My Year Without a Cell Phone

by Aron Blue

Aron Blue is a musician and audio engineer. She runs a small record label called SuperMeow Records for all of her punk friends in the Bronx and often records people for free. Her band Aron Blue and Friends will be performing at Legion on October 16. For more info, here’s Aron Blue’s YouTube and Bandcamp pages.

Illustrations are by Tree Wave who couldn’t even contemplate not having a cell phone so she drew pictures for an article called “My Year Without a Smart Phone”.

phone snobs

Phone snobs

I didn’t start with any intention to spend 2013 (or most of it) without a phone. It just happened. In late January, I had a chance to spend six weeks in Montreal, and my phone (a regular flip) wasn’t going to work in another country. I assumed I’d buy a blowup phone while I was up there, but I just never got around to it. I bought a Skype phone number and left it at that.

While I was in Montreal, I found that not having a phone was an advantage in meeting people. If I was sitting at a table by myself, I couldn’t plunge my face into a little screen. I had to look around, or look somewhere. That’s what I was doing when my first friend in Montreal, Jamie, sat down at my table and started chitchatting. Would he have done that if I had been buried in my machine?

So when I came back in late March, I decided to keep going. It was one less bill to pay, after all, and a Skype number is pretty cheap. Also, I was just curious about what it would be like to go a full year without a cell phone. Here are some of my observations now that I’m past halfway.

(1) It’s not that big of a deal. This is really the most important point. My life is not different, except for in very small ways. I have a laptop and I tweet and gchat and I spend way too much of my free time online when I should be playing music. I’ve gone through the job interview process (successfully), gone out, made new friends, stayed in touch with old friends. People know that email is the best way to get ahold of me (nope, no Facebook), and they all have smartphones that can email almost as easily as anything else. When everyone has a cellphone and almost everyone has a smartphone, being the one person without one hardly makes a difference. So maybe I’m a parasite on cellphone society, but given that people love to use them, I don’t feel that way. Last night I was at the bar downstairs from our apartment and I locked myself out. Three people offered to call my boyfriend. I was just planning to wait for him to come downstairs.

(2) It has made me more punctual. I have to be there when I say I’m going to be there– I can’t change plans midstream. This is especially true if I’m meeting people for a barhopping night. I have to meet at the first bar. It’s kind of amazing to think that everyone used to do this in the ’90s without thinking about it. Now, going to meet someone at a scheduled time and place without a phone seems almost reckless. There’s so much trust involved.

Subway stress: running out of battery

Subway stress

(3) It has made me more patient. On the other hand, if the other person is late, I just have to wait for them.

(4) The cellphone/doorbell syndrome. I have missed a barbecue because everyone was in the backyard and didn’t hear me ringing the bell. That was sad. Even worse, we were buying a big piece of furniture from some friends, borrowed a van, drove all the way through Brooklyn on a big parade day, and stood outside ringing their broken doorbell and yelling up to their window for about half an hour before we went home. That led me to my next observation.

(5) Pen and paper is your friend. Amazon still sells address books. The day after the van debacle I ordered one. When it came, I went through my defunct cell phone and copied out all of my friends’ numbers. I love my little black book. Also, the people in it are people who actually matter to me, not randomites from 3 years ago. Having a book with all your friends’ names in it feels nice.

(6) Public phones still exist! But they are a pain in the ass. Also, area code matters to a public phone. I’ve had to come up with enough change to make a $7 phone call because it was “long distance.”

(7) People don’t believe you can’t get texts. I have told people over and over that I don’t get texts. They still ask me if I got their text. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

Let me WebMD that for you.

Let me WebMD that for you.

(8) Smartphones make people look weird. I’m beginning to believe the reason zombie movies are so popular right now is because people are actually behaving more and more like zombies. I was riding the elevator at work with one businessman. He was laughing out loud while he played with his phone. He looked like a baby playing with his mobile in the crib. But at least he was active. It’s the people walking, aimlessly, slowly, wandering back and forth, with their handheld screens up to their faces. Zombies. Either that or alien mind control. Go without one for a little and see how creepy people start to look.

***

That’s about it. Once my year is up, I’ll get a flip phone again. It’s nice to be able to meet up with people in the middle of the evening, or to have an emergency doorbell. I could go the rest of my life without texting, though, and I suspect that smartphones will always kind of creep me out. Most importantly, this exercise has given me a sense of control over my own use of technology. I think a lot of people have in their minds that the only alternative to being ultra connected is the grass hut, but it’s not all or nothing. It feels good to consciously choose what I use and how I use it.

Relevant links: SuperMeow Records | YouTube | Bandcamp. Aron Blue and Friends will be performing at Legion on October 16.

What’s the longest you’ve gone without a cell phone or without the internet? Did you feel a strong, uncontrollable rush of giddiness and joy when you returned to the internet?

 

Comments

  1. I went from late 2001 til 2005 without a cell phone or a computer. I can only think of two incidents where this was a problem. I was waiting for a guy at a bar, and I didn’t have his phone number or a phone to reach him. I had to call a friend, who had to check my email to get the guy’s phone number to call him and tell him where I was. I got laid, so it’s ended ok. The other time, I was supposed to rehearse with some band in Greenpoint and couldn’t find my way. That was all. I didn’t get my own computer til 2007, there was always one around plus I was on one all day at work, so I didn’t miss a thing. Plus I lived next door to the NYPL so if I really needed a computer, it was one door down. From 2005 up until June 2013 I had a tiny flip phone which served me well. The only thing I notice about having a smartphone is that I’m on the computer a lot less, but it’s also a time burglar. It’s a necessary evil when you’re traveling a lot. Also, there is less planning involved when owning a smartphone, it allows you the freedom to make it up as u go along, tho I still seem to be late for everything always. I think it will be hard to go back to just a flip phone now tho. (: \)