Living in the quieter spots of life.

thAfter my recent personal economic downturn I went through my monthly expenses to create an essentials-only budget. The most obvious trim was one I’d been planning (and failing) to do for months: getting rid of the monthly cellular bill in favor of a burn phone.

Due to my job I couldn’t drop the cell without having a replacement in hand. But researching the best options was just one more chore on a to-do list as long as my leg.

The layoff got me off my dime, as it were, and within a few days I’d canceled the old cell service (which had long since gone month-to-month) and bought a pay-as-you-go.

Compared to my old metal flip phone, the new model feels like it’s made out of potato chips. Yet the flimsy little plastic thing could save me as much as $70 or more per month.

Just as important: The new phone is changing the way I live in the world.

I realized that I’d fallen prey to that peculiarly modern malady: calling people for no real reason. Apparently we’re afraid to be unconnected.

A jokey neologism was invented to address this: “nomophobia,” for “no more phone.” Some people consider their phones an extension of their brains and have trouble making decisions without consulting Siri or Googling the best driving route.

That wasn’t me, exactly. I couldn’t access the Internet because I’d opted out of a data package. Yet when I found myself at loose ends – waiting at airports, say, or walking to the post office – I’d often phone DF or my daughter.

Now that I have to pay per call, I use the phone a lot less. The result? I’m living the quieter spots of my life, rather than trying to fill them with noise.

Friday’s walk to the post office was a good example. I delighted in the golden birch leaves against the blue sky, the new termination dust on the mountains, the mild temperature, the slight breeze. I even enjoyed the autumnal smell of dying-back vegetation (even the skunky-fruity smell of highbush cranberries).

Normally I might have described all that to DF, my daughter or whoever I’d called. Instead I fully experienced the day vs. narrating it for someone else.

Paying attention to the moment

How does all this reaching out affect what we should be experiencing in the moment? Recently I attended a birthday party at which the guest of honor’s dad – who is divorced from the child’s mother – spent just about the entire time looking at his smartphone.

Fatherly interactions came only when the child was able to get between him and the device. I seesawed between wanting to weep on the child’s behalf and wanting to drop that smartphone into a pitcher of Sprite.

His behavior is no longer considered strange. Folks with any down time – even when other people are in the same room, or at the same dinner table – relentlessly check e-mail, visit entertainment sites, skim friends’ Google Plus pages.

It’s a given that they’re also tweeting, checking in and posting photos of what’s in front of them. Here I am. Here’s what I’m doing. Where are you? What are you eating, drinking, watching, touching, feeling?

This “can’t be disconnected” tendency is rubbing out the boundary between real and virtual life. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, smartphone videos – we don’t live our lives so much as perform them. Rather than make memories, we archive our daily existences for an imagined audience.

Guys make sure the tape is rolling before they propose. Parents are poised to record Baby’s First Taste of Sauerkraut or New Puppy’s Inability to Climb the Steps, hoping their videos will go viral. Desserts can’t be enjoyed on their own merits; they must be turned into cupcake selfies.

How much to share?

And oh, the overshares. Arguments with our kids turn into Facebook posts. Boyfriends and girlfriends – or, worse, married people – blather on blogs about their significant others’ inability to take a joke, diaper a baby, keep a job, induce an orgasm.

More than a few evince a complete disregard for someone else’s privacy. Others are simply tiresome. (There’s a reason that the STFU Parents blog — “You used to be fun. Now you have a baby.” — is such a hit.)

I don’t know whether the sharers are seeking approbation or validation, if they’re trying to multiply their joys by sharing them with friends or if they’re just showing off.

What concerns me isn’t just the tedium of yet another tweet about the awesome thing your boyfriend just said. It’s that some people seem to feel their lives are somehow less real if every single detail isn’t shared with the world.

That’s a modern tic that I think bears watching. There’s probably an app for that.

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  1. I was never interested in a data plan for my phone, since I work from home (web designer) and am connected most of the day. When I do go out I want to be ‘offline’, look people in the eyes and enjoy life.

