Getting rid of my cell phone did not come as an epiphany of being a slave to modern technology, it was a necessity. In 2010, I lost my first real-world job and could not afford a $40 monthly plan, so I stopped using my cell phone to be able to pay my rent. Because it was a cheap, old flip phone, I deleted all my messages and contacts, picked up the charger, and gave it all to a charity. At the time, I did not have a land line, so I used Skype, Facebook, and emails to communicate with my friends and family, and I used my boyfriend’s home number on job applications. And you know what: I was fine. I got a new job, I managed to keep in touch with all the people I care about, and I saved the money I needed to make ends meet.
Even though I am now able to afford a cell phone I have made the choice to not go back to owning one. Here’s why:
People can rely on me and I can rely on them.
I’m the only one of my friends (and the only one in my family) who does not own a cell phone. That means that when I set up a day and a time to meet them, there is no way they can let me know at the last minute that they won’t make it or that they’re running late — as soon as I’m away from my laptop, they can’t reach me. To top it off, I don’t have a car and use public transportation or my own two feet to get places, so if they show up late or don’t show up at all, all my efforts to get to our meeting point on time will be wasted and you can bet I’ll be pissed off. All of this applies to me, too. I don’t have a choice but to let people know well in advance if I can’t make it to a meeting and I try to manage my schedule so that it allows plenty of time for me to get somewhere.
Interestingly, people never bail on me and I never bail on them. Not being able to contact people anywhere at any time pushes you and others to be decent individuals and get rid of flaky habits.
It’s easier to take a real break from work.
I work online 8 hours a day, five days a week and I put in about 5 hours of work every Sunday. Every morning I drink my first cup of tea while answering my emails and I have lunch in front of my screen more often than I should. When it’s time for me to take a break from work, I shut my laptop close and that’s it, I’m unreachable. There is no device beeping to alert me if I receive an email, so I don’t feel the need to check if anything urgent is required from me. Disconnecting completely from work, even if you love your job as much as I do, is an important part of a healthy routine — we should all take time to be doing something else than staring at a screen.
It forces me to be a more proactive traveler.
Without a cell phone, I don’t have access to Google maps, bus/train/ferry schedules, my hostel’s contact info, etc., yet I manage to find my way around new cities and have as much fun as anybody else. The key to traveling without a cell phone these days is the same as it was 15 years ago when I started traveling: get organized.
You don’t have to plan every minute of your trip, but it’s indispensable to know how to get from the airport to your hostel before setting off and it’s a good idea to have your hostel’s phone number scribbled down in a notebook in case you are delayed. I always have a guidebook of the country where I am traveling, so that I can have access to maps and a few phrases in the local vernacular (no need for instant translator app, and some bonus human interaction). I go to visitors’ centers or train stations where I pick up bus/train/ferry schedules and speak to tellers.
Social media has not taken over my life.
I use Facebook every day, but I don’t use Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter, and I have never experienced FOMO. Once I have shut my laptop at the end of my work day (around 4:30 PM), I do not check any social media platforms and don’t spend hours scrolling down on one site or another to see if anyone is having a better time out there than me. My partner, on the other hand, is constantly on his phone. Not only does he like to play Pokémon GO, which makes our daily one-hour walk together “interesting”, but he spends hours on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and playing Mario Run — even when we watch a movie on Netflix (double screen!). I can attest that his habits have dramatically changed for the worst since he purchased a phone two years ago — looking at his phone is the first thing he does when he wakes up and the last thing he does before going to sleep.
It allows me to do more of the things I enjoy.
While my partner is staring at his phone, I read. I read 33 books in 2016; my partner may have read two. When I ride the bus, or wait for my hair appointment, I whip out my book and read, but I’m one of very few — most people are either texting or checking their social media platforms. Reading is my number one passion but is not the only thing I do when I’m not working and offline, I also knit, go for walks, bake, swim, etc. You find more time to do the things you like and be creative when you’re not constantly distracted.
I can experience real solitude without feeling lonely.
When I’m out of the house and away from my laptop, no one can reach me and I love it. I don’t want everyone to be able to get a hold of me at all times, I want freedom and solitude and the only way to get it these days is not carrying your phones everywhere you go with you. According to Psychology Today, our lack of solitude due to our constant connectedness is “blocking our joy in relationships, our creativity, and our peace of mind.” I personally enjoy my own company, so spending time alone is a treat that allows me do the things I love and think more clearly about my life, my goals, my writing, etc.
I still enjoy interactions with strangers.
When you don’t have your eyes glued to your screen, you are more open to human connections. People will not fear to interrupt you on the bus to talk about the weather; they will say “hello” if they cross your path; they will ask you for advice or directions because you don’t have earphones on; they will compliment you on your backpack while waiting in line at the coffee shop; etc. If like me, you are an extrovert, this is one of the best parts of not having a cell phone. After all those interactions with random people are how you make new friends.