My month without a cell phone.

My parents got the family’s first cell phone in around 1994. I got a pager in 1996 around the same time I got my driver’s license (so my parents could randomly ask me where I was). In 1998, I bought my first cell phone for me, but gave it up shortly after that mostly because I didn’t use it enough to justify the cost difference between the phone and the pager. In 1999 I got another one after my mother reported me missing because she called my dorm room at 7pm on a Friday night and I didn’t answer. True story. Cops were not pleased.

I’ve had at least one cell phone on me at all times since then. I think I’ve had three or four numbers, but a few years ago I signed up for Google Voice and I’ve been using that number ever since. More on why this is important in a minute.

A few things happened this summer that made me think about ditching my $75/mo cell phone entirely. First, there was the realization that I don’t really use the phone part. A review of my bill shows an average of around 30 minutes per month.

Secondly, I heard about a family in Canada living like it’s 1986. I’ve had a cell phone for a long time, but I do, in fact, remember the days without them. Somehow society survived and things got done. Surely it wouldn’t be very hard to go back to that, right?

Lastly, there’s that whole thing with tracking the movements of every American based on cell tower records. If you’d told someone in 1985 that twenty years later not only would they willingly keep a tracking device on them at all times, but that they’d gladly pay for the privilege, you would’ve been thrown in the nut house. Now they just call you a racist. 😀

So I decided to do an experiment. For the month of October, I simulated not having a cell phone. Simulated, mind you. I still have a contract on this thing until July so I’ve got to pay for it until at least then.

Google Voice is neat in that you can tell it which phones your GV number forwards to based on a schedule. So, Monday through Friday from 730AM until 530PM, my Google Voice number calls my desk at the office. It always calls my cell phone number. I also get texts through my GV number which can be picked up through the android app, the web site, or I can set them up to go to an email account. During the experiment period, I left the cellphone redirection turned on, but decided to just not answer my phone unless I was at home or at the office. No one knows my actual cell number, so I know that all calls come through GV. I also only made calls either at home or at the office.

What I mostly use my cellphone for is mobile data. That’s easy enough to shut off. They all have wifi on them, too, so I’d just have to cope with that somehow.

Now, some of you are thinking this is silly from a cost-savings standpoint because if I used my cell phone at home, that means I’ll need to get a landline. That’s where this little box comes in:

That’s an OBi100 VoIP Telephone Adapter and Voice Service Bridge. It’s a $40 box that plugs into your router on one side and a standard telephone on the other. It connects to Google Voice and will ring when someone calls your GV number, and will use Google Voice to make outgoing calls. It’s a one time fee that’s half my monthly cell phone bill. (Caveat: No 911)

The idea was that if my test went well, I’d buy one of these and cancel my plan when my contract is up. Instead of a cell phone, I’d carry a wifi-only tablet like a Nexus 7 or perhaps even an iPad mini.

I’d get voicemail and text notifications when I was on wifi, which is available practically everywhere now. I’m not so important as to be needed immediately to anyone and any “emergency” at work would have to wait for me to get home to my laptop anyway.

So on October 1st, I turned off mobile data and wondered what the hell I was doing.

Turns out….I can totally live without it. The results of my experiment were very positive. I only even received two calls while I was out–one from a dog groomer who accidentally called my cellphone instead of my wife’s, and one from my brother (while I was driving and wouldn’t have been able to answer anyway).

The mobile data was a little harder. I “cheated” once when I foolishly tried to find an address in a confusing part of town without looking at a map before I left. I did have to temporarily turn on data in order to find out how to get to where I was going. This would be easily remedied by either looking at a map beforehand or by buying a dedicated GPS. I could also, perhaps, get a GPS App for the tablet.

I did get in trouble once with mrs wizardpc for not effectively communicating travel plans, but that was early in the month and taken as a lesson learned. Easy fix.

I also noticed that I didn’t get Google Voice notifications if I happened to be off a network when the text or voicemail originally came. Unlike the email applications on Android, you’d have to go into the GV app to see if you missed anything. This can be “fixed” by having GV send notifications to email.

There were also benefits! I actually had conversations with people while I was out instead of reading news feeds! CRAZY! I paid more attention to my wife and son while in public! INSANITY!

All in all the experiment went very well, and I’d be all over dumping my cell phone when my contract is up.

Except.

That new position I just accepted may require me to be highly available. I’ve got six months to see.

11 comments to My month without a cell phone.

  • My Lovely Wife and I recently added a Google Voice based land line with the Obi adapter. One caveat- activating a voip dialer such as Talkatone on your tablet will result in your home phone not ringing, as they both identify to the GV servers as the same service. One possible way around that is to register for a second GV number and forward to that on your tablet. Set up might be a bit redundant, but once its up, it should be pretty transparent. The test, for me, is that I intend to start a business in the spring or summer. At that point, I’ll be adding another GV number to my cell for business use. We’ll see how it works then.

    • FWIW, I found out today that you can’t forward a Google Voice number to another Google Voice number. So for me, at least, getting the Obi and the iPad to both ring is off the table(t).

  • Dennis

    The only problem is you left yourself wide open for Google to spy on you. Not good.

  • mrs.wizardpc

    An iPad mini? Are you feeling ok?

  • For similar reasons I use a crap pre-paid phone.

    Mostly it’s an alarm clock.

  • oddball

    Just remember that the guy that’s living like he’s stuck in the 80’s lost his job because of it, and I’m pretty sure any of his resumes and job apps that are filled out by hand in cursive will get promptly thrown in the trash.

  • Unfortunately, I recently discovered that the Google Voice service will be changing substantially in the spring, and will no longer be playing nice with the Obi adapter, among other things (it appears that any/all VoIP programs that use GV services, such as Talkatone, will be blocked at that time). Google Hangouts will be the only service that can dial from a GV number directly. I’m investigating other options for my family. How dare they discontinue this service that I pay them… pay… Damn. Oh well.

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