there was some question as to whether my example was the best one. Smartphone owners seem very happy with their devices and consider them among their most useful and important possessions. I’m guessing that they love their phones not so much because they also include a camera, GPS, and music player, but because they are miniature computers with access to email, social networking, and the rest of the internet.
Perhaps my choice of a smartphone as an example in that post was a result of the fact that I don’t carry one, and don’t feel the need to be always connected everywhere I go. Allow me to elaborate.
I’m No Luddite
It isn’t that I dislike technology. Quite the contrary, in fact. When it comes to communications technology, I have been on the leading, and even bleeding edge most of my life. I have owned various smartphones, PDAs, tablets, pocket computers, pagers and more. There was a time when I carried multiple communication devices wherever I went. I felt that I needed to be reachable any time and any place. I was afraid of missing an important business or social opportunity.
Perhaps it is a bit of burnout. Been there, done that. Maybe it’s just that instant communication and constant availability have become ubiquitous; I sometimes lose interest in things if they become either too trendy or too pedestrian. Also, I think I started decluttering my social life long before I started on my physical clutter. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be instantly available to anyone at any time. I don’t need to instantly reply to email and blog comments.
Maybe it’s an age thing. When I was in my 20′s and 30′s I had more of a need to feel important and more of a fear of being left out. Now that I’m in my 50′s, I no longer feel that need for constant connectivity, and the occasional important message among the digital drivel can wait until I get to it.
Occasional distraction is one thing, but when it gets to the point that the virtual world becomes more important than the real world in front of you, it might be time to check your priorities. In a recent New York Times article, David Carr writes:
You are at a party and the person in front of you is not really listening to you. Yes, she is murmuring occasional assent to your remarks, or nodding at appropriate junctures, but for the most part she is looking beyond you, scanning in search of something or someone more compelling.
Here’s the funny part: If she is looking over your shoulder at a room full of potentially more interesting people, she is ill-mannered. If, however, she is not looking over your shoulder, but into a smartphone in her hand, she is not only well within modern social norms, but is also a wired, well-put-together person.
Add one more achievement to the digital revolution: It has made it fashionable to be rude.
I’ve learned that I don’t want to be that person. Isn’t live human interaction more important than what somebody you’ve never met just tweeted? Aren’t friends more important than “friends?” Email, Facebook, and Twitter can all wait until the meal, meeting, or conversation is over, can’t they?
I’ll admit, I was pretty obsessive about such things myself at one time. And if I still had that pocket-sized internet with me at all times now, I might still be tempted. My solution? I don’t carry that distraction and temptation with me. Even my plain phone gets turned off if I’m in a meeting or having dinner out with someone. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message or try again later.
I Don’t Need It Anymore
Back when I loved to bargain hunt, I liked having the internet with me to research pricing or other information about an item I was considering buying, but since I’m trying to cut my consumerism down to just the essentials (and those I can research from the comfort of home on a full-size screen) I don’t need that anymore. A smart phone can come in handy if you frequently find yourself with unexpected chunks of waiting time to kill. You can whip it out and catch up on email or maybe do some reading. I normally don’t find myself in that situation much anymore, but if I expect to have some waiting time — doctor’s appointment or waiting at the airport, for example — I’ll take my netbook along so I have a decent sized screen and a real keyboard to work with. Or maybe just my Kindle or a book and catch up on my reading.
There’s also the thirty dollars a month I don’t spend on a data plan ($360 a year!).
I’m Still Connected
Not carrying a smartphone is a decision I’ve made that saves me money and eliminates distractions. I don’t feel disconnected, and I don’t feel in any way left out of the online world. Instead, it allows me to choose when and how to deal with my digital communications, which is usually when I can sit down comfortably and relax, giving my email, writing, or other online activities the same undivided attention that I am able to give to my offline activities.
What do you think?
Do you carry a smartphone? Why or why not? What about your own feelings on “smartphone etiquette?”