Why I Got Rid of My Cell Phone

Robin Greenfield tossing his phone in the air.
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I remember sitting in the living room of my apartment in San Diego in the summer of 2012. My friend Greg had just gotten rid of his smart phone and traded it in for an old school flip phone. It looked so inconvenient to use. Texting looked like a burden, as did having to call in to listen to voicemails. It did not have access to the Internet. It made me nervous just to think about trying to use that thing to get my work done and keep in touch with friends. I thought I couldn’t live my life without a smart phone.

However, I was extremely intrigued. I was feeling burned out by my iPhone at the time. Even though it was such an awesome tool in my life, it did drain a lot of my energy. I could see the freedom that Greg had just attained in his face and it excited me. I thought that maybe one day I would follow in his path but I thought there was no way that I could do it now. I was running a business and I needed the constant connection to employees, customers, and information. Greg even talked about not owning a phone at all. Wow, I thought, that would be amazing! I could barely fathom actually doing that though.

Fast forward two and a half years to the fall of 2014 and I still had my iPhone (probably not the same one as I had likely upgraded a few times by then). But I was starting to realize I could do without it. I had taken some trips without my phone and learned that it is possible to travel without one, both in my own country and abroad. These phone-free travels were some of the most liberating moments of my life. The presence I felt was something I found unattainable with the divided attention of having a second life in my pocket. At home, I was still pretty much connected at the hip to my phone.

I wanted that freedom that I felt on the road to be a permanent part of my life so I decided to try it out. But before jumping off the deep end and getting rid of my phone I just shut it off and put it in a dresser drawer. I tested out life without my cell phone for about a month and by the end of it I had seen that I could do it. I didn’t downgrade to a flip phone like Greg had, instead I decided to just to take the leap of faith and go phone free. After having the same number for ten years I called up my wireless company and told them I was done with it.

That was seven months ago in January of 2015 and I have been elated with my decision to live a cell phone free life. I’ve been making leaps and bounds towards living a life full of happiness, health, and freedom and this is one of the hundreds of changes I’ve made to live a more connected and conscious life. I’m not sure if I’d have understood this myself five or ten years ago, so I’d like to share the reasons why I decided to ditch my cell phone.

  1. I found that I was basically addicted to my phone. If it was in my pocket I was looking at it whether it was scrolling Facebook, texting, emailing, or diddling around on one of the 50 or so app’s on there. It was often the first thing I looked at upon waking up and the last thing before going to bed. It was to the point where I was using it even when I didn’t want to be. I couldn’t control myself. After I got rid of it, I was surprised that I didn’t have withdrawal symptoms. This leads me to believe that I wasn’t addicted, but rather just stuck in an extremely habitual process. I tried to break that habit while owning a phone but it just didn’t work. The only means that I found successful was to be far from my phone, like in another country. In this manner I didn’t need self-control because I didn’t have a choice to fall into the finger tapping habit. Getting rid of my phone meant I no longer had an option for this addictive like behavior.
  2. When I owned a phone I had very little down time in my day. I was constantly connected to my phone and wasn’t taking enough time to see what was right in front of me. There was no end of the day when it came to work. There was not nearly enough time to truly unwind and relax. Instead, I was constantly going. I knew then and I know now that is not good for my health.
  3. Having my cell phone divided my attention between where I physically was at the moment and all the social opportunities that lay behind the screen. Rather than having truly present conversations with whom I was with or just being present with my environment I was either thinking about other things I could be doing or on the phone semi-oblivious to what was actually going on around me. Now with no phone I am much more often present where I am and I am much more connected to the people I’m with and the environment that I’m in.
  4. I was dependent on it. My cell phone had so many functions that it was interwoven into so many areas of my life. It was my alarm clock, my clock, my email, my access to information, my directions around town, my connection to friends, my place to make notes, my access to my finances, and it goes on. This is a great tool, but I found that I was dependent on it for so many tasks and I felt that I was less of a functioning human with a phone that provided instant answers and access to everything. I want to be a problem solver, but that thing solved all the problems for me, weakening the important skills I’d worked on for so long.
  5. It made me less social. I found that when I was in an uncomfortable social situation, I would just whip out my phone so that I would seem like I was occupied. Without a phone I now engage in conversation with people rather than text and scroll. I also ask people for directions now instead of looking at my screen, which is an excellent way to experience the human race. I don’t think that the phone really satisfied my desire for connection to others and now that I don’t have a phone I find myself much more friendly and connected to strangers. Call me old fashioned I guess.
  6. My sleep wasn’t as good as it had been in the past. I learned that screens stimulate my mind and throw off my natural sleep patterns. The solution to this was to turn off the phone a few hours before bed but I didn’t have the self-control to do this so I often found myself sleeping poorly because I’d stimulated my mind too close to going to bed. This is the case with any screen and I’m still working on this one with my computer but now I only have one device to overcome at least.
  7. I also learned the environmental impact of our electronic gadgets. The mining of all the raw materials is extremely taxing on the environment and I don’t believe we’re going to be able to go on like this forever. We live on a finite planet and I believe that it can’t provide for us all to have our own of everything. I also learned the mundane and unfulfilling work that people are doing in factories to put together these gadgets. Much of it for ridiculously low paying wages. Environmentally and socially this industry is not something I want to be immersed in. I don’t know if I’ll ever remove myself completely, but getting rid of my phone was a huge step in the right direction for me. The Story of Electronics opened my eyes to all of this.
  8. In the past, I always wanted to have the newest version. I was constantly upgrading my phone, my iPad, and my computer. It wasn’t enough just to have a smart phone. I needed the newest one. This constant upgrading meant constant spending. The accessories would change with the new version of the phone, which meant even more spending. I learned about perceived obsolescence from the Story of Stuff and this was exactly what was happening to me. I was taking part in a society that judges each other based on our possessions and in my mind newer was always better. I perceived that my gadget was no longer the best, the coolest, the fastest, etc. so I bought the newest one even though I knew that I didn’t really need it. That is a part of society that I am walking away from.
  9. There was also the planned obsolescence. I learned that gadgets like our phones are designed to decrease in function within a short amount of time. These phones have not been built to last; rather they are built to be obsolete in a few years, requiring us to buy a new one. This is capitalistic corporations at their finest (or worst depending on how you look at it). When I had version 5 of the iPhone I remember giving my friend a hard time about having version 3 because it ran slow. I called it archaic after it was just a few years old. I constantly influenced her to upgrade. This is exactly what these companies want.
  10. Between my cell phone bills, planned and perceived obsolescence, and the desire for all sorts of accessories, I was spending a lot of money. My cell phone bill alone was over $100 a month, which was over $1,200 per year. I calculated that in all the time that I used cell phones I spent over $15,000. Spending money means going to work and I decided there were many other ways I’d rather spend my time than working to pay for my cell phone. I’ve applied this thought to most of my life and currently do not have a monthly bill to my name.
  11. I really disliked being on the phone with customer service. In an ideal world everything would have functioned perfectly all the time and I never would have had to call in. That was far from the case though. On a personal level I really didn’t like spending my time dealing with technical issues, asking why my bill was so high, or complaining about my bad service. But what was worse was that I was not always kind to the person on the other end of the line. I found that to be the case with a lot of customer service agents that I talked to and I decided I didn’t want to be short with these people any more. Not having to talk to them anymore was the most efficient and effective way to do that.
  12. Besides the time that my phone sucked out of me by way of me actually using it, I found that it, among other electronics, wasted my time in other ways too. The apps and software constantly needed upgrading consuming my time. With one gadget this might not have been a big deal, but I didn’t have just one and most of the people I know don’t either. I also spent a lot of time syncing all the devices I had together. Theoretically all these devices are designed to save time but I’ve found that with all factors considered they take more of my leisure time away than they create for me.

