Why I Don’t Carry A Smartphone

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.

What Changed?

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.

Distracted Much?

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?”

26 responses to “Why I Don’t Carry A Smartphone

  1. hi mike!
    i don’t know if i have a smart phone or not. i guess that makes me sound pretty un-smart. but i have a land line and then a little cell phone that i use only for emergencies. and that is all i use it for. i don’t take pictures or text or whatever with it, tho no doubt it would do those things. it’s safer being a lone woman, driving on roads today to be able to call for help when necessary. so that’s mainly when i’ve used it. and when the electricity goes out as it did in our hail/storm/small tornado the other night. i am on a family member’s plan so it only costs me $120 a year. and for my peace of mind, i’m willing to pay that.
    i like this post. i agree with all of it! especially when you quoted david carr’s article.
    i have a friend in dallas who calls me and then while i’m talking to her, i can feel she’s absent somehow… i ask her what she’s doing …. “Oh, i’m checking my emails.”
    while she’s talking to me… rather, not talking! and SHE called ME!!! aaaggghhh RUDE.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Hi Tammy. A “smartphone” is like an iPhone or Android phone – a tiny handheld computer that you can also make phone calls on. Now people can be distracted by email, Twitter, Facebook, and the web anywhere and everywhere. I also carry a small basic phone. Sometimes it isn’t even turned on, but I know I have it for my safety or convenience and can turn it on when needed.

  2. Thanks for the mention of my blog. I hope your guest post there is gaining you some readers. You’re doing a great job.

    I have a $35 MetroPCS phone that costs $20 a month to use. It will access the Internet and text, so it meets some criteria for being a smartphone, but it isn’t all that smart. If I ever ditch my used bookselling business, I’ll likely ditch the Internet access too.

    There’s no reason to be connected all the time.

  3. I am old enough to remember the excitement when voice mail and call waiting first were available on land line phones. I am old enough to remember when if you weren’t home, you couldn’t answer your phone, and we all were fine with that. I am old enough to remember when leaving my house meant a kind of freedom from connectivity, because we didn’t take it with us.

    I’m a geriatric techy, but some progress is not progress. Or maybe it is that we have no self control, and have not learned how to cherry pick through the gadgetry and apps and services available these days, but think we have to have it all, do it all, all the time.

    When all that connectivity becomes an addiction, it is time to rethink and reprioritize our values. Perhaps we no longer have any. Values, that is.

  4. Mike | HomelessOnWheels

    I can remember those days too, Marti. As a technophile, I’m glad to have lived in the “golden age” of wired and wireless telephony, including car phones, portable phones, and pocketable phones, but as a human being, I think their evolution to full-blown computers might be a bit much, or maybe just a bit much for many people to resist. Perhaps once the novelty has worn off people will get over their addictive usage habits.

  5. Hi Mike!
    While a lot of folks think that I “need” a smartphone (along with a lot of other things), I have a simple prepaid cell phone with a keypad and a text package. This way I can check my texts a couple of times a day and not bother with voice or voicemails unless it is an emergency. Most people get my MagicJack number anyway, so I get their voicemails when I get home and connect the MJ and call them back if it is important. That way I have the best of both worlds (connected and no) on MY terms.

    I have a small netbook that I take to work when I want to read a book on my break, and an old PDA that I use instead of splurging for an iPod. When it dies I’ll just use my netbook for all of it instead of getting yet another gadget.

    I used to think that gadgets were the way to go but it dawned on me: a single device (a laptop) can do everything (phone, texting, multimedia, etc.) so why waste money and space on multiple items? The cell phone these days is more for text conversations and to have on hand if an emergency arises, you know?

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Hi Annie. Funny how other people always think they know what’s best for us, especially when it’s something they’re trying to sell us.

      I like my netbook – it’s like a tablet plus a real keyboard, for half the price of a tablet with no keyboard. And it even folds closed to protect the screen and keyboard.

  6. Hi Mike.

    New to your blog and doing some back reading. Thought I would throw in my two cents here. I don’t even have a cell phone. I don’t feel the need to be always reachable. If I am not home I will connect with the person when I get home. I like gadgets, just don’t want to be distracted while I am out walking or just out.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Hi Jeremy. It is possible to manage without a cellphone. People managed for years without them – just planned things more carefully. When I was younger, there were periods when I had NO phone. If someone wanted to talk, they could visit in person. If I wasn’t home, they could leave me a message on the clipboard attached to the door for just that purpose.

  7. I absolutely would not carry a smartphone. I think we’re becoming too unconnected to each other. Everywhere I look, people are unfocused on the real world, while staring fixedly at small devices in their hand. I’ve even seen people standing a few yards from each other, texting to each other! I have a very basic cellphone, and like you, I have most calls set to ‘silent’..My spouse is the only exception. We’re up in years and the original reason for our getting a cellphone was for an emergency when one of us is not feeling well. But occasionally we will call each other to connect, if one of us is out of town.

    BTW I’m enjoying your blog, short as it has been. I just found it today, and because your posts have been sparse, I’ve read every one already!

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      I’ve even seen several commercials with people texting each other while sitting across from each other at the same table. Ridiculous.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog. Thanks for reading!

      • My old uncle just told me about visiting my 2 twenty something great cousins. They were sitting next to each other on the sofa, watching the soccer cup, and silently playing Scrabble with each other on their phones.

