Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to Live Without a Cell Phone

How to Live Without a Cell Phone

Why would anyone ditch their cell phone?
We see more advertisements in one year than people of fifty years ago encountered in their entire lifetime.

In 1971, the average American saw 560 advertisements per day.

Today, we see around 3,000 advertisements per day. What’s more, we now encounter around 5,000 distractions by constantly checking messages from phones, emails, IM’s, wall posts, tweets and more.

This is a massive increase; an increase that is not healthy–and yet, we’re still adding more and more distractions to our lives. We’re now adding iPhones, iPad’s, iPods and anything else to drive our dopamine-driven lives.

The human mind has 60,000 thoughts per day. In 1971, distractions controlled about 1% of our minds; today, advertisements and distractions control 13.33% of our minds. With distraction, and multitasking, your pre-frontal lobe falls into a sleepy, deteriorating state. As your distractions increase, your intelligence, focus and mood decreases.

In an effort to extricate myself from this growing trend, I decided to give up my cell phone.

What living without a cell phone feels like
Whenever you go on a relaxing vacation to a tropical destination, the first couple of days are a struggle–a struggle because there’s typically no cell phone service or internet. It’s odd, and almost unbearable. After the initial withdrawal from the digital world, life feels great. Life feels peaceful. There’s no phone, or distraction that enables you to stop what you’re doing and shift your focus.When you’re waiting in line, you’re not burying yourself into the digital cesspool or app store, you’re forced to interact with your surrounding environment. You suddenly become aware of everything around you.

This is how I live my life every single day. I duplicate the environment one typically experiences when on vacation. I do this in order to become a more focused, action-oriented person. I also do this in order to better enjoy life.

You can travel the world and live a nomad lifestyle; however, if you’ve still got an iPhone or clients buzzing at you constantly, you’ve escaped nothing. You’re just asking for attention.

You can live in New York City without a cell phone and gain more peace-of-mind than you could if you were in Argentina with an iPhone and needy clients barking at you.

My experience thus far
In a prior chapter I discuss my decision to ditch my cell phone. It’s been about a half-year since I’ve ditched my cell phone, and it’s been both wonderful, and weird. You have to learn to react differently in simple situations. It’s like writing with your left hand. At first it feels weird, but over time it expands your mind and increases focus. As discussed in the concept of flow, this type of activity significantly stretches your mind.

If you want to add both peace and challenge back to your life, ditch your cell phone.

For an example on the challenge, I was meeting up with my family at a hotel. I got to the building where they were staying, and suddenly it hit me–I had no idea what room they were in. In front of me sat about 14 rooms. And I had no cell phone. In the past, I’d simply make a quick call or text to figure it out.

Now, in front of me sat not 14 rooms, but 14 possibilities. So what did I do? I knocked on all 14 doors, and told 13 people, “Sorry, wrong room.” It was fun. It was simple. It got the job done. But this type of activity definitely takes a commitment. It’s not easy. At all.

Pro’s to a cell phone-free life:

More productive
Better peace of mind
Allows you to focus on what’s really important; not get distracted with tweets and noise
Sense of humor (when in a stressful situation, you laugh because of the path you’ve decided to take. You take a joyous approach to life)
Con’s to a cell phone-free life:

Prevents simple fixes (like the quick communication above)
Can be dangerous if you don’t have it with you all the time
Can be ineffective if not leveraged right
10 Tips for Giving Up Your Cell Phone
1. Have a replaceable object
For a year and a half an iPhone always sat in my left pocket. After ditching my phone, it felt weird. It felt as if I was missing something. Obviously, I was. So instead of simply abandoning a device in my left pocket, I rotate different objects in there as needed: business cards, an iPod Shuffle (for audiobooks), notepad, note-cards or whatever’s needed at that time. Even though the feeling of forgetting something is all in my mind, having a replaceable object allows me to act as if I’m not missing a cell phone.

2. Have an emergency phone
Much like a fire extinguisher sits in a case, and is cracked open only upon emergency, so too is the nature of your emergency phone. It’s dangerous to not have a way of contacting anyone in case of emergency (i.e. car accident, car breakdown, etc.) For this reason, I recommend purchasing an a la cart phone plan from Virgin Mobile or Boost Mobile. Activate it, and leave it in your car turned off. If there’s an emergency, call with it.

