Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Can You Live Without Your Smart Phone? Would You Want To?

 

This stems from a PIT thought. How much do you really need your smart phone? How much has it supplanted other devices, activities, or things in your life? Would you be willing to give it up, either mostly or entirely? Do you want to give it up? What is it that you use it for?

With China and its vicious police state, endless and inescapable facial recognition, and concentration camps, maybe it is time we re-examine our own willing feeding of “the cloud.” How much do we do that’s really even necessary on our phones, or is their convenience so very much of an improvement that they’re a necessity? Do we have too much connected online already?

Several things have happened of late that have had me thinking perhaps it’s time to unwind the gadgetry, and put the phone away. Two years ago I bought an Apple Watch. Yet during those two years I cannot say I got much use out of the thing except as a watch. Its motion tracking never seemed to track, something I noticed the other night after a four-mile walk. The apps available for it were universally uninteresting to me, and otherwise the thing was a perpetual nag. Only useful thing it did was Apple Pay, but few places I go take that even now. So I dug out my old Seiko and that was that. At least I never paid full price for it, which was why I gave it a try.

Last week our TV died. It was a circa 2009 Mitsubishi 60″ HDTV, and it was dumb. We shopped for a replacement and found that all screens now are “smart”, with operating systems made mostly by Google or Roku, and they all spy on you to some degree. Nearly every set out there, assuming you connect it to the internet, will take pixel captures (often as 1 per second, of enough pixels to fingerprint exactly what you have on) of everything on the screen (not just what you’re streaming, but even DVDs or video games), and the set makers then trade and sell that data even to streaming services you’ve not subscribed to (Netflix and Amazon are massive purchasers of your watching habits). See here and here. Plus they have always-on microphones, and sometimes even cameras, doubtless capturing even more. Oh, and you can program your set (which is already spying on you) to control your smart-home stuff too. We opted not to replace the screen at all.

Lastly, we started tracking our own phone usage. It was horrifying, the number of times of day we picked up the things, and the hours we spent in front of them were astounding. That led us to strip games and social media off the things, along with other stuff we just fiddled with out of boredom. There are some things like email and banking that work or other things make necessary, but aside from podcasts and occasional texting, and some navigation when traveling, there just is not a lot I need the thing for. I’m debating refurbing my old iPod 5 (needs a new battery) and using that for podcasts.

Before I got my first iPhone, my prior cell phones were all just phones. And they stayed mostly in the car. Could I go entirely back to that? Maybe not entirely, given business obligations. But partially? Mostly? Maybe, just maybe.

So what do you use your smartphone to do? Do you want it to do even more? Or would you rather be shot of the thing entirely?

Published in Science & Technology
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There are 78 comments.

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  1. Judge Mental Member

    To answer the title questions: dunno and dunno. Never had one.

    • #1
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:19 PM PST
    • 10 likes
  2. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    To answer the title questions: dunno and dunno. Never had one.

    Ditto. First I’d have to have one to find out if I could live without it.

    I did inherit my wife’s old iPad and tend to carry that around with me between work and home, but I’ve found the only thing I really use it for is the Kindle app.

    I fear we’re rapidly approaching a point in time where it is automatically assumed that everyone has a smart phone, and in order to complete simple tasks of interacting with various utilities, businesses or institutions (including government) the use of a smart phone will soon be required.

    • #2
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:27 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  3. James Lileks Contributor

    2 years ago I bought an Apple Watch. Yet during those 2 years I cannot say I got much use out of the thing except as a watch. Its motion tracking never seemed to track, something I noticed the other night after a 4 mile walk. The apps available for it were universally uninteresting to me, and otherwise the thing was a perpetual nag. Only useful thing it did was Apple Pay, but few places I go take that even now.

    The pay-by-watch trick is near ubiquitous here. I use the watch for texts, notifications, work email; as a volume-control / FF / RR button for music and satellite radio; as a timer; occasionally as a camera timer.

