Life Without a Cell Phone

by Tammy Strobel on September 5, 2011

The cool air drifted through the RV and my Dad walked out the front door to start the barbecue. As he walked down the stairs the door swung open and I could see Lake Tahoe in the distance.

In his hurry to start the barbecue he left the TV on and I was just about to turn it off, but a statistic caught my attention. The local news anchor noted, “30 percent of survey respondents said they use their cell phone to avoid interacting with the people around them.” She was talking about a Pew Center study focused on Americans and cell phone use. I was totally captivated by the story because I used to be “one of those” people.

I listened to the rest of the story and refocused my attention on prepping dinner with my Mom. While chopping carrots, we talked about the report and why Logan and I decided to ditch our cell phones a few months ago.

Logan noted over dinner that, “the best part of living without a cell phone is the decreased expense and being unplugged. It makes me a more pro-active communicator, instead of a reactive communicator. The bad thing? At a crowded event, it’s hard to find people and it’s more difficult to plan. There is less spontaneity and flexibility when I have to meet someone.”

For example, during the Oregon Brew Fest I was supposed to meet Logan at the corner of Stark and 3rd. But I was over on Oak Street waiting for him. I wasn’t paying attention and thought I was on the right street. It took us a while to find each other in the crowd and we were both frustrated by my lack of awareness.

Other than trying to find each other in crowded areas, we had to figure out what to do about emergency calls too. After a lot of thought we decided to get an emergency cell phone. It’s a pay as you go plan, through Cricket. Right now we occasionally use the phone for travel and haven’t had any emergencies.

For instance, during my recent trip to California Logan convinced me to take the phone. I wanted to leave it at home, but Logan thought it would be good to have “just in case.” The phone sat in my bag for two weeks because I was out of the service area! However, it wasn’t a problem. Internet access was easier to find than a pay phone and Skype’s call quality was good. There was even free wi-fi on the Amtrak bus I took to Lake Tahoe, at the campground, and on the beach too!

Interestingly, a few friends and family members said they were scared to call our Skype line and a few folks have gotten frustrated because I don’t text message anymore. It seems like more people prefer text messaging, instead of talking on the phone. And that makes me sad, because talking on the phone leads to deeper and more meaningful conversations.

We may or may not get cell phones again. Since we’re moving into the little house in November, we’re keeping our options open. More than likely we’ll go with a Mi-Fi plan and continue using Skype to make phone calls.

If you have an iPod Touch and want to use it as a phone, follow these steps:

1. Get a Skype phone number and purchase a Skype subscription. Make sure you look at their special offers before you buy anything.

2. Download the Skype app to your iPod Touch. The app is free.

3. Log in and start making calls! Remember you’ll need an Internet connection to do this.

More questions? Leave a comment.

1 Matt Langdon (@theherocc) September 5, 2011

Thanks Tammy. The changing plans while out thing is my biggest concern. However, with a cheap, pay as you go phone, that can be counted as an emergency, I guess. Certainly a pay as you go is going to be cheaper than the $100+ for a smart phone.

2 Tammy Strobel September 6, 2011

@Matt – Getting a cheap pay as you go phone is a great option. Smart phones are great tools, but they are SO expensive. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely week.

3 Chris Baskind September 5, 2011

It’s not hard — I went almost three years without a cellphone (after carrying portable phone with me since long before modern cellular systems). Skype and Google voice will take care of you.

After the initial panic of being “disconnected” wore off, I came to really enjoy not being at the world’s 27/4 electronic disposal. When you’re out, you’re out. When you’re riding a bike, you’re just riding. Yes, there were a few hiccups along the way. I missed a picnic once I’d rather have located. You have to make room for a mental map of neighborhood pay phones. You’ll start to value quarters again.

But our parents did it. Heck — I’m old enough to remember pre-cellphone days. Somehow, we blundered through life without the ability to be interrupted anywhere, and at any time. ;-)

4 Tammy Strobel September 6, 2011

Chris – It’s great hearing from you!

I’m old enough to remember “pre-cellphone days” too. I was a late adopter and didn’t get one until graduate school and then I became an addict to the stupid thing. :)

I don’t miss it.

5 Ros September 5, 2011

I find your perspective interesting, mostly because I have the opposite experience with my cell phone!

In my case, my cell is about half the price of a landline (low minutes, free texting), so financially, it does make sense.

I’m also not home much, so having a cell phone lets me (for example) sit in a park after work (but before evening plans) and call my grandmother, which I do much more frequently now that I don’t have to be at home during her waking hours to do so!

