Life without a mobile
June 19, 2009 9:56 AM   Subscribe

What is life like without mobile phones? Is it practical? Will people hate me?

I'm feeling quite anti-mobile phone lately. I dislike the way people talk annoyingly on them, the ringtones, the way an incoming phone call is considered more important than the person standing next to you, many things.

As an response to this I'm pondering giving up my mobile phone and living life without one.

I haven't tried this seriously in about 10 years though (I first got a mobile in 1999), and I'm wondering if it's practical today. Will people hate me for being hard to communicate with? Am I going to find some essential service is only accessible via the telephone? Is it going to be a massive inconvenience in a way I'm not expecting?
posted by curious_yellow to Technology (43 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You do realize that the problems you have with them stem from other people and not your own use, right? Getting rid of your mobile phone will do nothing to curb the behaviors that annoy you.
posted by Loto at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2009 [10 favorites]

It is purely liberating to not have a cell phone -- and it feels entirely different than "leaving your cell phone at home".

As long as you have a phone people can call and leave a message (bonus points for promising x hours for a reply) you will be received as generally accessable.
posted by SirStan at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2009

Shut your phone off for a week or a month and see how you feel.
posted by TurkishGolds at 9:59 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I took a year off eight years back and two weeks off last autumn. Didn't miss it at all. Used email a bit more.
posted by rhymer at 10:01 AM on June 19, 2009

Just so that you consider other options here:

I have a mobile but generally dont carry it around with me. Its pay-as-you-go so I dont pay a fee for just having it. Mainly I use it when I am traveling so that people can reach me in an emergency.

Whether people will *hate* you for this depends on your particular social circle not on the phone itself.
posted by vacapinta at 10:01 AM on June 19, 2009

Er... I think your reasoning is flawed.

If other people's behavior is what irks you, that isn't going to change just because you give up your mobile phone.

The best way to counteract poor phone manners is to use correct ones yourself. That means saying, "I'm sorry, I'm in a restaurant right now, can I call you later?" Or making sure your phone is off when you don't need it. You get the gist.

As far as inconvenience goes - if you're not reliant on a smart phone for you calendar, or rely on text messaging and other services, then you're not going to miss those.

However, depending on where you are in the country, people may find it weird and worrisome that you're not always accessible. Many people would loose their job if they elected to ditch their mobile phones.
posted by wfrgms at 10:02 AM on June 19, 2009

It's really nice, and not particularly impractical. By not having a mobile phone, I save about 500 dollars a year, give or take. My girlfriend has a mobile phone (she's required to for her job), so people can reach me that way, if necessary, since we're almost always together unless I'm at work, in which case people can just call my work number. People don't hate seem to hate me for this; at most, I've gotten some people who are surprised that I don't have one, and a few of those who've asked, "Really?! Why not?!" to which I respond, "I don't need one, and I'd rather not spend the money on something I don't need."
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:04 AM on June 19, 2009

I've only had a cell phone for a few years now. And, the only reason I have it is because my parents put me on a family plan (even though I'm a 37-year old, married, adult woman) and handed me a phone. They said I needed for my personal safety.

The phone sits in the bottom of my purse, largely unused. I can't remember the last time I turned it on, made a call, took a call or charged it.

I'd be totally fine without it, and I'm sure you will be too! Cell phones annoy me for the same reason they annoy you.
posted by MorningPerson at 10:06 AM on June 19, 2009

Response by poster: @various people:

Yes, I've considered that my main problems are with other people's behaviour. However, I know I'm not totally resistant to the same bad habits, and seems somewhat unfair to complain about everyone else doing something when I'm doing it as well.

I'm a fairly light cellphone user to begin with, so it's not going to be an "omg! he's not talking to us 24/7! fire him now!" scenario.
posted by curious_yellow at 10:06 AM on June 19, 2009

I do recommend prepaid phones for emergencies. The cheap Nokia mine came with holds it charge for months while off inside my car, used rarely.

