One Year Without a Phone

In March 2012 I decided to try living without my iPhone for a month. By this time last year I decided to permanently live without a cell phone or land line of my own. I'm asked about how I get by on a regular basis so I thought I'd share the answers here.

How do you do it?

Quite easily. The same way I did before I owned my first cell phone.

Why no phone?

My trial run without a phone was prompted by a decision to drop satellite TV. A couple of years ago my wife and I got tired of paying $100+/month to a satellite provider we didn't like for an experience we didn't like. We switched to an Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and MLB Extra Innings for less money and a better experience. Similarly, I was paying $80+/month to a cell phone carrier I didn't like for an experience I didn't like. Why pay money for that?

There's also a part of me that likes toeing the line between need and want. It began in 1998 when I carried everything I needed, along with a few things I wanted, in a backpack for a 7 month thru-hike of the Appalachain Trail. Do I need a phone? No.

How do people get in touch?

I'm pretty active online. I communicate daily with people using:

  • Gmail (personal, Quick Left, and House of Genius)
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • iMessage
  • Google Chat
  • Google Hangouts

I also use:

  • The office land line
  • Google Voice (outbound only)
  • Emergency voicemail (inbound only, more on this below)

There's no shortage of ways to get my attention.

What about your job?

I spend a fair amount of time on the phone at work. These days I'm Managing Director for Quick Left, a growing custom web and mobile development company. My role requires a lot of sales and recruiting calls throughout the week, but because we conduct business during regular office hours, I'm able to handle all of my calls from the office land lines.

What about travel?

Life without a phone gets a little trickier when I'm on the road, as I don't have the office land line to rely on. When I'm on a business trip, my phone calls are scheduled in advance so I'm able to arrange to have me initiate the call with Google Voice. When I travel on vacation, we rely on my wife's cell phone when we need to.

What about emergencies?

I've programmed a Twilio phone number to take a voicemail and send me an email notification right away. I list that number on an emergency contact information I have to fill out. For those of you who aren't inclined to program something of your own (read: for those of you who are sane), there are plenty of emergency contact services out there.

What do your friends and family think?

Exactly two people complain that I don't have a phone. My friends Eben and Toma like to bust my chops about being hard to get in touch with; I let them know that they're the only people I'm trying to make it hard on. All in good fun. Honestly, the people who want to get in touch with me always do, Eben and Toma included.

When will this madness end?

I'm not sure, but I'm thinking I'll live without a phone until there's a really compelling reason to get one.

More than anything, I love the fact that I no longer have a Pavlovian response to smart devices. With no ringing or buzzing phone to ignor and no compulsion to check email in line, in a restaurant, or in the bathroom., I'm a much happier man.

If you're really curious about giving it a try yourself, leave your phone at home, turned off, for an entire week. You may just find that it's easier than you thought.