In October of 2011, my smart phone stopped taking a charge. I tried changing batteries to no avail — I could charge a battery in another identical phone and then get about 4 hours of use before my own phone died.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve probably spent $600 a year on replacement smart phones. That’s an easy $3000. My cell phone bill is over $100 a month, so that’s another $6000 I’ve spent on service. $9000 over 5 years is a solid used car, or 6 trips to Europe. And yet, giving up the always-on email and instantly available web browsing (not to mention fast text messaging and easy-to-access chat) seemed like a scary proposition. I run multiple businesses and have plenty of people constantly communicating with me — what would the effect be if I didn’t replace yet another broken smart phone?
So I made a plan: I drove to Walmart and looked at their prepaid flip phones. For $20 I picked up a tiny, ugly red LG flip phone. I tossed my T-Mobile SIM card from my dead smart phone into it, booted up, and I was back in business, although in what seemed to be highly disabled mode. No email. No web. No chat. SMS using the ancient T9 interface.
At first, it was difficult — the withdrawal from always-available data seemed like it was going to hurt.
2 days later, I had forgotten about it. My cell phone now sat in my pocket. I wasn’t afraid to drop it. I’d look at the battery gauge and realized it was never going down. What few texts I received were easy to manage. If I wasn’t at an office or at home, I didn’t check email at all — plus, I have employees who handle that stuff anyway.
No chat means no micromanaging of projects from remote. No hassling my employees with constant questions. Responsibility was immediately delegated to those who are actively working on projects. What used to take me 3 hours a day via email and chat now took 0 hours, because I didn’t deal with it at all.
After a week, I still hadn’t charged the battery. On my old smart phone, it was constantly tethered to a cigarette lighter or an outlet or a USB port. Constantly. Sometimes I had to delay exiting where I was so I could get a few percent more charge before leaving. The battery dying in the midst of an “important” chat or email session felt threatening to my income. There was constant stress of waiting for a response that was so easily accessed.
Eventually, people who were used to getting a hold of me via email or chat started to send me text messages. Replying to them in the past was easy with a full touchscreen keyboard. With T9 and tiny chiclet buttons, my responses became shorter and shorter. Often times, I would just respond “email you tomorrow.” After a few weeks, I started texting “call me.”
Then it hit me: the telephone call. My smart phone was decent at phone calls, but not great. It dropped calls on occasion. Sometimes, conversations would break up. With the flip phone, I never dropped a call, never had cut conversations. And I realized something else: my conversations were direct, with both parties focused on it. How many times had I texted or chatted or emailed someone back when my mind wasn’t focused on their issue or need? How often have I conversed with someone through instant messaging where they weren’t focused on me?
As the weeks progressed, I realized some more things: people weren’t flaking on me when I talked to them on the phone, or even better: face to face. I wasn’t flaking on them. There’s something mysterious about instant messaging, be it chat, SMS or email: you’re not connected to the recipient. Pick up the phone, or schedule a face-to-face meeting, and relationships get stronger. There’s a binding through voice, it seems.
Now I’m heading into month #5 with my flip phone. Instead of 9000 texts, 2400+ emails and hundreds of chat records, I have some phone calls. I spend more time with people in person, even if it’s just for 30 minute coffee meetings, or 2 hour dinner dates. Relationships have gotten stronger. I talk to my mother and father more. I don’t burn my eyes on a tiny screen, and I’ve even started to fall away from email on my desktop PCs.
My cell phone re-buying cost of $600 per year is gone forever. If this phone breaks, there’s a $20 phone waiting to be bought, new in box, from Best Buy or Target. My $100 a month plan will fall to $30 a month or less — saving me $840 a year. Over 5 years, I’ll save somewhere in the realm of $7500. That’s $15,000 a decade. My business life has gotten better by connecting with clients over the phone, only. My love life is better because I can spend 5-10 minutes total on the phone every day actually connecting with a lady using our voices, our attentions on each other versus on the massive influx of digital communication flooding all of our inboxes. My friendships are closer. I feel closer to family than ever before.
I’m hooked. After 10+ years of using smart phones and their predecessor equivalents, I’m back to the days of the mid-90s. I’m communicating directly rather than through a number of servers. I’m not “instantly” available for anyone anymore if they aren’t fully available to make a call or stop by my offices or home.
This is good. This is closer to living.
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