That said, though: I do prefer texting over phone for casual communication. Phone does lead to deeper, more profound conversations than text (though in-person or, failing that, skype, are better), but a lot of the time, I don’t WANT a deep or profound conversation with whoever is calling at that exact moment, because I’m busy sewing/meditating/spending time with my partner/out with friends/playing with my pets, and I find that the insistent interruption of the phone decreases my enjoyment of these activities. Which is why I’ll plan (by email or text) skype dates with friends who aren’t close enough to see in person, rather than speak on the phone!

I guess it comes down to personal reaction to circumstances!

(Also, speaking as a mid-20s woman who takes public transit in a large city: I’m “one of those people” who avoid other people by being on my phone/texting/looking at the screen aimlessly, because some guys are “those people” who insist on getting attention/phone numbers/flirting, and, fer crying out loud, I’m not interested during my morning commute, kthx. They interrupt reading time on the subway, but tend to interrupt people using phones a lot less, so I’ll stick with those, gladly.)

6 Tammy Strobel September 6, 2011

Hey Ros – Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I appreciate it. It seems like you use your cell phone very mindfully. I wish I could have said that about myself when I had one. I was constantly glued to the screen and it wasn’t healthy.

Like I told Katherine, in the comment thread below, this isn’t about judgement. If you can use your phone mindfully without turning into a zombie, like I was, rock on and more power to ya! :)

7 Andi September 5, 2011

Good for you for ditching the cell phone! It’s odd that people use their cell to avoid interaction with one another, but by carrying a cell phone, you are making yourself accessible at any time… I know people who are frustrated because they feel like people are calling them all of the time and they can’t get a moment alone. I’m sure it only seems like that because one feels obligated to pick up the phone when it is in your pocket, vs. letting the machine get it when you are out.
I also think it is amazing how many people text instead of having a conversation. I am afraid that the art of having a conversation is disappearing. I work for an eye doctor, and I get to talk to people of all ages, but our primary clientele are the elderly. I could talk to them all day, and luckily I do! I am beginning to notice a decline in the younger generations ability to to hold conversations that involve any sort of detail (hard to get more than a one word response out of them).

8 Karen T. September 6, 2011

Why do we feel we have to answer the phone every time it rings? Unless you are a doctor on call, a phone is meant to be a convenience, not an imperative. We’re not Pavlov’s dogs, are we?

Tammy, I think having a pay-as-you-go phone for true emergencies is just about right. Meanwhile, my husband and I have learned to communicate much more clearly with each other since we can’t phone to check on plans that we weren’t paying attention to when we were discussing them face to face. That means we actually have to listen to each other! (What a concept!) Probably good for our relationship. . . .

9 Maureen September 5, 2011

Great article.
I just removed Twitter from my iPhone as I was starting to feel addicted to finding out what’s happening on-line even when out with friends. I did miss it at first but now feel good about the decision.
I have not taken the step to get rid of my cell, however. It’s my only phone at the moment but I do find myself allowing my voice mail to catch a few calls. Sometimes, I just don’t want to be immediately available.
I think I will attempt more steps to get even more disconnected. Being engaged with who I’m with at the time is a lot more rewarding and healthy than being always available and on-line,

10 Meira September 5, 2011

I bought a virgin mobile pay as you go phone a few months ago. I put ten dollars on it and i still have five left. I only use it for emergencies etc. So it’s an excellent cell phone plan. Also, you can change from pay as you go to monthly and back again with no contracts. It’s just so. Uch simpler this way and it makes my friends and family either talk to me on facebook or face to face.

11 Alllison September 6, 2011

Glad to hear it’s working so well for you – I’d love to do the same. For now, I’m tied to the cell as it’s cheaper than a landline and a backup/emergency/callAAAwhenthecarbreaksdown, but I’ve banned texting (cheap plan, I pay for every single one, and they add up fast) and I’m letting it go to voicemail more.

12 Philip Bellissimo September 6, 2011

I have had two pay as you go phone numbers from ATT that were both cancelled because the accounts were not used frequently enough. I recently unlocked my phone and moved to T-Mobile on a pay as you go basis.

13 Nicholas September 6, 2011

Cell Phones.
I’ve read your blog since it was mentioned in the NYT. I’ve found some of your stories quite entertaining. With regard to planning and cell phones I’d have to say that that is the point. You need to plan. Scattering our attention from one thing to the next and having plans change has only become viable thanks to these kinds of technologies. About a year ago I was standing in the college book store and a student said, “Like how did people communicate with professors before the Internet.” I found this comment delightfully amusing as I remembered my life as an undergrad in the time before ubiquitous e-mail. I got rid of my cell phone 6 years ago and haven’t looked back.