    Keeping my fingers crossed for you, I’m sure it will all work out nicely 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      Exactly! I’m home a lot and when I’m not home I would like to be looking at what’s going on around me.
      Have there been times when I wish I could look something up quickly or e-mail someone? Sure. Did it ruin the day? Nope.
      I understand that others want to be connected 24/7. But this is what works for me — and, apparently, for others.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  2. I have never had anything but a plain flip phone. But, from seeing what others do with their phones and how often they look at it, I don’t think I am missing anything. I just don’t have the desire to spend so much time looking at a phone screen. When I got this phone, I did get texting–200 per month. It took me a year to reach my month limit. I am not a texter with this keyboard that takes three times as long to type a message.

    When I decided to go to a pay-as-you-go phone, ATT wanted to know how much I would have to pay. Then, ATT gave me a cheaper rate which was actually just a lesser plan without enough minutes. When I told her it would not work, she upped my minutes to 9,999 rollover minutes and told me to call if I needed more. They want me and have me for $39.99. You see, I am not under a plan. Now, I own them like they owned me when I was under a plan.

    How much do you think you will pay for a month’s talking?

  3. I have dumb phone ,a Nokia,pay as u go. I can go out to dinner and not put it on FB or Twitter since the phone stays in my bag,where it belongs.I don’t get the younger folks ignoring their children in favour of their “friends”. We’ve started down an interesting path and I wonder about the destination.

  4. Just got my first “smart”phone. I work two jobs and have a fairly full life, so the calendar is helpful. I’ve never had a facebook or twitter account and never will. I have too much life to live to be wasting it on other peoples’ activities. Your blog, Donna, is one of the very few digital forums I visit regularly, ’cause you are a lone voice of sanity in an increasingly shrill and frantic world.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Donna Freedman

      “I have too much life to live…” — I like that.
      Thanks for your kind words, and for reading my site.

  5. Frances

    I had not seen your post about your layoff. I am sorry to hear that and hope the downturn does not last long. I have been a Tracfone user for YEARS. Oh, I did the contract thing back in the 90s, but when it was time for my teen that is more frugal than I to want a cell phone….and not want to pay for it herself…we tried a Tracfone for her. I was thrilled at how cheap it was! So when my contract ended I got one. Then I got one for Hubby, who thought he didn’t need a cell. We use them as much as we need to and pay less for them than my contract for just me cost.

    I don’t need a smart phone, though I do love my tech toys, and I don’t need to be connected 24/7. I have a life and don’t need to broadcast it step-by-step. LOL!

  6. Yes, the over sharing is horrendous, not just on phones but every aspect of life. I don’t understand why people reprint obituaries years after the event. We all need to be reminded they are still grieving, even us perfect strangers. And people answering their phones in the middle of conversations with you makes you want to pitch it into the nearest large body of water.

  7. Yup, I’ve got a prepaid cell phone. I can place calls, or text, but I really don’t need any other features (that’s what my computer at home is for).
    I can relate to the dad missing his daughter’s party. Last Christmas, a relative who is close to “our age” 😉 was spending too much time checking their phone, rather than visiting with people she doesn’t get to see more than a couple times a year. Makes no sense at all!

  8. I have a smartphone but I consider it a tool to be used to enhance my life and to make my life easier. I use it as a camera, as a calendar, as a communication device for talking and texting, as a way to save money (mobile coupons), as a GPS device, as a gasoline best-price-in area finder, and basically as a hand-held computer. It saves me from having to have multiple devices (camera, GPS device, etc.) But I use this all-in-one device to help me and those around me, not as a substitute for anything or as a toy to hide behind. That’s what worries me about many others I see with these devices, especially those men/women couples who are dining out, not talking, and each texting or whatever on their phones instead. Your character shows through in how you use your electronic tools!!!

    • Donna Freedman

      Agreed! Any tool can be used well or badly.
      Thanks for leaving a comment.