    If I gave up my phone, I’d have to start carrying a camera and a radio capable of pulling in a satellite sign, and I’d never get work emails (I’m out of the office a lot, so this is crucial.) I’d also miss the daily spontaneous texts from faraway Daughter. 

    Of course, that’s how I lived before they came along, but I don’t recall I felt any happier or more free. 

    • #3
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:28 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  4. MarciN Member

    I’m ready to go back to my old original flip phone. I am sick of the tech companies’ spying on me. 

    I saw an ad this past week for a new insurance company “app” that rewards its users for safe driving. I assume it penalizes its users for what it deems unsafe driving instances. It made me realize how much of my life is being monitored–through the Internet of Things (IoT) and my various computers. 

    I predict insanity in many people will be the result of this massive amount of intrusion into our personal life. 

    • #4
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:31 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  5. Judge Mental Member

    Probably the only thing I would like to have is the GPS and directions when I’m driving somewhere new.

    • #5
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:32 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  6. Jimmy Carter Member

    SkipSul: So what do you use your smart phone to do?

    Sexting

    SkipSul: Do you want it to do even more?

    Well, I bought something that claims to be a “hands-free device” to go with it, but it ain’t worth a flip. 

    • #6
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:35 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I think I could live without it. For over a month, we couldn’t connect to our cell tower (maintenance) so we couldn’t get calls. ( I rarely use my cell to make calls, since we have a landline) We did use the wireless connection instead, but I mainly use my computer for writing posts and emails. It’s handy to have the calendar on my phone (which connects to my computer), but I’d probably just keep a little calendar with me. So my life doesn’t depend on it.

    • #7
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:38 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  8. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    The pay-by-watch trick is near ubiquitous here. I use the watch for texts, notifications, work email; as a volume-control / FF / RR button for music and satellite radio; as a timer; occasionally as a camera timer.

    I hated the controls for the volume and FF/RR functions on the watch – they always were very laggy (and inconsistently so). I’d have to hit the watch 3 times to pause things. The timer functions were rarely used, and I never used the camera timer.

    I had to turn off nearly all notifications, though, as indeed I have on my phone. Notifications add massively to my stress levels, and the thumping my watch gave me was beyond aggravating. 

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    If I gave up my phone, I’d have to start carrying a camera and a radio capable of pulling in a satellite sign, and I’d never get work emails (I’m out of the office a lot, so this is crucial.) I’d also miss the daily spontaneous texts from faraway Daughter

    I do carry a camera a lot of the time because I prefer a dedicated camera over the phone except in a pinch. Can you explain the radio / satellite issue? The email and texting issues I fully understand – when I’m traveling for work, it’s vital that I be able to respond to emails and texts.

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Of course, that’s how I lived before they came along, but I don’t recall I felt any happier or more free. 

    I liked how I could be out of touch for extended periods. That was freeing for me – I liked being able to disappear for a few hours, or a few days at a time. Like I said above on notifications – they cause me stress. I don’t need endless news alerts, game alerts, voicemail alerts, and so forth.

    • #8
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:40 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  9. She Thatcher
    She

    I have two TVs. Neither of them is connected to the Internet, one because it’s too old, and the other because I don’t want it to. I have satellite TV service (Dish) and a satellite Internet connection (Hughes). I don’t want anything other than what is absolutely necessary connected to the Internet, because service out here is very expensive, and is capped at 20GB/month. (Pro tip, if you have Windows 10–connect to your WiFi, and set your connection to “metered.” This gives you much more control over updates and random acts of downloading than is the case if you have a wired connection to your ISP.) We stream nothing. Too expensive, and too slow.

