Life Without a Cell Phone

Broken iPhone
About a year ago, I wrote on my blog:


Tragedy, or finally an excuse to get rid of “being always available” and get my life back?

I’ll probably just end up getting another cell phone, but it might be interesting seeing what happens in the meantime…

So, it’s been a year, and I still don’t have a cell phone, and it’s really great.

Why no cell phone?

Being a developer, I really need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get wired in and be productive. Having a cell phone quickly became a nightmare as I grew my client base. I would get a call every half a hour or so, and that was pretty disrupting to my work, since I had to start over 1,000 times, and right when I got back to work the phone would ring again.

Turning it off or worse yet not answer? People would accuse me that I was ignoring them on purpose, even if I’d call them back, and they’d say stuff like “what if it was an emergency! You’re not reliable”, bla bla bla.

All right, so what now?

When I decided to take the opportunity to drop the cell phone thing once and for all, I was a little scared. I was scared that clients would complain, and take their business elsewhere.

Then, I thought: all right, I might lose 50% of my clients, but I bet I’ll be at least 100% more productive, so I’ll still make the same amount of money (make sense somehow?)!

You know what happened? I didn’t lose a single client (and yes, I’m at least 100% more productive than I used to be).

Your cell phone is not your friend anymore

I remember that my dad had one of those huge cell phones in the 90’s, like the one in Wall Street.

In the meantime, I’d go out pretty much every day with my friends. No one had a cell phone. Somehow, we still managed to meet up every day.

After a few years, I got one of the first Nokia, but your cell phone was still your friend. You used it to meet up with friends, if you ran out of gas or got a flat tire, etc. In general, your cell phone was for your own benefit.

Then, something happened.

Maybe because everybody bought one—I don’t know—but having a cell phone (and of course you have to have one nowadays) started being about being reachable 24/7. That is, not for yourself, but for others: 10 PM on Sunday, 7 AM, doesn’t matter: you have to be there for others to contact you. Is that a good thing? I don’t know, but it’s what I hated most.

My cell phone wasn’t for me anymore but for clients, family, friends, banks and insurance reps, and strangers with the wrong number to contact me 24/7 about their own problems and needs, to the detriment of my need of not being interrupted.

Email is your friend

No cell phone meant having to find an alternative form of communication.

Of course, the first thing that came to mind was email, and Skype.

I love both. The main reason is that you can decide when to talk to people, without them getting offended that you’re ignoring them. While if you don’t answer the phone right away you’re ignoring them and not taking their call on purpose, no one complains if you reply to an email 20 minutes or even a few hours after you receive it. You can check your email while you’re taking a break, and in general communicate when you can and on your own terms.

In addition, with email, Skype, and Messages I’m pretty much always reachable, but they’re a lot less invasive than a cell phone (i.g. no ringing and vibrating), and most importantly no one expects me to reply right away—although I usually do—so if I’m not available it’s not a big deal.

So, I told everybody that I didn’t have a cell phone anymore, and to send me an email instead.

Why do people call you, and how can you still help them out?

Right after I broke my cell phone, I started thinking about it: what now? How will people reach me? Why do people call me usually? How can I address their problems in some other way?

Turns out, 99.9% of all calls I used to get were unimportant or useless. Especially since I started paying attention, I started noticing that most people called me for many reasons, but rarely because it was really important.

Because they’re bored

They have dead time like they’re driving, on the train, waiting for somebody, etc.

Obviously this is just a waste of time. No one ever sent me an email without an actual reason.

Because they’re lazy

They could solve their own problem, but it’s just easier to call you.

A good example that would happen to me a lot, people would forget their password and would call me to give it to them again. I then had to interrupt whatever I was doing (usually programming), and look through literally hundreds of emails or files. Thing is, I had just sent them the password a few days before, and it was still sitting in their inbox. With me unreachable, they would just figure it out for themselves (i.g. they would look in their inbox).

With email, people are lazier about writing the email than not trying to solve their own problem. I never got an email asking for a password.

Because it’s an emergency

This is one thing everyone mentions to me: what if it’s an emergency? Sure, you want to be available if there’s an emergency.

Thing is, I actually am.

I’m no more unavailable than when I used to have a cell phone: I’m virtually always connected, and check my email regularly. Of course I might have a meeting or be sleeping or whatever, but in those cases it’s not as if I was available when I had a cell phone.

In addition, in my case most emergencies turn out to be false alarms.

Before sending an email (again, it takes more effort), people now make sure it’s an actual “emergency”: your site is down!? How about Google..? Is Google down, too? Usually, yes.

Because they’re bored

Did I already mention this? Well, it happened a lot.

