IN the late summer of 2012, my income slowed down to a meander while expenses began to mount up as I officially started at the University of Illinois as Chicago (UIC). While I refused to accept the common student life stereotypes of living off of ramen noodles and cleverly finding ways to squeeze a few extra bucks out of my parents – I’m nearly 30 and married, that ship certainly has sailed – I knew I had to pinch a few more pennies to make ends meet and free up some of the burden on my wife. Thus, I gave up my Samsung Galaxy SII Skyrocket for a “dumb” phone.
The deciding factor in the battle of keeping vs dumping my smart phone was the cost. By simply dropping my data plan, I was able to cut my bill in half, freeing up an estimated $600+ for the year. Granted that didn’t even cover the cost of books for one semester, it was still a huge help. Unfortunately, I discovered that if you drop your data plan from your contract, you can’t even use the smartphone registered to your contract, at least not with AT&T, and I was forced to get a new phone as a result. I wasn’t eligible for an upgrade and I didn’t want to pay $200 for a flip phone, so I went online to http://www.recellular.com/ and bought a used Motorola Slvr circa 2005 for about $10.
At first, and still somewhat today, the release of a smartphone was liberating! Knowing that I didn’t have internet access at my fingertips freed me to think for myself rather than immediately referring to Google Maps or Wikipedia when I wanted to know something. I knew I had to memorize my route before I went on a bike ride or that I needed to truly think about something I did in the past rather than scan through hundred of emails on the go. And as a result, my memory, attention span and cognitive thinking capabilities have all greatly improved. I’m able to recall information clearer and more quickly and my reasoning is sharper as well. My attention span has improved because I’m not thinking about what else popped up in my Twitter feed. I’ve also become more original in my designs. Because I don’t see what everyone is posting on social media as often, I’m less influenced by what people have already done and more so by need, utility and nature. I’ve seen a huge flux in disposability lately as well. While social media allows us to connect to new people and ideas faster, it makes more people and ideas obsolete faster. While that’s not just limited to smartphones but a broader concept called “moore’s law”, without a smartpone, I’m more able to hold on to the moment and see the forest from the trees – what’s really important in the big picture and what’s not.
The downside: I get lost a lot more, obviously, and my normal method of riding around until the correct way comes to mind really annoys the people riding with me. Everyone else in my life is used to the instant gratification that comes with a smart phone, so while I can appreciate thinking something through, most others are quick to use their phone as a reference tool. Texting on the old phones is horrible and as a result, I’m far less motivated to keep in touch with people via text. I usually let them all slide, which also singles me out from group texts – it’s like your group of friends sharing an experience while you watch rather than participate. Saving on the cost of a new phone was great, but I’m paying for it with dropped calls and poor service as the result of a used phone that’s nearly 10 years old, which causes me to use the phone very little and now I’m getting even less for my money. Where before I was paying up to $150/mo for phone, text, internet and everything else, now I’m only paying for phone and text which work very poorly at best to the point where I only use the phone maybe 5 times a month for the $75 I’m paying.
I’m now eligible for a new phone upgrade and the iPhone 5 is a reasonable $200 with my contract renewal and I’m in no hurry to go back to my old ways. However, I’d say it’s merely a toss up. There have been plenty of times when I really needed a working phone, not even just a smartphone. But there were as many times when I look around to see a dozen faces buried in their little electric screens and I couldn’t be happier to have freed myself from such a distraction to enjoy the glorious wonder of life. I’ve got less than a year until I finish college, so hopefully by then I’ll have sufficient fundulation to join society again, assuming I haven’t grown too comfortable without the leash on.