I have never enjoyed speaking on telephones. I would blame my career as an attorney – all those years of constant interruption from clients and creditors – for my disdain of telephones, and surely that contributed to it. But the truth is, I didn’t even like talking on phones as a youth. Over the years, I’ve known a few friends who liked to call me and chat for hours on end, and I… am just not that chatty. I don’t believe in small talk, so if I had nothing to say, I would just sit on the phone, silently hoping my caller would hang up the phone. Uncomfortable silences never bothered me, so I could do that indefinitely – much to the chagrin of my friends.
In recent months, however, my disdain for phones (and cell phones, in particular) has increased. For one thing, I don’t like being tethered – always reachable 24/7 – and the expectations that come along with that access. For another, they are an example of unnecessary consumer waste. And finally, because cell phones are highly addictive time-sucks. For these reasons and more, I had been considering giving up my cell phone since before my retirement last summer.
A Month Without a Cell Phone
About a month and a half ago (in mid April) I accidentally dropped my cell phone and destroyed it beyond repair. Rather than get upset about it, I saw this as an opportunity to try living without a cell phone. The only things I really needed my cell phone for were navigation and to serve as a wireless hot spot for the various devices in my apartment (since I have already cut the cord with the cable companies). I realized that my old iPad could accomplish both of those tasks for me.
So I went to my cell phone carrier, had them reactivate my iPad as the device associated with my account, and that’s what I’ve been using for the past several weeks. And to be honest, it hasn’t been too bad. I stare at my iPad a lot less than I stared at my cell phone, mostly because the iPad is big and heavy compared to a cell phone. And it has been nice to not be quite as reachable as I usually am. No phone calls. No text messages. Just the occasional alert of an e-mail or Facebook post.
Life Before Cell Phones
I would like to believe that life is possible without cell phones, iPads, and even Internet service. After all, I grew up without any of these things. My household didn’t get online until the late 90s, when I was just about wrapping up high school. I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was at least a junior in college.
Before then, we had analog phones. If we weren’t home when you called, we might have had an answering machine. School reports could be done by reading a book, visiting a library, or cracking open an encyclopedia.
Human beings are definitely capable of surviving without a cell phone. But it is very difficult to function in society without them. In fact, it’s really quite disturbing to think how we have grown so dependent on devices that barely existed and were not ubiquitous in households just 25 years ago.
The Struggle of the Past Month
I would sound pretty pathetic if I said that I’ve been suffering this past month. I haven’t. But I’ve encountered a number of inconveniences with not having a cell phone.
The biggest and most important inconvenience has been using my iPad for navigation. I’m perfectly capable of navigating with an old-fashioned map. But GPS navigation is indisputably faster and more convenient. And the ability to mount a cell phone on your windshield to use it as a heads-up display also makes navigation much safer. While my iPad runs Google Maps just as well as my cell phone does, its prohibitive size prevents me from mounting it on the dash or windshield. And I’ve discovered that leaving it on the center console is not really very safe.
The other problem with the iPad is its age. I don’t remember when I purchased it, exactly, but it appears to be 2nd generation, which dates it back to about 2011. This thing is too old to receive the iOS updates (and therefore too old to download and update certain apps) and too old to get a 4G signal. Because I don’t have high speed internet via a cable company, I’ve had to rely on the relatively sluggish 4G data speed of my cell phone. Going back to 3G now – with website content designed the way it is – is worse than dialup.
Not to mention – my ability to sign up for various accounts and so forth (which is all automated these days) has been hindered by my inability to receive a text message.
Planning for the Future
I am sure it is possible to obtain employment without having a phone number. But I’m already nervous about the prospect of trying to find work. I’m not really comfortable with embarking on a job hunt without a phone number and a more reliable data connection.
As a result of all of this, I finally buckled the other day and ordered a replacement cell phone. It should arrive Friday. I’m glad that I was able to live without a phone for over a month. But I am very disappointed that I wasn’t able to hold out longer than that.
Human beings can certainly survive without cell phones, phones, and the internet. We’ve done it in the past. I don’t deny that cell phones are incredible tools that have – in many ways – helped our species (and in many other ways, harmed our species, but that’s a topic for another day). I’m just really saddened that cell phones, phone access, and internet access have become so ubiquitous that there is an expectation that you have all of them. Anyone who doesn’t have these is at a serious disadvantage to everyone else. If you’re able to bump off grid and grow independent of society – great. But for those of us who need to stay connected to society for employment (and by extension food and shelter), cell phones and internet access are almost a necessity.
My future is still fuzzy, but it seems less and less likely that my future will be as off-grid as I once contemplated. I need to work to put food on the table and a roof over my head. And I still want to be able to do my craft. The only way I can do these things without a cell phone is if the playing field is leveled. Some sort of apocalyptic event that renders technology meaningless for everyone.