    Mr. She and I have iPhone SEs which I purchased a few years ago (against the advice of some on Ricochet) to replace our 7+ year-0ld 3GSs. I like the small form factor, which I don’t have to worry about falling out of my pocket into a steaming pile of manure when I’m shoveling out the barn. I use is mostly as a phone. Occasionally, when I’m on the road, I use it for directions. I don’t browse the web on it much, especially now I’m no longer in thrall to the dinging of the “flag” bell, or other ructions on Ricochet. I’d be able to survive perfectly well if it were less “smart.” I expect it to last at least seven years, like the old one. I don’t spend money on technology unless there’s a very good reason. (Shades of a three-decade career in the field. I’d rather knit.)

    I’ve never been one to have bells and whistles for their own sake. I wait for the killer app. I do have GPS tags on Xena and Levi (the Greater, and the Greatest, Pyrenees). Those are tied into my cellular network, and work through the iPad, to tell me where they are if they escape. That’s been really handy a few times, and perhaps life-saving (theirs, not mine) on one occasion. I recently upgraded to the ATT Unlimited cellular plan, because it was, ultimately, cheaper than a metered plan. It’s not really feasible as home wi-fi though because 1) it’s not really “unlimited,” and 2) the signal at home isn’t that great.

    I gave in to the smartphone craze for one reason only, and that was the need to keep in touch with close family, now that we’re all getting older, and some of us need a little additional help now and then. It’s worth the aggravation and the occasional intrusiveness to me, just to have that reassurance.

    I usually carry the phone and the iPad with me when I go out. Besides the aforementioned GPS for the GPs, favorite apps are the coupon apps for craft stores (so much easier than cutting them out for the newspaper, or collecting them through the mail), a couple of “order to pick up” apps for favorite eateries, my calendar, and an app called “FileBrowser” which lets me connect over WiFi to my home network and drag/drop/open/edit files that are on my desktop onto my iPad.

    My needs are simple. I don’t expect much. Which is probably a good thing.

    • #9
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:42 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  10. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    MarciN (View Comment):

    I’m ready to go back to my old original flip phone. I am sick of the tech companies’ spying on me.

    I saw an ad this past week for a new insurance company “app” that rewards its users for safe driving. I assume it penalizes its users for what it deems unsafe driving instances. It made me realize how much of my life is being monitored–through the Internet of Things (IoT) and my various computers.

    I predict insanity in many people will be the result of this massive amount of intrusion into our personal life.

    I’m professionally in the market for devices that attach to vehicles, and I can tell you that insurance companies are really ticking off automotive OEMs with those dongles. They tend to throw error codes on vehicles, and the OEMs are increasingly locking down the OBDII data ports for all but licensed equipment makers (like me), and mandatory diagnostics.

    • #10
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:42 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  11. Blondie Thatcher

    Maybe when we retire we could do without it, but not until then. We are not on our devices as much when we are on vacation. The hubby’s job is in IT so everything is goes through the smartphone/device. I could go bag phone much easier.

    • #11
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:49 PM PST
    • 1 like
  12. John H. Member

    Yes and yes.

    • #12
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:53 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. GFHandle Member

    I don’t travel so I just have a tracfone for emergencies. I have an Ipad and a computer. I would not give up streaming movies and old TV shows, and I don’t give a rat’s behind who knows what I watch. I see no way to get the benefits of Netflix or Prime Video without the liabilities. As for my privacy–there are billions of us on this planet. Why would I matter so much? Let the bots get their jollies. I doubt is actual humans monitoring me. BTW, if one gives up the smart phone but still emails, what’s the gain? In short, when it comes to online “privacy” I am a defeatist. There is none and it is too late, without going all off grid, to get it back. Don’t Worry, Be Happy. But don’t do anything online you wouldn’t want your mother to know about.

