In October of 2011, my smart phone stopped taking a charge. Â 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. Â That’s an easy $3000. Â My cell phone bill is over $100 a month, so that’s another $6000 I’ve spent on service. Â $9000 over 5 years is a solid used car, or 6 trips to Europe. Â 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. Â 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. Â For $20 I picked up a tiny, ugly red LG flip phone. Â 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. Â No email. Â No web. Â No chat. Â 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. Â My cell phone now sat in my pocket. Â I wasn’t afraid to drop it. Â I’d look at the battery gauge and realized it was never going down. Â What few texts I received were easy to manage. Â 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. Â No hassling my employees with constant questions. Â Responsibility was immediately delegated to those who are actively working on projects. Â 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. Â On my old smart phone, it was constantly tethered to a cigarette lighter or an outlet or a USB port. Â Constantly. Â Sometimes I had to delay exiting where I was so I could get a few percent more charge before leaving. Â The battery dying in the midst of an “important” chat or email session felt threatening to my income. Â 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. Â Replying to them in the past was easy with a full touchscreen keyboard. Â With T9 and tiny chiclet buttons, my responses became shorter and shorter. Â Often times, I would just respond “email you tomorrow.” Â After a few weeks, I started texting “call me.”
Then it hit me: the telephone call. Â My smart phone was decent at phone calls, but not great. Â It dropped calls on occasion. Â Sometimes, conversations would break up. Â With the flip phone, I never dropped a call, never had cut conversations. Â And I realized something else: my conversations were direct, with both parties focused on it. Â How many times had I texted or chatted or emailed someone back when my mind wasn’t focused on their issue or need? Â 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. Â I wasn’t flaking on them. Â There’s something mysterious about instant messaging, be it chat, SMS or email: you’re not connected to the recipient. Â Pick up the phone, or schedule a face-to-face meeting, and relationships get stronger. Â There’s a binding through voice, it seems.
Now I’m heading into month #5 with my flip phone. Â Instead of 9000 texts, 2400+ emails and hundreds of chat records, I have some phone calls. Â I spend more time with people in person, even if it’s just for 30 minute coffee meetings, or 2 hour dinner dates. Â Relationships have gotten stronger. Â I talk to my mother and father more. Â 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. Â If this phone breaks, there’s a $20 phone waiting to be bought, new in box, from Best Buy or Target. Â My $100 a month plan will fall to $30 a month or less — saving me $840 a year. Â Over 5 years, I’ll save somewhere in the realm of $7500. Â That’s $15,000 a decade. Â My business life has gotten better by connecting with clients over the phone, only. Â 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. Â My friendships are closer. Â I feel closer to family than ever before.
I’m hooked. Â After 10+ years of using smart phones and their predecessor equivalents, I’m back to the days of the mid-90s. Â I’m communicating directly rather than through a number of servers. Â 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. Â This is closer to living.
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