14 Tammy Strobel September 6, 2011

@Nicholas – Thanks for reading! I loved your story. It made me laugh!

When I was in high school (and during the fist few years of college), I was actually scared of the Internet. I remember the first time I checked my email – I was standing in the student union and thinking how cool the technology was. I had no idea how much I would use email in the future. At the time, I didn’t have a personal computer, Internet connection or a cellphone and I managed to navigate school and life just fine.

I love technology. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to use it mindfully.

Thanks for reading!

15 Gordon Davidescu September 6, 2011

Super awesome article. I had an experience where I had to leave my mobile phone with my wife while her brother and I went to a television show taping and found that the experience was excellent — not having our mobile phones we actually interacted with each other and had pretty great conversation.

16 Jennifer@A Blog of My Very Own! September 6, 2011

I don’t want to completely abandon my cell phone. I have a small child and it wouldn’t be smart not to have a way for people to contact me. However, I would love to curb my usage. Say…not answer the phone between the hours of 6pm and 10 am…unless the person leaves a voicemail message stating the nature of their emergency, at which time I would make an exception and return a phone call. Ok…I think I just developed a new rule for myself :) Now to update my outgoing voicemail to reflect that.

17 Karen T. September 6, 2011

Why does having a small child necessitate having a cell phone so people can contact you? Somehow, my mother raised me and my brothers and sisters without having a cell phone. I raised my own children without having a cell phone (they are grown now and live on their own). I wish you luck in curbing your usage, Jennifer.

18 pea September 6, 2011

I haven’t used my cell phone for as long as I can remember and it was as simple as saying…’no.’ But as I put in my own post about the subject it is about the users own life and their need for it’s use. Might be entirely different if I were a doctor!
Loving the new look – can I take any credit at all for your inspiration??!!

19 eva September 6, 2011

FYI, all phones can call 911 no matter what (as long as they have battery–the phone doesn’t need to even have a SIM card in it). But if you might need to call AAA, a friend, etc, a pay-as-you-go makes sense.

20 Tammy Strobel September 6, 2011

@Eva – Thanks for the info! Super helpful.

We’ll probably keep our pay as you go phone. However, I’m rethinking that option. Especially since it didn’t work in California and the whole idea behind the phone was to use it for travel and emergencies. :)

21 Katherine@YeOldCollegeTry September 6, 2011

I think I’m with Ros on this one re: the texting thing. I text maybe 6 times a day, mostly with my husband. Something along the lines of “will you pick up some bread on the way home?”. If I want to know how his day is going, then I call him. You know- an actual conversation. Or we talk about it when he gets home. As long as texting works for you, and you’re not a slave to it- it seems just fine to me.

I know you’re not making a blanket statement that texting is evil or something– I think I’m just reacting to
“It seems like more people prefer text messaging, instead of talking on the phone. And that makes me sad, because talking on the phone leads to deeper and more meaningful conversations.”

Just to say- prefering text over phone conversations here and there can be a fine thing, too.

22 Tammy Strobel September 6, 2011

I don’t think cell phones are evil and neither is texting. However, in my experience my network of friends prefers text messaging as a way to communicate and I don’t.

For me it’s easier to make a quick phone call to either ask Logan to pick up bread or to have a deep conversation. It really depends on your life situation and how you use tech – it’s about mindfulness and not becoming a slave to any device. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

23 Leo September 6, 2011

Love reading about your experiences, Tammy and Logan, as this is something I’ve been considering for awhile myself. Thanks for sharing.

24 Tammy Strobel September 6, 2011

Thanks Leo! Let me know what you decide. I’d love to hear about your experience. :)

25 Gretchen September 6, 2011

Tammy,
You inspired me to ditch my cell phone as well and I have had many of the same issues as you have. My boss for instance is literally attached to his Blackberry and texting is his favorite means of communication. Taking this into consideration when I made the leap I got a number through Google that allows calls through Gmail and text messages/ vmail into Google Voice like Chris Baskind had suggested. That seems to have solved the texting issues, though there is no missed call function unless you leave gmail up all the time. Hopefully, in the next few months they’ll get that solved.
Good luck living cell phone free!

26 Diana September 6, 2011

I became completely deaf a few years ago. Before that I hardly ever used my cell phone, prefering f/f communication. I was a lazy responder to email as well. Now I am so grateful for the technology that allows texting and email. I felt very islolated when I first became deaf. When you become deaf as an adult, most of your long time friends are hearing, so texting allows me to easily communicate with others. I sometimes regret having to be so tethered to my cell phone, but it is a life saver for me. That said, I have resisted a smart phone due to the high cost of monthly fees and have I kept the same old cell phone with a pre paid plan that I have had for five years. Judging from the puzzeled responses I get when I take it in for a new battery, I think the phone itself is now considered an antique.