     

     

    • #13
    • October 10, 2019, at 1:59 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  14. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    GFHandle (View Comment):

    I don’t travel so I just have a tracfone for emergencies. I have an Ipad and a computer. I would not give up streaming movies and old TV shows, and I don’t give a rat’s behind who knows what I watch. I see no way to get the benefits of Netflix or Prime Video without the liabilities. As for my privacy–there are billions of us on this planet. Why would I matter so much? Let the bots get their jollies. I doubt is actual humans monitoring me. BTW, if one gives up the smart phone but still emails, what’s the gain? In short, when it comes to online “privacy” I am a defeatist. There is none and it is too late, without going all off grid, to get it back. Don’t Worry, Be Happy. But don’t do anything online you wouldn’t want your mother to know about.

    It’s one thing to do a cost/benefit analysis like this and determine, yeah, it’s okay that I have no privacy.

    What concerns me is when we reach a point that you will be required to join the Borg.

    China to Require Facial ID for Internet and Mobile Services

    When not having smart phones is outlawed, only outlaws won’t have smart phones.

    • #14
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:09 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  15. Percival Thatcher

    Phone calls, texts, Fox News and the BBC are the only alerts enabled. I’ll get to the emails when I get to them.

    • #15
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:12 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  16. KentForrester Coolidge

    Cold dead hands. 

    • #16
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:12 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  17. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Phone calls, texts, Fox News and the BBC are the only alerts enabled. I’ll get to the emails when I get to them.

    You people are going to be the death of me. Check your e-mail, dammit!

    • #17
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:14 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  18. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Cold dead hands.

    They probably won’t be cold. Slightly warm and irradiated.

    • #18
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:14 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  19. Hugh Member

    Could if I have to. Still think of it as a tool though (for now). 

     

    • #19
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:16 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  20. Percival Thatcher

    DrewInWisconsin, Thought Leader (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Phone calls, texts, Fox News and the BBC are the only alerts enabled. I’ll get to the emails when I get to them.

    You people are going to be the death of me. Check your e-mail, dammit!

    No.

    • #20
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:27 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  21. Arahant Member

    Time without one so far? Less than Judge Mental and longer than Drew in Wisconsin.

    • #21
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:30 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  22. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    Love the camera function. That one is enough to keep it for me.

    I also love my Kindle, and being able to access my Kindle stuff on my phone is nice.

    I really like the maps and navigation functions. Despite obvious flaws, invaluable.

    The calendar function is absolutely essential to my modern lifestyle.

    I don’t have long distance on my landline, so need the cell for phone calls.

    Very useful for quick internet searches.

    I sometimes use the cell phone for internet, emails, Ricochet, and the like, but I much prefer using my laptop, if for no other reason that I don’t see ads on my laptop.

    More than a day can go by without me using my phone, but I don’t want to give it up by any means.

    • #22
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:30 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  23. Aaron Miller Member

    The “spying” is not as big a deal as often made out. This is not East Berlin. This is nameless spying for the sake of targeted ads.

    There isn’t a person looking at your data and cackling, “He watched Mary Poppins! Then he ordered a 20-pack of Snickers! I’ve got you now, Tom Tommins.” Rather, there is an algorithm collating statistical information and outputting, “Send this guy a retirement living ad” (because advertising programs stink at advertising). 

    Of course, Democrats will try to acquire and abuse this data. Google, Facebook, and company will be only too happy to collude. So… what? Don’t watch porn. Laugh in their faces when they go public with your decade-old binge of chocolates and musicals.

    • #23
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:32 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  24. Tex929rr Coolidge

    We use them constantly. We receive emergency pages on them with detailed info, real time tracking of people and apparatus, and maps to incidents. We plot water sources, gate codes, and designated landing zones on the service area map. I can call for a helicopter pick up at a designated landing zone and the medical helicopter is in the air while we are on our way to the patient. We can also coordinate assets over the phone so we can keep the radio from being overloaded. It’s pretty amazing.

    Most of us have things like our patient care protocols and hazmat guides on our phones. I even carry an app showing where airbags, seatbelt pretensioner charges, and hybrid electrical lines run on different vehicles. Critical stuff to keep from blowing up airbags when cutting people out of wrecked cars.

