My Powerful New Relationship With My Smart Phone

I did eventually solve my Paris smart phone problem. Here’s what I did.

  1. I paid AT&T some absurd amount of money for unlimited international everything for my iPhone.
  2. The nice senior people at Orange sent me a SIM card that is good until the end of the month for free unlimited everything for my Android.
  3. Maxroam sent me a super cool device that gives me 3G and international calling for $15 / day.

But none of it matters. Because after two weeks without a smart phone, I simply don’t give a shit anymore. In general, I hate the phone and try to stay off of it. I spend my time in email, IM, and Skype when I’m in front of my computer, which is a lot. However, when I’m wandering around between things, I’ve actually started to realize the joy of looking around and noticing all of the other humans staring at the little pieces of glass they are holding in their hands. During dinner at a restaurant, I’m enjoying the idea that I’m unreachable while I shower 100% of my attention on my beloved and anyone else I’m dining with. And, when I go to the bathroom in a restaurant, I’m actually enjoying the notion that I’m not going to return to the table distracted by the emails I’ve scanned while doing my business.

Basically, except for Google Maps, I haven’t missed the phone one bit the past two weeks. And, given that I haven’t had Google Maps, I’ve gotten to wander aimlessly around a few times, using the old fashioned approach of asking for directions. Each time, I’ve ended up where I needed to be pretty close to when I was supposed to be there. Refreshing, retro, interesting – call it whatever you want – but even for this directionally impaired American it worked out ok.

I now have 3G access again everywhere I go. But I don’t really care. I’m hardly using it (at least I haven’t the past few days). I’m going to start turning off my phone at meals completely and see how that goes for a while. Or maybe I’ll just leave it in the apartment since I’m with the only person (Amy) I want to be talking to anyway.

I learned a lot from this experience. But most importantly, I once again learned the value of thinking about the problem differently and challenging a key assumption. Do I really need my phone with me and email available all of the time? Clearly not.

I’m going for a run now in the rain in Paris. Without my phone. See y’all in a while.

  • There’s a Zen proverb in here somewhere… “What’s the sound of the perfect smartphone?” ūüôā

  • Brad, for me your timing is impeccable since only yesterday I started thinking the same thing. I’m doing a title called Live More With Less which is just what the title implies, improving your life through elimination. And I started thinking about my smartphone bill which is pretty much unlimited everything. I’m going to strip it down to unlimited text messages and a minimal number of minutes as I don’t talk on the phone much. And no data plan. I carry an iPad when I travel (wi-fi only) and 99% of the time I can get what I want with it. I don’t need to reflexively check email over and over. Many of my friends prefer that I text them rather than email (often female- and they seldom even check personal email). Text has become the de facto real time means of communications- you don’t have to check it or leave VMs. It’s just there to act upon or not.
    And smartphones have becomes like TV s in public places- a good reason not to interact with the people you are sharing the planet (and the airport lounge) with. 
    Go for it. I am.

  • Bravo, Brad! I had a similar experience in London in April. I too paid AT&T an absurd amount, which forced me to use my iPhone even less. In my mind, that’s the most absurd irony of int’l mobile phones. There are incentives in place to use them even less often while traveling. When I’m in the UK, I use my phone for local calls, and I keep my iPhone on in case of an emergency call from home. Else, I don’t bother. I use paper maps, the Underground, etc. Liberating, indeed!

  • Anonymous

    My favorite story about phones is still from when I lived in Vienna in 1999. On my way home from work there was always a point where 4 schoolgirls would rush to get a subway seat where the 4 seats face each other. Then next thing they all did was pull out their phones and call their friends they just left to say things like “Yeah. I’m going home then I’ll have dinner.” Occasionally, one would even have to push an old person out of the way to get to these treasured seats where they could sit with and ignore their friends.

    I recently decided while jogging through Golden Gate Park¬†on a sunny day¬†that augmented reality apps haven’t taken off on phones because people with smartphones are actively choosing to ignore reality. I passed multiple groups where every person had his/her head down into a phone, and they were clearly taking a walk not on their way somewhere.

    I choose not to have a data plan for my smartphone until I can see a net positive value equal to the data plan cost. It’s got to be a net because the cost of interruptions and distractions from real life, as you’ve re-learned, is large. What’s the value of a dinner together with friends who actually interact with you rather than with their handheld computer? $20? $100? How many dinners with friends do you have a month? 4? 10? So $80-1000 per month just for interacting with humans at some dinners. The challenge is finding friends who want to interact with you.

    • Anonymous

      Also – those Windows Phone ads make more sense now, don’t they?

  • Brad, I’m with you.¬† The most important thing to learn about your smartphone, whether you are in the US or not, is to put it down and focus on the world around you.¬† I use my phone for some bursts of productivity when I am between meetings, etc.¬† But, I try not to be obsessed with checking everything all day every day and missing the real world and real people that are much more important.

  • RV

    Startup Marriage, The Sequel: Brad Feld and His Phone

  • Pete Griffiths

    “…asking for directions…” ¬†It’s been a while. ¬†How does that work again?