  8. I like this article, it really is cool, i have a smartphone i also have an iPod touch (iPhone without the phone basically). The ipods for my music as i cannot access the internet on it outside the house unless there is some free wi-fi somewhere. I do also carry with me my android htc. yes its got email on it and gps and camera facility and text but to be honest i only use facebook on that when im sat bored for half an hour, awaiting my child to exit the school gates in an afternoon otherwise i dont bother, i hardly use the gps as it eats the credit on my tariff like a rockweiller enjoying a steak, it does come in handy to capture shots of the children when i havent got my much bigger camera to hand but all in all when i am on a photography sprint around the countryside my phones on vibration only, my lens cap off and i enjoy the silence and lack of beeping technology and enjoy the sounds of the wildlife instead.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      That’s great that you have the restraint to carry all that technology around without letting it take over your life, Angee.

  9. Good post. I would suggest that it’s possible to strike a middle ground re: always being connected. As a rule, in a social setting, I will ignore incoming calls and text messages (unless I’m trying to coordinate with people, e.g., which restaurant to meet at, etc.). Half of my friends are the same way, the other half are horrified that I don’t attend to my phone every time it rings/vibrates. I happily explain to the latter group that 1) I have voicemail and 2) I want to give them my undivided attention, which usually surprises them and hopefully causes them to reconsider their own cell phone habits.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      That is a great strategy, Mot. Teaching others by example how not to be rude in social settings. I wonder how many follow your example, if only when in your presence?

  10. With regards to voice-mail, it’s actually pretty annoying when people leave voice messages. Very few people I’ve met want to go through the hassle of deleting it. If someone doesn’t answer your call, please do the courteous thing, send an SMS.

    Could I live without a smartphone? I don’t know if I could do that anymore. Imagine living without a washing machine, or having access to one. Sure, you could hand wash your clothes, but imagine what a pain that would be.

    Let’s say I’m on the other side of town and I need to find an ATM in ING’s network. I unlock my phone, tap the ING ATM Finder app, choose search by current location, and within seconds I can find the closest free ATM. Or how about finding out when a store you don’t normally frequent closes? Tap the voice search icon, say “Map of Sports Authority” and you will have a satellite view of the Sports Authorities around you, tap the one you desire, and you’re given the store’s reviews, mapped location (with GPS driving navigation), and phone number. Tap that phone number, and ask your question away.

    Now think about doing that without a smartphone. You’d either have to drive all the way to the store and hopefully get lucky, or drive all the way back home and look up their phone number on your desktop or notebook. Is this essential to life? No. Is owning a smartphone a massive time-saver and a huge convenience? Abso-lutely.

    I’m a multi-tasker. I’m always doing 100 things at once and pulling myself in a dozen different directions. I sleep less, eat faster, and have 20 Firefox tabs open at a time. I’ve grown accustomed to getting information, and having it near-instantly. Want to know the name of the guy that played Robocop? Give me 8 seconds. Need to know what seasons 10w-30 and 5w-30 are respectively better for? Pull out the smartphone. Can these things wait until later? Most of the time, yes. But I’m not the type to coast through life at a slow pace putting everything off to a later time.

    In a rare twist, I hardly use my smartphone for her social features. I might check Facebook once or twice a day on it, and I send maybe 10-20 texts per day, not too much, really. My phone, instead, is like the Tricorder of Star Trek. It’s the best information and location tool of our time, and I for one, am glad I live in an age that has such a wonderful tool.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      Thanks for commenting, Kyle. I guess always-on, always-up, contantly multitasking folks like yourself are the target market for such devices.

      I’m not sure I agree with your examples, though. Having to delay information gratification is not the same as hand washing vs a modern washer. And your example of finding the store? I can just call 411 on my voice phone, the operator will connect me to the store, where a human can tell me their hours, location, and, if needed, directions. The same human can even check if the item I need is in stock, so I’ll know I won’t be wasting a trip. All without stopping my car nor taking my eyes off the road.

  11. LMAO! Just had a heated debate w/ the husband @ this. He won. The only communication device will be one cell and my laptop for the new life. cool. too much of the cumbersome life has cost a small fortune and the novelty has definitely worn off by now.

  12. Mike | HomelessOnWheels

    That’s probably all most people really need, Penny. Some people just figure it out sooner than others 🙂

  13. As someone in the buiding trades, I find my smart phone eliminates the need to have a lot of phone books and street maps in my truck.

  14. Didnt I find you on the Republic Wireless sight? Have you changed your mind about Android phone? If so, why? Just curious.

    • Yes, I’ve changed my mind on this subject, in some respects. Especially since Republic Wireless has finally made smartphones affordable to those of us with tiny budgets. I plan to talk about it soon – look for a new post.

      What I can tell you now, though, is that although I can now appreciate the benefits of smartphones, I am also very aware of their ability to turn into addictions. I hope I do not turn into one of those people who wander down the street or sit in the middle of a social function oblivious to my surroundings because I’m all wrapped up in social media and silly games.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Robin!

      • Peace and Merry Christmas! The post I was indicating was deleted by moderator was on the Republic Blog not these open conversations. I thought it might bring some laughter into their offices which must be pretty pressure packed right now with all these phones being shipped.I am aare of over posting and agree completely with the concept of not blogging up the blogs.

  15. Ten years later. An author recently subjected us to a challenge: no modern computers for a week. I found myself refreshed, clarified, and most importantly: lack of “ADHD-type” symptoms. I realized, without a search engine, that my memory had become goldfish-like. Just my observations.

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