Even without paying a dime I believe it is required by law (in the US) to allow access to emergency 911. So just stow it away in a cool spot just in case, recharging periodically.
posted by glenno86 at 10:06 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a friend with no cell phone. I certainly don't hate him, but it is a inconvenience that all of his friends put up with.

"Gosh, this restaurant is too crowded, we should try a different one."
"Well, but we told X we'd be meeting him here and there's no way to get in touch."

&c. However, it is a very minor inconvenience, so it's well worth it since he apparently doesn't want one.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 10:06 AM on June 19, 2009

Is it going to be a massive inconvenience in a way I'm not expecting?

I don't know how it is where you live, but in my city, pretty much all public telephones disappeared over five years ago.

As a starting step, I'd suggest simply turning your ringer off completely when in the company of others. The phone is still there for your use and you are still generally reachable. If you have trouble keeping yourself from checking or using your phone, then you may want to consider going cell free.
posted by ODiV at 10:08 AM on June 19, 2009

I like to keep mine handy for emergencies. If you drive or bike at all, I consider a cellphone a necessity. Even if you take the train or the bus, accidents can happen anywhere. You will want to be able to call the police and get in touch with loved ones. Payphones are incredibly rare these days.
posted by amethysts at 10:12 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

How much you'll feel the effects of this really depends on your social circle, and your work. I have a cellphone (and no landline, so it's my only phone line), but my friends know that I don't talk on the phone much so they'll text me if they want to ask something (and even then I don't get back to them for hours sometimes). They're used to this, and I don't get much more than an "Oh" when I explain that the reason I didn't respond to a text message for days was because I didn't have my cellphone with me. On the other hand, I also have friends for whom it'd be extremely uncharacteristic to not respond to a text message pretty much two minutes after I sent it, to the point where I'll actually go find another friend and ask if they know what's up.

My mom doesn't have a cellphone, and that works fine for her, because she doesn't text and she only calls my grandparents in the evenings, but she works for a fairly administrative job that she can leave at the office when she gets off work. My uncle works at a bank, and he brings his cellphone everywhere, even to important family functions like birthdays, because sometimes he needs to get in touch with clients.

Long story short, only you can really gauge how much the lack of connectivity will affect you. In general I've found that once people get over the initial shock of someone daring to not be connected 24/7, they're pretty accepting of individual choices and life styles. You won't get that much grief once people get used to it.
posted by Phire at 10:13 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

A cellphone is a tool like any other tool. If you don't need a screwdriver, you're not going to carry one around with you. I think the prepaid idea is a great one. You can have a cellphone handy for when you need it - when you are meeting people at a crowded venue, for example, or traveling. The rest of the time, you can leave it at home like any other tool you don't need. The only problem with owning a cellphone is when you allow it to own you. Just because you have one doesn't mean you have to have it with you 24/7.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:21 AM on June 19, 2009

I also find myself very annoyed by other people's behaviour on cell phones. However the real reason that I do not have one is because I'm cheap.

I do kind of get a kick out of being "out of touch". My family is tired of me not being reachable though and sometimes I do have to walk a few extra blocks just to find a pay phone.

Oh yeah - It's been around 5 years since I last had a cell phone.
posted by mokeydraws at 10:22 AM on June 19, 2009

My boyfriend just got rid of his mobile phone and its been interesting. There are definitely downsides, but there are upsides too. We look out for each other more, plan things better. For instance, when meeting somewhere (like an airport, concert, etc.) we think ahead and make a plan of action, i.e. meeting spot or in-case-of-? scenario. It's nice. I wouldn't say we depend on each other more or less, but in a different way. I'm reminded of how I used to communicate with people when I was much younger. Like if I try to reach him at a land line (work, somebody's house, etc.) I go through the whole, "hi, this is Kim, how are you, is Mark there?" People don't do that as much anymore. We're so used to direct connections to the people we are trying to reach. And the first time it happened, I actually forgot the routine.

You will rely on email more.

What's also nice about not having a phone is that once you leave the house, you're free! No safety net. You could get lost. You could find something cool. You make plans, you leave the house, and the plans work out or they don't. It's not this endless checking in with everything to guide you on all your quests.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:25 AM on June 19, 2009

I can't imagine not having a cell phone at this point.

