Cale Byers

Going Phone-free

Updated . Published

As I revisit this post, on April 14, I've relapsed, using an iPhone 5c on wifi at home, so I can keep in touch with family. I'm looking for a cheap iPad, which I'll use for school, music, photography, and communicating. The 5c is so old that it can't play videos taken on newer iPhones, nor can it use content-blockers. A lot has changed since iOS 10.3.3. I've spent too much time on a laptopl in the last month. Some of it has been productive. I redesigned my website, but I haven't done anything else significant, besides pull up some recipes now and then when cooking.

I recently canceled my phone service, considering:

  • smartphones waste a lot of time,
  • service providers illegally share your texts/calls with the government,
  • my line was $30/month, AND
  • I don't really need service

In the 5.5 years of owning a phone, I never experienced an emergency situation that required a 911 call. Even if I did, Federal law requires cell providers to take 911 calls from any cellphone, even if you're not paying for service. If you keep paying for service because you're worried about an emergency, you can cancel your plan and still make 911 calls. And when you get to the hospital, if you're conscious, you can use wifi or a landline to let your family know that you're okay.

What about non-emergency situations? Cell phones have proven to be unreliable! Let's suppose you're trying to contact someone, but a building is cutting off your signal. Or their battery dies. Or their phone gets wet. If you had a landline, you could get through. I have been in situations where I could not contact someone, because they had a cell phone and not a landline.

The instantaneous communication enables poor planning. It also causes you to communicate with too many people, and to become distracted. As communications becomes more difficult or scarce, you prioritize your communication. Snapchat makes it easy to blast 20 people. But texting photos is more personal and also more inconvenient. I like the inconvenience. And to take it a step further, making a call over a landline is incredibly inconvenient by today's standards. To go even further, writing letters is the most expensive and slow method of communicating. If I send you a letter or anything by snail mail, then you are important to me, and it's not something I do on a regular basis.

Easy, instant communication enables you to not plan ahead and just go through life without structure. Then, at the last moment, you can text someone, "wyd?" and hope they answer in time, but they have no advance notice, even if they wanted to spend time with you. So you won't get to meet up, even though you thought you would because cell phones mean everyone can be reached at a moment's notice. Some people hate their phones and avoid checking their notifications. So your instagram or snapchat message will go unread for days or weeks, and it wouldn't have happened if you texted or called. Without a smart-phone, you have a definite structure, and you stick to it. You email, write a letter, or make a voice-call, and you stick to your plans.

The most useful aspect of my cellular service was GPS navigation. Before we had cellphones, people would print out directions before leaving. Remember the days of Mapquest?? During my Little League baseball years, our coach would email a Mapquest link, and then our parents would print directions to the field in some distant land. You could also just buy a GPS thing for your car, for about the cost of one month of service, and you'd never need cell service.

Every other reason to own a smart-phone is separate from having cellular service. It takes photos. Well guess what, you don't need cell service to take photos. Wifi coverage could be better if more people used OpenWireless, but it's still possible to get by with just wifi, rather than being pinged all day by a cell tower. If you're in charge of a wifi network, please consider the OpenWireless project. It makes a big difference in your community!

The expense of cell service isn’t really that high, even at $30 or $50 per line, but the real cost is my lost time. It's the same for streaming video or music. Sure, it's $20-50 per month if you get all of the things, but you will then spend 20 hours, or about $250 of your time consuming media. A lot of services generally costs less than 10% of the total cost, when you include the opportunity cost.

I no longer share sensitive information over smart-phones or landliens, but the principle of our government spying on everyone is unsettling (and illegal). If it bothers you, cancel your service as well. Aside from listening to your calls, your provider has a very detailed location map, because we wear our phones, and they are always with us, leaving a trace.

From August 2014, when I first got my phone before starting college, to March 2020, when I finally canceled my line, I wasted about 10% of my life on my phone, and if I include laptops, TV, etc, probably about 15-20% of my life was lost. I may end up getting a landline someday, but for now, I'm phone-free. I know it's a silly fad, but it's worth considering. I also have abandoned all social media.

Imagine dying, and then having the chance to extend your life by another 10%. Would you take that offer? Maximizing your time has the same effect, so I had to get rid of these pointless distractions. I will update this post as necessary to reflect on the experience.