My life without a cell phone

So, how is my life without a cell phone, after 1 year?

It’s awful.

If I have to meet somebody at let’s say 6 o’clock and they’re late, I have to wait there and read on my iPad.

When I’m working, I actually have to work and finish what I’m doing, instead of taking a break every 10 minutes to pick up a call. As a consequence, I’m done working after 5 hours instead of 8, and I either have to find something else to do to feel productive, or have extra free time.

I don’t either ever get to know about people’s problems, or I get to know after hours, when it’s clear that it was a false alarm.

If I’m having dinner with my wife, I can’t keep my phone on the table and either play Ruzzle or pick up a call and start talking loudly or say that I’m having dinner and I can’t talk. I actually have to enjoy dinner and have a conversation.

I love it.

44 thoughts on “Life Without a Cell Phone

  1. Great post… just like you, my cell phone stopped working and I never bothered to replace it. I love going without a cell phone, and when people look at me like a freak I just ask, “do you have a cellphone?”

    They inevitably respond, “yes” then I let them know… “then we’re all set.” In other words, if somebody spontaneously combusts, I’ll just use yours — or the next guy’s, or the next, blah blah blah.

    However, I ported my old cell number to google voice, and I still send and receive text messages via the web. I don’t really miss anything about my cellphone. Or my car for that matter.

    Anyway, you’re a freak and I love it. Thanks for the read.


    1. Haha, thanks!

      I _am_ a freak. Actually, I even got a client because I’m weird. They said they thought it was crazy I didn’t have a cell phone, and called me in because they were curious to see if I was totally insane. Then, I got to work on their project :-)

      Google Voice would be awesome, I remember checking it out but it didn’t work in Italy…

    2. I have to disagree with you here:

      when people look at me like a freak I just ask, “do you have a cellphone?”
      They inevitably respond, “yes” then I let them know… “then we’re all set.” In other words, if somebody spontaneously combusts, I’ll just use yours — or the next guy’s, or the next, blah blah blah.

      If that scenario has ever happened and you ended up needing to use someone else’s phone, you are contradicting yourself. By purposely not owning a phone and still using someone else’s is silly. If you have ever done that, you need a phone. Acting like you do not is wrong.

      1. But it never happens…
        My last phone broke in 2006 and I never replaced it. I’m closing in on a decade of not ONCE being in a “spontaneous combustion” scenario.

      2. I don’t believe it necessarily means that they need a cell phone. I believe it means that they must think a little differently. At times, it may also mean that they must simply accept the way things turned out which means that a person must get used to not rescuing himself. The legwork in planning your day is required. But I also do not agree with borrowing someone else’s cell phone.

  2. Nice post.

    About emergencies, you only speak about when you need to be joined, not the opposite (car accident / …). But of course thanks to “everyone else” having a cellphone, it’s much easier to make an emergency call if something happens.

    1. Thanks, Bob!

      In Italy it’s bad luck to talk about having accidents, it might be the reason why I unconsciously didn’t mention that :-), but—definitely, the few times it was quicker to make a call I had people with me with a cell phone, and in case of emergency there would be somebody around.

      I’m also really pretty much always connected, I have wifi and an internet key, so really I could use Skype if I had to.

  3. I didn’t have a cell phone for a month and it wasn’t that bad.

    The only reasons I have a cell phone are for the GPS navigation, and to notify someone in case of an accident. Although I do rely a lot on cloud services for music while in the car, and to be able to move documents through my cloud services so that I can access them at work. I could live without everything else attached to a cell phone easily. For someone that hasn’t lived without one or even lived in the when landlines existed in everyone’s home. The thought of not having a cell phone can send them into a real panic attack. A cellphone is more of a connivence for me rather than a necessity.

    1. I was pretty scared when I decided I wouldn’t buy another one.

      Come to think of it, nowadays you can do everything if you have an internet connection (which I still do :-)), including emergencies, etc.

  4. Hi Niccolo,

    I would love to speak with you for a story we are putting together for Business Insider. Is there an email address where I can reach you?



    1. Hi Caroline, I don’t have a mobile phone and am looking for feedback on peoples views of this. I used to have one about 5 years ago and gave it up and have not looked back. I am 29 work in engineering, travel for work. I also manage my own property portfolio of rentals. I would rather not have one at all, as I believe they are procrastination devises and the mobile phone culture is harsh so I would not like to be involved in it. Past girlfriends have asked that I get one just for texts but I hate texts and the pressure others can put on you if you don’t respond in their time frame requirements. I find the discourse of a text mostly useless and the product of a board mind. Kind regards Manolito

  5. I quite my cell phone after I got out of the Navy and started college. With a family to support and other bills to pay, it didn’t take long before I realized how much of a necessity a cell phone wasn’t. So, along with some other non-essentials, the cell went by the wayside. I told myself I’d get another one after catching up on some bills and putting aside a little money.

