When I started writing this article it had been almost exactly a month since the end of my ~2-month trip around Southeast Asia. But sometimes life gets in the way. Now that I'm actually getting around to publishing this, it's been almost 2 months since I returned to the U.S with a broken phone, and no U.S sim card.
To be clear, I only kind of went this long without a phone. After about a week at home, I bought a Huawei Mate SE (probably would not recommend) but I still have not purchased a sim card for it, so it functions essentially as an iPod touch (throwback).
I still haven't decided if I'll continue this experiment indefinitely, but it's been enlightening to get away from the constant connectivity that our phone provides us with.
Why go a month without a phone?
When I tell people I am doing this experiment, I often get pushback on why I would want to go without a phone. I'm far from a Luddite. I'm a software engineer living in San Francisco, the epicenter of tech in the U.S. But that's the all the more reason that I have an increasing need to find ways to disconnect.
While I was traveling, it was easy. You're busy all day. You actually have to go out of your way to find time connect.
Here, it's the opposite. I play on a computer all day. Even without cellphone service, I have wi-fi far more often than is probably healthy. And besides...who doesn't like fun, weird challenges? This experiment is no doubt in part motivated by my desire to be different and interesting.
And so far, it's worked. It gives you something to discuss when people ask you for your phone number (more on that later), it leads to funny stories about that time you couldn't call an uber because you weren't connected to the internet.
Feeding yourself unique inputs like forgoing a cell-phone plan leads to unique outputs.
How to live the no phone life
I'm shocked by how easy it's been to go without a cell phone. I'm still connected to the internet for most of my day. I spend most of my waking hours at the office or my apartment - both of which have more than sufficient wi-fi.
The biggest hack I used to adjust to the "no-phone" life was to set up an account on google voice that allows me to have a phone number that essentially acts like any other. I can make calls, text, etc whenever I have wi-fi.
This was not essential for communication between friends (most people I know use Facebook messenger anyways), but for creating accounts and calling businesses that haven't quite caught up to Facebook Messanger.
I was pretty shocked by how many products require a phone number in order to create an account. I actually got temporarily locked out of my venmo account as well as my bank account because I couldn't access my old number.
I have to admit - these instances of getting locked out of accounts were extremely inconvenient. There were times where I thought about ending the experiment there and then. But now that I'm over it, it seems so small. I just called them with my google voice number and got over it 😉
The only other problems typically arise when trying to figure out the logistics of meeting people. People have become accustomed to planning ad-hoc in the cellphone era. The days of setting a meeting place and time are in the past.
"I'll text you when I get close" is the defacto plan employed by most of my friends (and me when I stil had a phone!). This doesn't quite work without a cellphone. You have to plan ahead. And every time that I don't, I'm reminded of the consequences.
Most of the time it's fine. But I've done more desperately running around trying to find friends or wi-fi than I care to admit.
But in a weird way...these inconveniences are the fun part. This is where the unexpected outputs and funny stories come from.
Now hopefully I haven't sold you on quitting your phone bill right here & now...
I'm honestly not sure if the costs are worth it. There are probably people that texted my old number that I never responded to. I might be slightly less social because of it. Because of how our families phone plan works I'm not sure if we're even saving any money because of it.
The main reason that I've continued the experiment this long is probably just laziness.
But it does make me think. If I can get used to not having a phone...what else can I get used to? How many things do I commit time and money to that are not actually making me measurably happier?
I thought I started this experiment to distance myself from technology. But in reality, I think it was actually about questioning the status quo and reexamining assumptions. It was about discipline and committing to something. It was forcing myself to adapt to the normal.
So don't quit your phone. It's probably not worth it. It's an inconvenience to others. It will make me feel less unique. But do experiment and explore and try weird things that no one else is doing.
Thanks for reading.