  • love it! In 2005, I moved to a barrier island where, at the time, cell phone service was pretty non-existent. It forced me to give up my phone when I wasn’t actually “at work.” I’ve never looked back. There’s something freeing about experiencing life sans interruption. ūüėČ

  • Frank Miller

    Now, try the same thing with Facebook.¬† I deleted (read deleted, not deactivated) my account about a month ago and it is oh so liberating…

  • This summer in Boulder, I’ve been working hard on a few things: ¬†1) keeping my laptop at the office when I leave at night. ¬†When I’m at the office, I’m working. ¬† 2) ¬†when I go out for dinner or a walk the dog, keep my phone at home. ¬† Ironically, I’m forced to leave the phone plugged in at home most evenings because it’s on 4% battery by the end of the day and needs a recharge. ¬† While I still screw up occasionally, I’ve found my girlfriend much happier with my effort to “be present” with these simple approaches.

  • Bob Main

    We forget one thing. ¬†Having a smartphone makes life more convenient, but it doesn’t automatically obligate us to connect. ¬†Connecting is our choice. ¬†Not returning a call/text/email right this very minute, though annoying to some, isn’t part of the contract when we buy these gadgets, it’s a choice. ¬†“Do I value the person trying to reach me more than the person I’m with right now?” ¬†Economics 101.

  • Anonymous

    think your blog post title should be “phone disconnect and serendipity = happier brad”. i was influenced by both when i read “where good ideas come from” by steven johnson.

    another habit i’ve found very useful is to use stumbleupon for 10-15 per day in the middle of the day. takes the mind to places where you wouldn’t expect to go. who knows what value you get out of it but it sure makes you wonder what else is out there.

    good stuff!

  • Mike Greczyn

    So, if everyone goes retro, stops using their smartphones and starts “being present” (also something I’ve taken flak for) then who will read all the twitter posts? Who will check in on foursquare and gowalla? If no one uses runkeeper or mapmyfitness, what then? If at work we all commit to working (maybe building iphone apps!) and outside of work we all commit to being in the moment, what happens to the idea of a digital life built around mobile devices? Or am I missing the point?

  • I was looking at my smartphone while I was out to dinner with my wife a few years back. She told me I was being rude.

    She was right.  Now in addition to the smartphone I have a dumb phone too. The only person who has the dumb phone number is the babysitter. When I go to dinner with my wife I leave the smartphone at home and take the throw away nokia.  It never rings.

  • Great post, Brad. ¬†I think more than a few people are starting to realize, “How many ESSENTIAL ZOMG MUST HAVE IT things in our lives can we do with out? ¬†For instance, I recently joined the no-cable-TV crowd, with just a Roku and Netflix for the kids to watch the shows that they like. ¬†I know city dwellers who have ditched their car, expecting to rent as necessary on weekends, and end up almost never doing so. ¬†It’s so easy to go on auto-pilot, and your post was another reminder to actively choose rather than passively accept.

  • Debbie Pelzmann

    It gives me relief just reading about someone having this realization (which I’ve had more than once after getting swept up in smartphone-land multiple times). But recently, it’s stuck, and I’ll pay for it if it doesn’t because my husband and I downgraded to AT&T’s lowest data and shared minutes package. When at the lake, the phone stays inside the cabin. If I can avoid it, I don’t even bring my phone with me when I go for a walk, or run to the store to pick up something quick.¬†

    It’s almost sad how freeing something that simple can be.

  • Matt

    Thanks for this, Brad.¬† People laugh at my “old school” phone, but I’m often the only one who can get a call through where there’s bad reception.¬† Plus it fits better in my pocket.¬† Texting is too cumbersome to bother with unless it’s really important, but that’s probably a blessing.¬† I can route texts through my email anyway.

    Google Maps is great but I got along fine before it, and still do.

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  • madtown22

    Great Post.  I sometimes wonder if Siddhartha would have become the Buddha with a vibrating smartphone in his pocket.  Now that would have been some type of mastery.

  • It’s healthy to sometimes¬†be away from the magic and¬†renew.¬†The phone chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter. It’s not always clear why. ūüôā

  • Unplugged? Excellent!

  • Liberating. We are much less dependent on smartphones than we think.

  • “I learned a lot from this experience. But most importantly, I once again
    learned the value of thinking about the problem differently and
    challenging a key assumption”

    I’ll suggest you’re discovering – and liking – a new Brad.¬† I can’t imagine you (or me, when it occurs) having an experience like this + not have it influence your post-Paris day-to-day routine.¬† Especially after your stay in Italy.

  • Pat

    Hi Brad,

    The best part of every trip I have taken is the part where I get lost and have unplanned experiences that no one else has. 

    Enjoy the unexpected detours – those are the real destinations.

  • Reminded me of¬† After reading that, I’ve been much more aware of the pull, and resist it when I know I really do prefer to be present.¬† It can be really tough…sometimes turning it off or leaving it behind is best.

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