    Well, I’ve since graduated, am back in the workforce, have put aside a nice little nest egg, I’ve even paid off a vehicle, and I still have yet to go and re-attach myself to one of those little cellular leashes. I’ve discovered the world is a beautiful place, and just a tad more mysterious, when every stray curiosity isn’t being indulged by 24-hour access to our pocket sized portals to the internet.

    1. I love “I’ve discovered the world is a beautiful place, and just a tad more mysterious, when every stray curiosity isn’t being indulged by 24-hour access to our pocket sized portals to the internet.”, feel exactly the same way :-)

  6. i went to jail for 7 months and my att bill went thru the roof…i think i owe them 2.3 gadzillon dollars (i had 7 lines)…so when i got out i got a cheap android handset and boost for a month. i quickly realized that 1. boost sucks and 2. the cheap android handset could run Talkatone for free and i can get a free phone number for texting and incoming messaging.

    yes i need a wifi but in a way i have a perfect (and free) blend of having no phone yet still having decent access…and btw i LOVED tfa nbrogi your points are spot on. i too am a developer and a musician (which with modern music production tools is very very similar to being a developer), and the time i now save not getting calls all the time is well spent on other much more productive activities.

  7. So your client calls were “unimportant and useless?”

    Your cell phone wasn’t your problem – you were the problem.

    This seems like just another hipster-ditches-tech thing.

  8. I am 64 my husband 65 and disabled. Once I figured out the the cell phone was controlling me and costing me so much money we had our land line re-installed. Cell phone had an accident and I turned it off. No more jumping every time it rang. I too worried about what about a car accident but then I thought I am a little old white haired lady. Who is not going to stop to help me? I love it.

  9. I’ve been without a cell phone for years now, due to the expense. I have NOT had a conversation at work with co-workers for EONS as everybody is eating and staring at their cellphone. That being said, I was standing in line, waiting to buy a cell phone for my son when it suddenly hit me. That little cell phone couldn’t have been devised better. It knows where U R, it knows your political opinions and what U buy. It’s not just a portal to the web, but another leash of the government and people PAY dearly for the experience.

    1. Yup agree …. no one needs to know how many times I go here or there or if I just want to feed birds n bunnies in a park. And we humans just cave and go along with this stuff and not really really think about it and what it costs us down the road. No people who think like this arent paranoid or whatever society labels it, its called reality. If people like cells ok cool but good of you to point out that this tuff is happening with cells, I mean seriously retina/fingerprints to unlock your phone? Guess where thats stored in a server which can be hacked. Too creepy for me.

  10. Niccolo ! Niccolo ! Niccolo!
    I would be willing to bet that you are Italian and your DNA is very familiar with the art of doing absolutely nothing and NOT feeling remotely guilty!
    You are a young man. I, on the other hand, remember well when NO ONE had a cell phone and LIFE was very different. Different does not imply better or worse … just different!
    I confess I do own and carry a . . . shhhh! ~ ‘secret’ cell phone ~ exclusively for automobile emergencies.

  11. I admit….I’m technology resistant. From the advent of the answering machine on, I’ve dragged myself (kicking and screaming) into one ‘advance’ after another. Sometimes it’s taken me years…..I just got my iPad, which has proven to be actually enjoyable, but I skipped the computer completely because it was just too much hassle. Ive (so far) still not bought into the cell phone phenomenon. It just irks me to think about always being available….or not. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the warmth of a human voice to reading a text message. And I like getting a WRITTEN letter in the mail amongst all the computer generated junk that isn’t only annoying but isn’t exactly tree-friendly either. Okay..I’m sure you get my point. Sometimes I just need to rave a little!

    1. I love talking to people. I’m actually very talkative, I just don’t like to be interrupted and in general talk on the phone. When I’m with people I hardly ever shut up.