  9. I have only owned a pay as you go phone and I don’t miss my landline bill from that nasty AT&T. I also have a laptop so I am truly an electronic dinosaur and I love it!!

    • Donna Freedman

      Hey, I’m typing this on a laptop! And I have never sent a text.

  10. Ro in San Diego

    Greedy Verison’s steady raises to our bill pushed us to a pay as you go plan with Virgin Mobile. We pay $70 per month for 2 phones which saves us around $40 per month from our former plan. We have a plan that limits our “talk” minutes so we’re not yapping on these phones all the time. I enjoy the unlimited text and data and use apps that give me rebates on purchase each month which actually helps me pay my phone bill each month so I consider it a Win-Win. Plus we’re not tied into a contract so when my son gets a “real” job he can find his own plan with no penalty.

    • Donna Freedman

      At some point the big boys will have to change the way they do business — plenty of people are discovering the joys of a contract-free life.
      Glad you’re saving money. But I must say I’m not surprised. 😉

  11. Neurotic Workaholic

    I’m really sorry that you won’t be writing for MSN Money anymore; I always enjoyed your articles. You really inspired me to change my spending habits and to start a savings account; thanks to your advice, I was able to survive the summer (when I only work one job, as opposed to two or three like I do during the school year) by utilizing some of those frugal hacks you described.
    I totally agree with your statements about cell phones. I don’t like talking on the phone at all. And it really bothers me that several of my students can’t (or won’t) get through one hour of class without checking their cell phones a bunch of times.

    P.S. I used an old e-mail address I no longer use in the e-mail line, because I still have the problem where my comment links to my gmail account if I put a working e-mail address in the line. It’s been happening on other blogs too for some reason when I try to leave comments.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks for your kind words. In my new gig at Money Talks News I’ll be writing about frugality and smart money hacks; I should link to these articles, the way I used to link to MSN Money or Get Rich Slowly columns.
      As a midlife college student I used to shake my head in disbelief at students who constantly checked Facebook, sent e-mails and even shopped during class. Apparently just being in the classroom was enough for them; paying attention was optional.

      • Ro In San Diego

        Congrats on the new gig! Please publish a link to your new cyber location for Money Talk News. When do you start writing for them?

  12. lostAnnfound

    I got rid of my cell phone plan years ago because “some” people thought because I had a cell phone I was available 24/7. My husband has a cell phone from his job (truck driver), so I went with a pay-as-you-go (Net10). Best thing! It’s inexpensive (about $15.00 a month) and I can make phones calls and text kids. That’s all I need and truthfully all I want.

  13. You are soooo right about the lack of social interaction because of electronic devices.

    My friend and I walked into a restaurant. The first thing we noticed was a family whose heads were bowed in prayer. “How nice” we both thought. Upon closer inspection, we saw that they had devices in their hands and were surfing the net, texting, etc. We didn’t see them interact as a family once! Time lost!

    How will those parents feel when their kids grow up to be just like them? Will they be texting at a death bed scene, or on the net after holiday dinners to get the best deal, as my friend experienced last Thanksgiving?

    We refused to allow any disruption at mealtimes and insisted all kids were present. No fighting, snide remarks, or put downs were allowed. We simply talked and enjoyed each other. I am so proud that son and daughter carry on that tradition today. It’s possible. Parents, get rid of those things and talk to your children.

    I too eschew phones and love to interact with nature and people.

    Sorry this post is so long. You hit a nerve with this subject, Donna, and I truly believe the ruination of family life is in that little device held close to the ear or fingers clacking on same device, shutting out the world.

    On a personal note, you are fortunate to have the skills you do. I will miss you on MSN, but I have many of your articles saved in a notebook and refer to them often.