I use it at least half a dozen times a day in situation where there's no other option. I mean, I guess I could ask shop attendants to use the phone in some cases.

These days, I could probably not annoy anybody if I ditched my phone. When I lived back in Philly, every one of my friends would have hounded me to get a phone. And I would have missed out on a lot of fun times that formed spontaneously.

You might consider getting a pager.
posted by Netzapper at 10:30 AM on June 19, 2009

I've only had a cell phone for a few years now. And, the only reason I have it is because my parents put me on a family plan (even though I'm a 37-year old, married, adult woman) and handed me a phone. They said I needed for my personal safety.

Exactly the same way I got my cell phone. However, I do use it. I use it for business because my work phone is about four labs away from my office, I use it to talk to colleagues across the country, and I use the cell number on forms because I have no land line. At this point, it would be a bit complicated to extricate myself from mobile phone life. But I don't think I'd mind at all.

The best thing about cell phones is that they allow for more flexibility when you're meeting people, or when you lose someone. We somehow managed before by, you know, planning ahead, and such. Now people no longer seem to be in that mindset, so if I were to go phoneless, I'd keep in mind that planning contingencies would be up to me.

I had a GPS navigation unit foisted on me in a similar manner. I was eventually guilted into using that as well, despite having managed perfectly well with my road atlas, compass, and the kindness of strangers.

If not for well-meaning relatives who want to provide for my 'safety' for their own peace of mind (ironically, by giving me small expensive objects to carry around), I'd do just fine without.
posted by zennie at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2009

Yeah just remember that when people didn't have cellphones, there were payphones all over the place. That is no more. So you can't exactly go back to the way it used to be.

I honestly don't know how I'd ever meet up with anyone without it these days. Seems to have rewired how people make plans. I'd admire you if you did it. But if you were one of my friends, I feel like I'd rarely end up seeing you.
posted by sully75 at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2009

I loathe the way cell phones act as a people lease that seems to make everyone feel they have the right to talk to you all the time. But then, I don't particularly like talking on the phone ever, so it's a biased opinion.

However, since I'm an on the go sort of a girl, it makes it easier to organize the logistics of my life and helps prevent schedule meltdowns with other people to have one. The thing that makes it work for me is that I just don't turn it on that often. I check it a couple of times a day to see if I've missed the calls of anyone important, but I never just keep it turned on and able to ring at me all the time. I can't stand it. And most everyone who would call me on any regular basis knows that it's not on all the time, so they've sort of been trained not to bother calling all the dratted time.

I also very rarely listen to my voice mail, so that helps as well. However, I check my email a lot. If it's important, email is probably fastest. A text message (that I'll read when I turn the phone on) is second fastest. Last year I switched to a pay as you go phone to save money, and it made it even easier to pull of this scheme. I can always tell people, "Sorry, I don't keep my phone on much. It's prepaid, and I'm trying to give as little of my money to Virgin every month as possible."
posted by mostlymartha at 10:53 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's perfectly possible to go mobile-less, nobody with any semblance of a brain is going to give you grief for it, though you will likely be met with a hefty dose of disbelief. It's really not as big a deal as it's perceived.

Re: phone-essential services, as long as you have some form of telephone (i.e. land line), you'll be fine.

However, something to keep in mind is that you're actively taking a step that makes it more difficult for other people to reach you and as a result, fewer people are going to try. This of course may be part of the master plan.

Also of note: If you do ditch your cell phone and find yourself standing next to someone performing on of your cell phone etiquette peeves, don't say "Ugh, this is exactly why I got rid of my cell phone." because then you're that "I don't even own a TV" guy and everyone in earshot will be perfectly justified in flogging you with their cell phones in mid-text-message.
posted by coryinabox at 10:53 AM on June 19, 2009

iamkimiam touches on a point I was going to make. Many of us (myself included) could probably get by quite nicely without a cellphone most of the time. But I've noticed that since pretty much everyone I know has a cellphone, it has changed our social dynamic. If it's Halloween, for instance, and their are ten different parties, we can coordinate on the fly. I'll call a friend and she'll say "this party's dead, don't bother coming." I think this is a good thing.