3. Brace yourself
You’re going to encounter situations where you really need your cell phone to the point where it pisses you off. After a while, though, stressful situations will become humorous. Stressful situations without a cell phone teaches you to have a profound level of patience and trust. For instance, if you’re meeting someone at a restaurant, and they’re late, you just have to trust that they’re on their way. With my wife, we’ve established an unspoken trust that we’ll show up. And whenever we meet up, we meet up. We stick to our word of where we’ll meet, and trust that the other shows up. It’s a lot more peaceful this way.

4. Have a system in place.
If you’re really going to ditch your cell phone, don’t go into it blindly. Map out a system that actually works–a system that allows you to free yourself from the cell phone’s distractions.

My system:

When at work, I use my work phone for work related items
When on the road, I have an emergency cell phone (that sits in my car)
When at home, I use Skype or the house phone
Most people use their cell phones throughout all of those stages outlined above. They’re constantly racking up bills. Most people now reason that there’s no need for a house phone, or work phone. When you’ve got your cell phone, you can use it anytime, anywhere and now, for anything.

When you ditch your cell phone, you make a decision to compartmentalize your life. Additionally, you can leverage Google voice to catch your messages, transcribe them, and allow you to determine what needs to get done with that. Google voice (get a google voice account that emails you who called you, so that you can call them back on a work phone or a house phone whenever you’re ready to make the call). Use google voice to send text messages from your computer to their phones.

5. What about your friends?
It’s hilarious watching people’s reactions when you tell them you don’t have a cell phone–especially when you’re in the tech industry like myself. People exclaim, “What? How? Why?”

We’ve grown so reliant on cell phones that it’s somehow unthinkable to not have a cell phone.

They ask, “What about your friends? Do you just abandon your relationships?”

Obviously, ditching your cell phone bars your friends from having constant, immediate and never-ending access to you. However, when you ditch your cell phone, you’re not ditching your friends. You’re simply compartmentalizing your life and setting boundaries. You’re setting yourself up for a time where you can pay the attention that friends deserve–focused attention; not attention while multitasking.

When transitioning to a cell phone-free lifestyle, I recommend getting an account with Google Voice. Here’s the process I underwent:

Set up an account with Google Voice
Set up a cell phone message that explains your recent decision to ditch your cell phone. Here’s mine: “In order to become a more focused and productive person, I’ve decided to forego all inbound calls; however, leave your name, number, and a sweet little message, and I’ll get back to you at the appropriate time.” (Obviously, you can term it however you want).
Google Voice then transcribes your cell phone and emails you their message
Email your contact or call them back via your house or work phone when you have the time that your friend deserves
Even better, set up a time for you guys to meet up in person
This will ensure a transition that isn’t ineffective and one that doesn’t simply block calls. Plus it prevents you from needing to create a Facebook group explaining your transition. That annoys everyone, anyways.

6. Call everyone back
Just because you’ve ditched your cell phone doesn’t mean you forgo the responsibility of calling people back. Because Google Voice allows you to receive voice mails via email, I recommend chunking your phone calls into one-time windows scattered throughout the day. This likens itself to email batching (email batching is a topic I’ll be covering later).

7. The secretary syndrome
If you have a wife, tread carefully when ditching your cell phone. Try not to make her feel like a secretary. Don’t do what I did. I was selling something on Craigslist and I gave them my wife’s phone number. She was pissed. She felt like a secretary. Additionally, my parents called her to get a hold of me; that’s not a very sustainable system.

For your parents or people that will actually call your significant other to get to you, make sure they understand your new system.

8. Meet up with people in person
If you’re making a business deal, or meeting someone and they’re local, don’t half ass it through an email or even a cell phone call. I’ve gotten about four deals done in the past month because we met up in person, it allows you describe ideas, map out ideas in person and get things done. If you want to be more efficient, as well as effective, I recommend meeting up in person. Tweeting and IM chatting will only get you so far in business. Even if you work in the web realm like myself.

9. Offline activities
Replace cell phone activities with mind-expanding activities. If your habit centered on making calls on your commute to work, replace this with a book on tape or audio CD. You can even get entire courses on tape–for free–for more information check out my chapter on hacking education.

10. Baby steps
Obviously this chapter is going to humor some, but most aren’t going to take action and actually ditch their cell phone. It’s still ingrained in our minds that it’s unthinkable–and for some, due to their work nature, it is unthinkable. What I suggest is at least experimenting by giving up their cell phone for a day or two. Or, if you have an iPhone, ditch the dataplan and try your hardest to use it as simply a phone. Try some experiments with your communication devices in order to become aware of how ditching your cell phone can result in nowness and awareness.


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