27 Tammy Strobel September 6, 2011

@Diana – Thank you so much for sharing your story. Cell phones can be very handy. I think it’s awesome your phone has lasted for so long! I say keep using it until it dies. :)

Your comment reminded me of this TED Talk by Roger Ebert. Every time I watch it, I cry.

Thanks for stopping by! :) Wishing you all the best.

28 Karen T. September 6, 2011

Thanks for the link to Roger Ebert’s TED Talk. I hadn’t heard it. It was wonderful. And his wife is a lovely and loving woman — I enjoyed her.

29 Mike | Homeless On Wheels September 6, 2011

I still have a cell phone, but it is my only phone. No “land line” as that would lock me into a location. It’s just a basiic phone, for talking only. I do carry it with me whan I’m out and about, but don’t use it often. I don’t feel obligated to answer just because it rings, and I can always switch it off when I don’t want to be bothered. If someone needs to reach me they can leave a voicemail. If they don’t, then I guess it wasn’t important.

30 Joe3 September 6, 2011

I enjoy reading your articles…this one made me laugh out loud !! I’ve been cell and house phone free for 3 years, I already live in a small one room house, and spend my time doing those things I enjoy. I am ‘ working ‘ on the thought of becoming car free…but for now I consider myself a “Happy Old Man”. Cell phones, social networks, and continuously being available (in touch) IMHO, are advertising gimmicks, created to separate people from their cash……..You and Logan seem to have your priorities straight, keep up the good work.

31 Tammy Strobel September 6, 2011

@Joe3 – Your comment made me laugh out loud. Seriously though, I can’t help but laugh at myself for getting so caught up in cell phone land. Of course, they are very useful. Especially, when consider stories like Diana’s.

Thanks for reading! I appreciate it. And yay for being a “Happy Old Man!” Wishing you all the best. :)

32 Joe3 September 6, 2011

Tammy, the Roger Ebert link was a moving piece, and, as I work in healthcare, I emphasise the need for people to ” Have Fun, work less, Play More ” , nobody is guaranteed tomorrow. Rogers carotid story is a prime example. And that he has found a way to adapt to his disability ( for lack of a better word) and has taken it many steps further is amazing. I do see the need for technology, and in Dianas’ case, text is working well, and a lifesaver! Thanks to both you and Diana for sharing.

33 Ryan September 6, 2011

Back in the college days some friends of mine (five guys in one house) set up a beauty of a voicemail greeting on their land line. It said, “Hi, we’re either not in or we don’t want to talk to you.” :)
I would just as soon have no phone at all, but I have a pay-as-you-go cell phone that costs me $1 per day for unlimited incoming calls and $5 per month for 250 texts. A land line wouldn’t be any cheaper, so I just leave the phone at home most of the time as if it’s tied to the wall.
I’ve considered giving up my Net connection too, but I’m not quite ready to sit on the porch and shake my cane at the neighbours’ kids just yet. :)

34 Alicia September 6, 2011

I have a pay-as-I-go cell phone, but I rarely use it. I got rid of my regular plan four years ago. I don’t miss it. I remember my pre-cell days…

35 Marie September 6, 2011

Found your blog through my research into tiny houses. I’ll be following that route in a year or so — by which time my youngest should be independent. Can’t wait.

My smartphone is a huge waste of money, but I’m locked into a contract (got it for work… seemed like a good idea at the time). I rarely use the “smart” features, and don’t buy into the idea some people have that emails should be returned within nanoseconds.

Absolutely agree with Joe3. Corporations are creating our values, and as individuals we need to question that. Congrats on doing so, and best in your tiny house adventures.

36 Kathy Parker November 23, 2011

I remember my pre-cell days too. I was in my 30′s when my husband insisted I needed a phone, It sat in the glove compartment of my car, not even turned on. Then I went through ten years of a contract plan. I absolutely hate those contracts btw, Now I have a prepaid from Verizon. My husband got sucked into wireless wi-fi and it’s awful. Can’t stream, skype, etc. I’m going to convert it to a phone plan to ride out the contract and then I’m really done. Btw, I also hate the way people can be tracked when a phone is “on”. Maybe I’m paranoid, but as I watch our freedoms being eroded, this is just one more tactic to reign in the sheeples. Love your posts Tammy, have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We have a lot to be grateful for. Blessings, Kathy

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