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Going Phoneless

Life in the 21st century without a cell phone
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Part of the equation that made going phoneless a reasonable possibility for me was the addition of Google Voice calling inside of Gmail. I have been using Google Voice for over a year, and I have been quite fond its voicemail transcription and SMS features. I can send and receive SMS messages for free from my Google Voice account, and if someone calls (and I don’t answer) their voicemails are transcribed and emailed to me!

The only missing detail, though, was the ability to make calls. But last month, Google added voice calling to Gmail. So now in addition to SMS and voicemails, I can make and receive phone calls, all from within a service I already use: email. (Okay, technically, I have to switch over to Voice to send an SMS.)

And even better, the service is free, and calls made within the US are free. So if you’re not making international calls, there is no cost whatsoever. But if you do make international calls, the rates are still pretty good.

For most people, I believe that Google Voice could, on its own, completely replace their phone service. In a future post, I’ll talk about why it’s only 80% of the equation for me, and why Skype makes up the last 20% of my plan.

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Monday, I was informed that my work contract ends October 1. That means that right as I’ve been getting started with the adjustment to no cell phone, I have the added stress of trying to make connections and find new work. But I’m not going to let that shake me!

I’ve already found a hidden benefit. Over the last year or more, I’ve had a Google Voice phone number connected to my cell phone, and that’s the number I used on my resume, and in all job-related communication, etc. All of those hundreds of recruiters who call every day aren’t calling me directly, they’re calling via Google Voice.

And last week, I set Google Voice to never ring my phone.

You might be a little confused now, and wondering why I’m not taking calls from recruiters if I need a job. Here’s why: When you’re looking for work you post a resume, and then you get dozens of phone calls every day from recruiters who don’t really have jobs, but who need to fill “call time” quotas for their jobs… so they ask you tons of questions about your background and ask for your resume and promise to get in touch if they have something.

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In other words, 90% of those calls are garbage, and if I answer them it becomes a huge waste of my time. But now, I never hear the phone ring, and my mood stays good. Google Voice emails me a transcript of their voicemail, and I can decide right away whether or not it’s worth it to call them back. (Over Skype.) But usually, they email too, so the whole phone thing becomes pointless.

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Among the reasons I listed for going phoneless, one was more presence in the moment. Instead of thinking about my Facebook or Twitter; instead of checking to see if I’ve missed a text message while my ringer was off; instead of losing my train of thought during a conversation every time the phone rings, I can concentrate more on the things I’m doing and the people I’m with.

I was Googling around the web to see who else had done this, and what their thought were, when I found the following gem. Scott Scheper at How to get focused writes:

Why have I elected to do this? Because of one thing: people. Life revolves around people. However, it does not revolve around me getting interrupted or distracted by people?or more importantly, by the internet and apps. One gets distracted by the internet already on the computer; why bring this distraction with them everywhere? My objective in giving up the cell phone is to become closer to people. If you called me today, you?d think my phone was disconnected. It has an annoying disconnect beep and no answering machine. I don?t get missed calls and I don?t get voice-mails. And it feels great.

When I was growing up, people used to sit around a dinner table, eating together and talking to one another. Now, everyone eats with one hand while texting with the other. I go out with friends and they’re all looking at their phones rather than at the person who is talking. I can’t change everyone, but I can change myself. And who knows? Maybe I can set a good example and spark a little change.

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It’s impossible to foresee how long I’ll be able to do this, or how successful I’ll be. For now it’s an experiment, and here’s how I’ll be doing it.

I still have several months left on my 2-year contract with AT&T, so I will be hanging on to my phone for a while. For the past week, I’ve just been exercising self-control, trying to only use the phone and internet when I’m in the presence of WiFi. This was in order to build new habits regarding phone use in general.

This week, I’m switching off the 3G and Cellular Data options, perhaps turning them on once at the end of the day to check for any missed text messages from people I still need to inform about my new contact information.

I have already begun giving my new contact information to people. I expect that by next week, I should feel pretty comfortable leaving my phone in airplane mode, or completely turned off… or even just leaving it at home.

Of course I will probably elect the “airplane mode” option so I can continue to use the iPod features and any apps I have on the phone. And I can switch off airplane mode when I’m in the presence of WiFi if I want to use the internet. This is also nice in case an emergency comes up and I need to use the phone… but I expect to find better alternatives for emergencies before long.

So far, I’m not really finding this to be terribly difficult. The biggest adjustment is how to deal with answering skype phone calls — especially when I’m at work. I’ll get to that in a future post!

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Why you read that I’m going phoneless, the first question you probably have is… Why?

During the week that led to my decision to try this, I made a list of several benefits of having no phone. Here’s what I came up with:

  • No more phone bill
  • No more cell phone contract
  • No roaming fees
  • No more international billing tricks
  • No more phone calls during dinner
  • No more being woken up in the middle of the night
  • No more being distracted by Facebook or Twitter or Foursquare every free moment
  • No more arguments about whether your Android is better than my iPhone
  • No more agnozing over which cell carrier to go with
  • No more checking my phone to see if I missed a text message
  • No more worry about brain cancer
  • Smaller carbon footprint
  • More freedom
  • More presence in the moment
  • More money left at the end of the month!

My AT&T contract with the iPhone data plan costs me almost $100 each month. Over one year that’s almost $1,200 — enough to buy a round-trip ticket to Europe. Need I say more?

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Technology now provides several means of communication, from chat and email even to voice and video, and all of them can be found free of charge. Moreover, connection to the internet is growing more pervasive every day, and in many cases can also be found free of charge.

Recently I’ve been considering the possibility of going through life without a cell phone and what that would mean. So I’ve decided to make an experiment of going phoneless. I’m going to try getting through life without a cell phone. I’ll try several alternative means of communication, of course. And I’ll document everything here.

I hope you find it enlightening!