When travelling, having a cellphone is such a big improvement over not having one that I consider it almost essential. I don't want to be tied to a home base waiting for the phone to ring, I want to be able to cram in as much activity as possible, and the ability to make plans on the fly is vastly more valuable.

But will your friends hate you? Ask them.
posted by adamrice at 11:00 AM on June 19, 2009

Lots of people who only have cell phones keep out-of-state numbers without thinking twice. Will this force you to dial (and pay for) long distance calls more often?

I wouldn't find it annoying if I had a friend w/o a cell phone, as long as my friend isn't annoyed if they miss the boat when plans change and I can't let him/her know.

Personally I feel safer having one in the car, especially if I'm traveling long distances. Maybe consider keeping a cheap-o, only-for-emergencies one and not giving out the number?
posted by juliplease at 11:02 AM on June 19, 2009

If you can it, lose it and see if you feel liberated.

I've wanted to, but a couple of nagging work requirements mean that I have to keep one, making it seem a lot like a ball and chain to me. If those responsibilities ever vanish or are relieved, I'd happily leave it in a drawer, though, because the 1% of use that was actually worth a phone call is drowned in the 99% of annoyances for me.

I do like things like Google Maps and looking things up on the web from my pocket, however. Maybe what I need is full-time "Airplane Mode".

(I hate phone calls. They interrupt my brain, which has enough trouble staying on track for 10 mins at a time already.)
posted by rokusan at 11:05 AM on June 19, 2009

I don't have a phone and I love it. It's cheaper. I can feel assured that when people make plans with me, they will show up and not want to change their mind or wait until the last minute to make plans. Life is easier when you just plan ahead. I also feel like people value my time when you make plans ahead of time and stick to them. Last minute plans are great and all, but scheduling ahead of time is better.

I have an answering machine. I am a very social person who is able to meet up with friends and not feel like I'm missing out.

In case of an emergency, I will be surrounded by people who have cell phones. I have even heard that because of cell phones, the emergency operators receive dozens of calls about one accident.
posted by Gor-ella at 11:12 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also don't have a cell phone and never have.

No one is obliged to have a cell phone for his personal life. (Jobs, maybe; although I think that's lame unless you work in some sort of crisis field.) Some of my friends get all righteous about it, but honestly, they are just as difficult to reach as I am.

Sure, there are some benefits to cell phones, especially the ones where you can have internet access. There are times when I think, gee, a cell phone sure would be convenient right now. But really. There is nothing wrong with making a plan in advance. There is nothing wrong with having to wait for five or ten minutes when a friend is running late and not getting a call informing me of their whereabouts.

The times when true disaster would have been diverted by me having a cell phone remain in the hypothetical realm only, and my life gets to be a whole lot more pleasant in the meanwhile.
posted by tentacle at 11:55 AM on June 19, 2009

I don't have a cell phone. I hate talking on the phone, and while I'd love an iPhone for the data/gps/camera stuff, I just can't justify the expense. (I live in a dead zone anyway, so it's a moot point except when I'm traveling.)

The only situations where it's a problem are:
1) Minor: payphones no longer exist. You'll find a few tucked away in airports, sometimes, but that's about it. So if you're out somewhere and really do need to make a call, you'll be stuck asking somebody else if you can borrow their phone.
2) Major: if you're going to meet somebody somewhere, you'll have to actually make plans for exactly where and when ahead of time, instead of making vague plans and then pinging each other back and forth with calls as you narrow in on the actual meeting. You'll find yourself becoming irritated with those of your friends for whom this habit is so deeply ingrained that they have lost the ability to be at a specific place at a specific time.
posted by ook at 12:10 PM on June 19, 2009

I resisted forever and just got one under a year ago. I have to say, it irks me that people will no longer make plans in advance. Some of my friends started pulling that on me but what are the chances that you're both in the same area at the same time and want to do the same thing?