    2. Letters in the mail are nice and you can keep them and read them….I kept letters from my grandma and no email can top that lol

  12. haha, i’ve been rarely using cell phone since at high school until now, but after get new experience about youth organization and fit in, i mean get the position on it. then happy or not, that condition make me to use daily. 7 days later i feel uneasy about it, i wanna be free again, :D

  13. Honestly, i’ve never understood the craze. My family wasn’t exactly rich, so we were never able to afford a cellphone for any of us. As such, i’m used to living without a cellphone, and I prefer it that way. I like being alone without people bothering me all the time, I like to be able to focus on not only work but the world around me, and I feel as though i’ve learned more by working to find answers rather than just having it all in my hand. Hell, i’ve only got a landline and I still get the “because they were bored” you speak of. Mom calls? Not an emergency. She just wants to talk about her patio for 5 minutes and then just ramble on about whatever is going on around her. Then she sits there and goes, “You’ve never talked much. All you ever say in these calls is ‘uh huh’ and maybe a grunt or two.” Gee, wonder why? I can’t exactly respond to you talking about some random guy’s jacket.
    It also annoys me how nobody leaves a message and lets it settle anymore. I could be busy taking a shower, but my landline would be ringing constantly. Then when I get out and finally answer it, it’s somebody who chews me out for not answering even though they have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING at all to talk about.
    I should also mention that I have used a cellphone before, yes. I’ve visited my mom for a time, and likewise, she has handed it to me and asked me to do certain things while she was busy. She had to walk me through it every time because I didn’t know what I was doing, the touchscreen irritated me, I hated the tiny screen, and I generally just didn’t like using it.
    I just wish it wasn’t so weird for me to not have a cellphone.

    1. “I just wish it wasn’t so weird for me to not have a cellphone.” you’d be sirprised how you can get used to no cell, its awkward at first but after the ‘withdrawl’ you will be ok ha! ha! Its kinda a guilt or peer pressure we feel if we dont have one….and ya thought that was finished in highschool lol

    2. Totally agree with you. Some of my clients actually texts me on my landline and shoot daggers at me because I didn’t answer back… “Why the f*ck were you texting me anyways? Can’t you just call?” It’s so much quicker that way…

  14. That’s amazing! People call me crazy for having neither cellphone nor Facebook (and really don’t intend to do any of both in the future). Of course, it’s annoying when people are late and you don’t know if you should wait for them but it’s so much more convenient to live without! When my mom went to the ER, I had her cellphone on me in case of real emergency (her state was really bad) but didn’t tell anyone but my sister and boyfriend that I had it on me and whenever I was home, I closed it (they all knew where to reach me anyways). So yeah, unlike most people I know, people without cellphones tend to actually enjoy life even more and do have a social life. I sometimes feel like the last one of my specie but thank you so much for proving that I’m not! :)

  15. You may find it interesting that I am a high school sophomore who has never owned a cell phone. Yet it has never really bothered me. I can’t honestly name one other person out of the 900 kids in my school who is in the same situation as me, because our lunch break is an eye opener to how reliant everyone is on their cell phones. Many of my friends are constantly checking their Instagram or texts while “talking” to me both inside and outside of school, and it honestly makes me hate technology more. Now, I am an avid user of computers and tablets for communication through email like you, but never have I ever dreamed of constantly having a portal to communication everywhere I go. I’m sure this will change when I am sent off into the real world, but for now, I am grateful for my lack of cellphone. And yes, I still have a content social life :)

  16. I’ve never owned a cellphone nor had facebook. Then email is my main way of communication.
    I received one on monday for a work interview which started as: “you didn’t write a phone number in your resume so i had to write you this email”. As i answered i confirmed that i wasn’t hiding my phone number it’s that i actually don’t have a phone. As no physical address was given i had to ask for it.
    I wonder if there’s really a problem with writing a complete email with all the information in it (as are those i usually receive). Some people have a hard time realizing there could be someone consciously choosing to not own a cellphone. As if somehow it’s impossible to live without one.

    I’m a physics teacher at high school and i find nothing special about my decision of living without a cellphone. Yet i’m really surprise as a colleague (philosophy teacher) choose to drop his after he became a father. Once her daughter was born he realized it was so easy to just text or call his girlfriend and tell some excuse to delay his arrival home. Without a cellphone he just went straight to enjoy his newly born girl… that made the kids at school gasp in astonishment. They thought, before knowing the full story, that the philosophy teacher was very irresponsible for not having a cellphone. Then they realized that it was the opposite… being fully devoted to his family.

  17. My phone got stolen couple of months ago. Haven’t got one yet and not planning on getting one either. Being a college student with no job at the moment, I can’t really afford one anyway, but life hasn’t been better I must say. At first no one believed me when I said I’m not gonna get one, since I’m 18, and most people I’m always around are about that age too. And of course you can imagine how social media = life, for people my age. But I’m loving the “can’t be reached anywhere but on e-mail” kinda tag. Also, I just moved to a new country, all alone. Haven’t really figured out the roads or transit here, but still stupidly deciding on not getting a phone anytime soon. Call me crazy! Also, I complete agree with everything you mentioned up there.

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