    • #24
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:33 PM PST
    • 12 likes
  25. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Of course, Democrats will try to acquire and abuse this data. Google, Facebook, and company will be only too happy to collude. So… what? Don’t watch porn. Laugh in their faces when they go public with your decade-old binge of chocolates and musicals.

    AARON MILLER: CANCELLED!

    • #25
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:40 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  26. James Gawron Thatcher

    Skip,

    Let’s be honest the modern smartphone is an extremely powerful device. You can take high-quality color photos or even videos. A host of apps allows it to perform many, many tasks or take you instantly to powerful websites for the worlds leading news. It can link you to anything on the web, if you need to pay a bill, check a balance, renew a license,..etc. As this device is the first completely portable computer that you wear it goes with you everywhere. Through email, texting, twitter, or actually making a phone call you can be in touch with anyone in the world instantly or check out any website in the world.

    Now let’s check the downside. Strangely, the upside seems to be the downside also. First, the device is habit-forming in the extreme. People are obviously addicted and can be seen fingering away everywhere to the extent that they walk into things. Second, now add the capacity to collect data about you. There are ways to reduce this but Google especially has developed a multifaceted tracking ability using many different sources to create a very good profile of where you’ve been, what you’ve looked at, what you’ve bought, etc..

    Now the question is, given the strengths of the smartphone, how do we deal with the downside. First, for the addiction, I already have a major antidote working for me. I’m an Orthodox Jew and on Shabbos, for 25 hours I must turn the smartphone off entirely. This blunts the addictive quality. You feel a certain relief and it gives you perspective on just what is important in your life. Second, it has become clear that we are wrestling an octopus, when we try to fight the privacy problem. For this we need help. Senator Josh Hawley has the right idea. Too often on Ricochet we demure to a doctrinaire libertarian position refusing all government intervention. This may be, in general, a good place to be politically but when we are trying to wrestle the octopus of Google, I’d feel much better that I have somebody on my side like Hawley. There must be rules of the road. Bright lines that we know if Google is caught crossing they will pay dearly for. Yes, clumsy regulation is useless, but again we are just looking for the rules of the road, what are your rights, and what are your expectations when you are online. We need help with this and shouldn’t be afraid to make it clear what we want the government to do about it.

    Regards,

    Jim 

    • #26
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:50 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  27. Tex929rr Coolidge

    Here is what our map looks like. The PELA Box is what shows up when you tap the landing zone icon. The helicopter pilot just puts “KEN84” in his nav system and it takes him or her there. Every icon has information such as gate codes, names and phone numbers, etc.

    • #27
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:51 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  28. EJHill Podcaster

    She: I like the small form factor, which I don’t have to worry about falling out of my pocket into a steaming pile of manure when I’m shoveling out the barn.

    Who wants a steaming pile of manure falling into a another steaming pile of manure, especially when one of those piles cost you $800 at the Verizon store?

    I’ve mentioned it on other threads but wait until the next generation of television hits, ATSC 3.0. You ain’t seen nothing yet for TVs that watch back.

    • #28
    • October 10, 2019, at 3:00 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  29. Aaron Miller Member

    There’s a difference between public behavior via Twitter or YouTube and private viewing habits. The latter can only be revealed by a thief. Someone willing to steal is also someone willing to lie, which doesn’t make any supposed leak very trustworthy. Any such revelations should be assumed false. 

    Of course, media can libel and slander someone without evidence. In the era of Photoshop and false images, data is as easily doctored or totally invented. Protection from that is not gained from technological withdrawal. It’s gained by calling out scoundrels for their lies and abuse. 

    • #29
    • October 10, 2019, at 3:17 PM PST
    • 1 like
  30. Mike Rapkoch Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    To answer the title questions: dunno and dunno. Never had one.

    Me neither. And it hasn’t had any effect on my life except a sense of freedom from tech slavery.

    • #30
    • October 10, 2019, at 3:31 PM PST
    • 1 like
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