Before that I usually made plans via email and I stuck to them. It made people people have to be on time and not change plans at the last minute. Although it might be perceived as inconvenient for them I think its just good manners.

I have an iPhone now and it's permanently attached to my side so I've done a total 180. I mostly use it for Twitter, taking photos, making lists, tracking cash etc. so the phone side of it is less important to me. I think if I got rid of it I would probably go through withdrawal for a while but eventually be fine. I don't think the same would happen with a regular cell phone since I'm not a big talk/sms person.

It is really hard to find a pay phone these days though, so keep that in mind.
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:45 PM on June 19, 2009

I've never had one. It's not really a problem, except that sometimes it's hard to make plans to meet people somewhere, as folks have already said.

But I'm curious about this:
Am I going to find some essential service is only accessible via the telephone?

You are still going to have a land line, right? (Because yes, I think you absolutely need some kind of telephone.)
posted by equalpants at 1:02 PM on June 19, 2009

I don't have a doorbell to my apartment, so if someone pops by unexpectedly they have to call me on their cell phone so I can unlock the lower door.

I've had friends in apartment buildings where the intercoms were wired into the phone lines, so you would call up to their apartment to let them know you had to be buzzed in, and the phone would ring on their end. They didn't have a land line, so I had to use my cell phone to call theirs so they would know I had arrived.

I've also, on more than one occasion, found my car broken down in areas where there are no pay phones. Last customer to leave the restaurant or final movie of the night, and now they're closed and I can't go back in to use a phone. That sort of thing. AAA and the like pretty much require a cell phone now, as they'll call you after you call in with the eta, and then the specific company coming to jump your car/tow you/change the flat will call. Even if there was a pay phone I would have been screwed in those cases, since pay phones often don't accept incoming calls. Even in the middle of the day it's a hassle since in a large parking lot you may not be able to stay by your car AND stay by a pay phone at the same time.

My neighborhood does have pay phones, but most have either a drug dealer staked out next to them most of the day, or are the exclusive domain of homeless folks. In either case, I wouldn't feel comfortable using them.

I have had friends who went without phones briefly, and honestly, they were left out of spur of the moment things. Calling someone's house saying "hey, we're all going to get dinner, if you can make it meet us in two hours or call me by x time before we leave," doesn't often work. You never know if they'll show up, sometimes they do and you don't have enough seats. sometimes they don't get the message in time and you've asked for a seat for them, so the staff thinks you're a jerk since they pushed tables together for nothing. With those friends, it reached the point that we would hang up if we got the answering machine, instead of inviting them, since it was too much hassle. We didn't HATE them for it, but it was the only reason they were left out of things.
posted by Kellydamnit at 1:17 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I didn't have a cellphone when I was younger, and got left out of a lot of social situations. YMMV. This was also before everyone had a cell phone, it must be worse now.
posted by shownomercy at 1:21 PM on June 19, 2009

I went without a cellphone from 2002 through 2008. Instead, I had Vonage, which costs $25 a month, unlimited.

The only problem I ever had was when a woman I was interested in became offended because I didn't reply to her texts (I never saw them, obviously).

Seriously though... one time, one problem. Aside from that, it was never an issue. I finally switched back to having a cellphone because Cricket is only $45 a month unlimited. For the extra $20 a month, I thought the convenience was worth it.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:36 PM on June 19, 2009

I carry a mobile phone with me all the time.

When it rings, I decide whether or not to ignore it. If I take it out, I look at the caller and decide whether or not to silence the call. At no point do I feel obliged to answer it. At all times I am fully in control. If I don't want to speak to them, then they leave a message with my voicemail.

As such I find it extremely odd that others feel like it runs their life. It's a tool to help me and I never have and never will be at it's beck and call.

Living without a phone is perfectly possible. Just remember that if you're running late or the plans for meeting up change, well then you're SOL as no-one will be able to get hold of you.

