Life Without a Cell Phone

Broken iPhone
About a year ago, I wrote on my blog:


Tragedy, or finally an excuse to get rid of “being always available” and get my life back?

I’ll probably just end up getting another cell phone, but it might be interesting seeing what happens in the meantime…

So, it’s been a year, and I still don’t have a cell phone, and it’s really great.

Why no cell phone?

Being a developer, I really need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get wired in and be productive. Having a cell phone quickly became a nightmare as I grew my client base. I would get a call every half a hour or so, and that was pretty disrupting to my work, since I had to start over 1,000 times, and right when I got back to work the phone would ring again.

Turning it off or worse yet not answer? People would accuse me that I was ignoring them on purpose, even if I’d call them back, and they’d say stuff like “what if it was an emergency! You’re not reliable”, bla bla bla.

All right, so what now?

When I decided to take the opportunity to drop the cell phone thing once and for all, I was a little scared. I was scared that clients would complain, and take their business elsewhere.

Then, I thought: all right, I might lose 50% of my clients, but I bet I’ll be at least 100% more productive, so I’ll still make the same amount of money (make sense somehow?)!

You know what happened? I didn’t lose a single client (and yes, I’m at least 100% more productive than I used to be).

Your cell phone is not your friend anymore

I remember that my dad had one of those huge cell phones in the 90’s, like the one in Wall Street.

In the meantime, I’d go out pretty much every day with my friends. No one had a cell phone. Somehow, we still managed to meet up every day.

After a few years, I got one of the first Nokia, but your cell phone was still your friend. You used it to meet up with friends, if you ran out of gas or got a flat tire, etc. In general, your cell phone was for your own benefit.

Then, something happened.

Maybe because everybody bought one—I don’t know—but having a cell phone (and of course you have to have one nowadays) started being about being reachable 24/7. That is, not for yourself, but for others: 10 PM on Sunday, 7 AM, doesn’t matter: you have to be there for others to contact you. Is that a good thing? I don’t know, but it’s what I hated most.

My cell phone wasn’t for me anymore but for clients, family, friends, banks and insurance reps, and strangers with the wrong number to contact me 24/7 about their own problems and needs, to the detriment of my need of not being interrupted.

Email is your friend

No cell phone meant having to find an alternative form of communication.

Of course, the first thing that came to mind was email, and Skype.

I love both. The main reason is that you can decide when to talk to people, without them getting offended that you’re ignoring them. While if you don’t answer the phone right away you’re ignoring them and not taking their call on purpose, no one complains if you reply to an email 20 minutes or even a few hours after you receive it. You can check your email while you’re taking a break, and in general communicate when you can and on your own terms.

In addition, with email, Skype, and Messages I’m pretty much always reachable, but they’re a lot less invasive than a cell phone (i.g. no ringing and vibrating), and most importantly no one expects me to reply right away—although I usually do—so if I’m not available it’s not a big deal.

So, I told everybody that I didn’t have a cell phone anymore, and to send me an email instead.

Why do people call you, and how can you still help them out?

Right after I broke my cell phone, I started thinking about it: what now? How will people reach me? Why do people call me usually? How can I address their problems in some other way?

Turns out, 99.9% of all calls I used to get were unimportant or useless. Especially since I started paying attention, I started noticing that most people called me for many reasons, but rarely because it was really important.

Because they’re bored

They have dead time like they’re driving, on the train, waiting for somebody, etc.

Obviously this is just a waste of time. No one ever sent me an email without an actual reason.

Because they’re lazy

They could solve their own problem, but it’s just easier to call you.

A good example that would happen to me a lot, people would forget their password and would call me to give it to them again. I then had to interrupt whatever I was doing (usually programming), and look through literally hundreds of emails or files. Thing is, I had just sent them the password a few days before, and it was still sitting in their inbox. With me unreachable, they would just figure it out for themselves (i.g. they would look in their inbox).

With email, people are lazier about writing the email than not trying to solve their own problem. I never got an email asking for a password.

Because it’s an emergency

This is one thing everyone mentions to me: what if it’s an emergency? Sure, you want to be available if there’s an emergency.

Thing is, I actually am.

I’m no more unavailable than when I used to have a cell phone: I’m virtually always connected, and check my email regularly. Of course I might have a meeting or be sleeping or whatever, but in those cases it’s not as if I was available when I had a cell phone.

In addition, in my case most emergencies turn out to be false alarms.

Before sending an email (again, it takes more effort), people now make sure it’s an actual “emergency”: your site is down!? How about Google..? Is Google down, too? Usually, yes.

Because they’re bored

Did I already mention this? Well, it happened a lot.

My life without a cell phone

So, how is my life without a cell phone, after 1 year?

It’s awful.

If I have to meet somebody at let’s say 6 o’clock and they’re late, I have to wait there and read on my iPad.

When I’m working, I actually have to work and finish what I’m doing, instead of taking a break every 10 minutes to pick up a call. As a consequence, I’m done working after 5 hours instead of 8, and I either have to find something else to do to feel productive, or have extra free time.

I don’t either ever get to know about people’s problems, or I get to know after hours, when it’s clear that it was a false alarm.

If I’m having dinner with my wife, I can’t keep my phone on the table and either play Ruzzle or pick up a call and start talking loudly or say that I’m having dinner and I can’t talk. I actually have to enjoy dinner and have a conversation.

I love it.

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