Here’s what it’d been like to spend a year without a phone or social networking

On July 23, 2012, this was the last thing I posted on Facebook:

I wrote this song in honor of some horrible beer that Joe said he had in his fridge.

Does your beer just blow?
Does it taste like moldy dough?
Would you rather have a Pabst, would you rather have a ‘Bo?
If you toss it in your mouth is your stomach going south?
Does your beer
just
blow?

I closed my Facebook account shortly after posting this bit of sillyness, which a couple people told me was very likely to be my first hit song (alas, I never recorded it). I left my Twitter account open but didn’t post to it or read it for about 6 months until a couple days ago. And as if it wasn’t weird enough for a performance artist to stop using Facebook in this day and age, that was eight months after I decided not to continue to buy minutes for my pre-paid cell phone. So it’s been a year and five months since I owned a phone that could make or receive phone calls.

I’m not writing this to in any way imply that I’m “cool” or something. It’s not like I’m saying “I don’t even own a TV” or something like that. I’m not advocating anyone do this, and I don’t think I’m better than anyone for doing it. I just thought some people might want to know what it’s like to live in the 21st century without owning a working phone or use the online hangout that also contains approximately the entire frigging world.

This would possibly be more interesting if I had not used a phone at all, but a dude’s gotta work, and I also used my wife’s phone and Google voice occasionally to make what probably amounted to a couple dozen phone calls that I deemed to be really freaking important, like ordering pizza.

Anyway, let’s start with the phone, and why I ditched it:

I thought that people would stop using phones.

Okay, that’s a lie. But only just. I sort of thought that there would be something a bit more web-based available (there is) without being a major pain and hassle to use (there isn’t). Honestly the real reason is that I just couldn’t see the point and I thought it was a waste of money. I talk on the phone so rarely it’s absurd; I wouldn’t have used up my 1000 yearly minutes at all if my dad wasn’t so darn long-winded.

However, I didn’t realize just how many serious problems I’d run into. Here’s a sample:

1. At one point, I applied for an editing job and ended up needing to do my interview during my lunch hour on the phone at work.

2. It is virtually impossible to book a gig without a phone. I booked a couple through Facebook and e-mail, but even then I sometimes had to get to a phone to talk with the person.

3. How many delivery restaurants do you know that let you order online? In fact, the ways to do so that I’m aware of use things like mobile apps. That’s right: In order to use the internet to order delivery, you need a phone. In which case, you could just call them. This counts as a serious problem, because if I am ordering pizza instead of making it, something major is going on.

4. There were some products I could not buy and services I could not use online without supplying a valid phone number. Really. Sometimes I could get away with 410-555-5555, but not always. This was probably the most annoying thing. If you’re taking my money, it should be e-mail or phone number, or both voluntarily, but not both or no I can’t give you my money. There is no recourse for this. It’s just assumed that everyone has a phone number and they’re willing to give it out.

Luckily, the internet exists, so I was able to substitute e-mail to stay in contact with many people. Some people (a fellow musician, for instance) were surprisingly understanding about the situation, most not so much (a fellow musician, for instance). I get a bit of sniping from Lexa whenever I ask to use hers for something. It’s astonishing how much business simply can’t be conducted without a phone, though.

I’m not sure if the world is reluctant because reading is hard or because they don’t want everything in writing …

I’ve more or less decided to get a “phone” of some sort now, but maybe not in the traditional (er … or whatever) sense. I still think most data plans are a bit of a scam given the average person’s usage versus what they pay for; but at least they don’t charge for texting, which is a practice that I seriously think was part of my decision to stop giving my money to a cell company. Charging for texting has to rank as one of the biggest scams ever. Texts use up essentially zero bandwidth, because they piggyback on transmissions that are made all the time between cell towers. If you want to see just how much data a line of 100 characters is, create a .txt file in windows, type your message, and save it. Then view properties to see how big the file is.

The cost of these things (both the phone and the service) is still astronomical, and I die a little inside every time I hear about record profits made by these companies. Seriously. Apple has more cash on hand than, like, the rest of the world combined. Samsung’s not far behind. Some phone companies are rumored to make profits that approach triple digits, and they’re often the same company that gets away with providing internet service at speeds “up to” third-world speeds, and they’re not required to actually provide that to continue charging you for it. There’s no other utility that’s allowed to do this. Imagine if the electric company charged a flat rate each month.

Well, what about Facebook?

This one’s more complicated. I disagree with a lot of stuff about Facebook: It’s a closed system (non-searchable) on the internet, and a major gatherer of personal data. You get to use it for free and in return someone gets to make money off of you in ways you can’t control. It would be nice to say you pay for what you get, except that you can’t give Facebook money and have them agree not to sell your information or use it for targeted ads. I know Google does the same thing, and I’m an enthusiastic Google user. Somehow, of the two, Faceook bothered me more. Maybe it’s that friendly “don’t be evil” motto of Google. I also felt a little icky every time I used Facebook. This is hard to explain: the concept of self-advertisement bothers me. It bothers me when I promote my music, and it bothers me even more when I just post my opinion. It bothers me when other people do it, too. It’s like walking up to a bus stop and everyone’s having a conversation, except not with each other. If I stopped and thought about it for a moment, writing this blog post should bother me, except that I’ve gotten better at not caring as much recently by writing more and more into a vacuum. If people are reading this blog (and I glance at the stats — I’m human), they aren’t commenting, so I usually feel safe assuming no one’s reading the full posts. I do go on a bit.

At the time I gave up Facebook, I did so because I actually — I am not making this up —

I thought giving up Facebook would make me more sociable in person.

This one’s not a lie. I figured that if I didn’t read all my friends’ status updates, I would have a reason to hold a conversation with them when I saw them in person. That didn’t happen. It turns out I’m still scared of people, even ones I know, in person, and all that happened was I stopped interacting with many people entirely. There are friends — reasonably close friends — I go months without talking to. Heck, I apparently went about 4 months without talking to Jen at all, and she’s one of my bandmates (besides being a friend).

I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do about Facebook. The privacy concerns really do bother me, but I worry that I’m such an antisocial person overall that it’s going to make me neurotic. I don’t like wasting my time (neither does this guy), but I also don’t like that what I consider one of the only reasonable ways for me to stay connected feels like a waste of time. I don’t like that Facebook is necessarily reciprocal (unlike Twitter), but I also don’t like that Twitter is very few “real” people.

Anyway, that’s some insight into an experiment that I don’t really recommend other people try.

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One response

  1. […] of technology. On my personal blog, I wrote a post about what it was like to spend an entire year without owning a phone and without touching Facebook and the like (though 6 months I cheated and posted to Twitter). I still don’t own a phone, not even a […]

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