Depending on your age, where you live and your social life this may or may not be a big deal for you. For me, it would impact my social life quite significantly - but then I live in London.
posted by mr_silver at 1:48 PM on June 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

I lost mine and went without it for quite awhile and felt quite good about this. My boss finally bought me a new one after a weekend of trying to reach me. I now forget to charge it for days on end and I'm pretty comfy with that. I really only use it for meetups and the like.
posted by GilloD at 2:24 PM on June 19, 2009

The only people who will hate you are people who think their need to reach you 24/7 is more important than your need to live as you please, and people who need to reach you for something urgent (important or not.) And, let's face it, with cell phones you can have it and not hear it, or not be in a coverage area, so you always have a plausible reason for being unreachable -- so how rationally mad could they get?
posted by davejay at 2:39 PM on June 19, 2009

I was cell-less (immobile?) til a year and a half ago. 99% of the time I got no grief about it, and the only times it was inconvenient for me were when I'd go into NYC, and even then I could usually get by with payphones, good planning, and occasionally bumming friends' phones. As other have said, though, functioning payphones are rapidly disappearing. I can usually find one in the city or at big truckstops, but anywhere else you're pretty much out of luck.
posted by hippugeek at 3:25 PM on June 19, 2009

I have one friend who doesn't have a cell phone. He is also a bit of a flake. This is a bad combination. So I would say if you are going to go phoneless, you will either stay on top of plans and be punctual, or you will annoy the people who try to make plans with you.

Waiting around for someone who might not even show up and being unable to reach them sucks.
posted by aubilenon at 4:34 PM on June 19, 2009

FWIW, I consider my mobile phone to an accessory for my convenience, not those of the people phoning me. I've turned off voice mail and I don't answer most of the calls I get. I never ever send texts because I HATE THEM. I also set the phone to vibrate instead of ring unless I'm outside.

I found the whole phone thing to be a lot less stressful when I stopped treating it as an obligation.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:35 PM on June 19, 2009

One good friend of mine doesn't have a cell phone. I don't consider it an inconvenience, and as far as I know, neither does anyone else in our circle of friends (30s to early 40s). But then, we're pretty good about making plans in advance and sticking to them (and we were even when said friend did have a cell phone, so it's not as if we changed our habits to accommodate him).

My parents have cell phones but always leave them off unless they are either making a call or specifically expecting a call. If you want a "trial period" you could do something like that.

(My personal attitude towards my cell phone is identical to mr_silver's above.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:45 PM on June 19, 2009

I'm a bit of a contradiction-- I'm an absurdly tech-savvy person, work in IT, and keep up with all the latest trends...

....but I don't own a cell phone. My social friends hate me for it.

Part of it is that I'm devastatingly underpaid, but moreover I can't justify the purchase from a logical point of view.

The argument I make is generally, "If I'm going to only make a few calls a month, why pay $500+ a year on a phone when I could pay $60 for the same convenience with Skype and Google Voice?"

I've noticed that when I explain this to friends and family, they can identify with the logic (especially when seeing how cheap VOIP has become). They listen to the viewpoint, smile, nod and walk away. But I get the feeling that later, they're resentful they can't contact me at any given point in the day.

I've also been told that as a result of not owning a cell phone I'm less socially "active" than I should be. Friends have to generally schedule social activities with me in advance rather than springing them on me when I'm at an ATM. The big secret is that I actually prefer this. Shh! I like planning my evenings.

All in all, though, I'm fine with being without a cell phone. I use Skype when I need to make a call from home, and my work phone is great for making calls from work. Google Voice gives my friends a way to contact me no matter what location I'm at. With these solutions, I'm covered 95% of the day. And I'm glad I don't feel the need to compulsively be available for that last 5%.
posted by Bard09 at 10:24 PM on June 19, 2009

Will people hate me for being hard to communicate with?

posted by radioamy at 7:51 PM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for everyone's comments.

I do realise it may be a bit awkward socially and am willing to accept that.

I think I'm going to give it a go for a few weeks and see how it goes. I can divert the mobile to my landline with an answering machine, so I should get the calls eventually.
posted by curious_yellow at 7:16 AM on June 28, 2009

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