The day I got rid of my phone I looked around and nothing had changed. The earth was still spinning. My friends were still my friends. I was still alive. I patted my chest and I was still there. Over the last few years I’ve taken a handful of leaps of faith and found this to be the case every time, just like when I got rid of my car, or traveled without money for the first time. What I thought was the impossible was actually quite possible.

But just because I’m cell phone free, doesn’t mean that I’m unreachable. I’m very reachable actually via the internet. I have a google voice number which is a beautiful thing. Google Voice is a free service that offers unlimited calls and texts, both in going and out going as well as a voicemail. You even get your own phone number. All of this goes through your Gmail account which is great for me because this puts all of my communications in one place. It’s such a streamlined system that nobody even knows you don’t have an actual cell phone. People are confused often about how they are calling me when I say I don’t have a phone. So I have everything I need, for free, but most beautiful of all is that I get to choose when I’m connected and when I’m not via wifi rather than being constantly connected via cell phone towers.

Here are my suggestions to any of you who may be feeling similar to me but don’t want to go phone-free yet.

  1. Turn your phone and computer off for an entire day at least once per week.
  2. Turn off all screens at least one hour before bed.
  3. Wait at least 30 minutes after waking up to turn on any screens. If you use a your phone as your clock or alarm clock next to bed, then get a little clock to replace it.
  4. Leave your phone at home or at work when you go out for a walk, for lunch, etc. This will break up your constant connection and give you some time to be present with your surroundings.
  5. When you are having a meal with family or friends, turn your phone on silent and be present with your company and your meal.
  6. De-clutter your phone and delete all the unnecessary apps. Work on downsizing the amount of unnecessary things you do on your phone.
  7. If you travel internationally leave your phone at home or put your phone on airplane mode so that you only use it when you have Wi-Fi.

My greatest piece of advice to anyone who wants to experience true freedom is this:

One day in the very near future leave your house in the morning with just the clothes on your back and empty pockets. No phone, no money, no credit cards, absolutely nothing. Spend a day immersed in your community and see what comes your way that day. You’ll know that if it becomes too challenging for you that you can always just go home, so you have no need to worry. You will likely see life in a new manner and it may be one of the more enlightening days you’ve had as of late. I’m confident it will be a day of true growth for you.

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