    It is no small matter to have helped so many people.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks, Betsey. I hope to continue to help people, both at this site and Money Talks News. (And in other ways, too…still mulling over possibilities and other collaborations.)
      Good for you for insisting on real dinners with no e-interruptions. Your grandchildren may be in the minority (“All the other kids get to bring their phones to the restaurant!”) but later on will realize how fortunate they were to have had the chance to be fully present.

  14. What an excellent article. I too have found the “stay connected movement” troubling. It must be fatiguing to constantly be texting about your day. When you say “burn phone” … I think you mean “pay as you go”….And for me this is truly the way to go. For $20 every 90 days I get cell phone service that is great. I began doing this probably 7-8 years ago when the fine folks at AT&T told me I “had no choice” when it came to unreasonable monthly fees. Of course we always have a choice. After getting off the phone I did two things…first I purchased a pay as you go phone and changed over the following week…second I went on line and bought AT&T stock realizing their cell phone business was a license to print money.Both moves have turned out excellent. Could you share which plan you went with and how it’s working for you? Thanks again for a good article.

  15. When I was a senior in college, I was the news editor for our student newspaper. I was also dating a very nice young man who was a senior at a college out of state. Every 6 weeks or so he would travel to my city to spend the weekend with me. One such weekend, we were on a date, at a restaurant, and my cell phone rang. I looked at it and said, “It’s the paper. I need to take this,” and had a 5-minute conversation at the table. When I turned back to him he looked me in the eye and asked who had died. I told him no one, and he said, “then there was no reason that call couldn’t have waited an hour.”

    Reader, I married him. And I have never since interrupted a meal with anyone I love or even mildly respect to answer my damn phone since then. It can wait. And if it can’t, they’ll call back.

    The story about the birthday party broke my heart. You should have dunked the thing in the Sprite.

    • Donna Freedman

      I love that story. Thanks for sharing it. And yeah, still second-guessing my inability to say “Dude, this is your kid’s birthday — could you put the phone down for as much as an hour???” (Hint: He is neither a high-ranking government official or someone waiting for a kidney.)

  16. If you can’t beat em join em? They say the internet is only growing by leaps and bounds. Your right it is rude though. Can you not be bothered to be unconnected while you spend time with your child at such an important age in their young life? It is common courtesy in my opinion.

    • Donna Freedman

      Agreed. That kid is going to be little for such a short time…and at some point is going to stop trying to connect with you. Anybody remember the Harry Chapin song, “Cat’s in the Cradle”? Sigh.


    A co-worker used to check her phone about every fifteen seconds while we were talking. My fingers itched to take the gadget and throw it in her coffee. I got so I avoided her whenever possible which wasn’t hard since she didn’t look up very often.

    Perhaps the saying “take time to smell the roses” should be changed to “take time to look at the roses”.

  18. Husband and I are probably the only two people that do not have cell phones–nor do we want them. I’m sure landlines will be abolished at some point and we’ll be forced to get them, but until then, they’re a no go for us.
    A friend and I were having this very conversation this past weekend. After touring Versailles and the gardens all day, my 2 daughters and their friend couldn’t wait to get to a Starbucks for McDonalds for the free wi-fi. They could not even spend a vacation in Europe away from their devices. I sat there watching them text, tweet or whatever, when a bunch of folks sat down at our table. I started talking to the guy next to me (a very good looking young man and I speak French). We were laughing and talking with his buddies when all of a sudden, three heads raised. Now they were interested in what I was doing. I just said, “see what you miss when you have your head buried in that crazy phone”.
    I’m not a technophobe. I love some of the advances: skyping when talking to my kids that live far away, etc.. But those stupid phones–it’s an addiction.

    • Donna Freedman

      I also wonder about all the photography and taping that goes on with phones. How much of an experience is missed because you’re busy setting up just the right shot and then sharing it on social media?
      (And for extra credit: Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!)
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  19. I check my phone a lot in case I missed a call for a job (or if my brother or dad texts me something important). I mostly use it as a watch when out and about.

  20. Way to get rid of that expense! I think it would be hard to downsize in the cell phone department, which is one reason I’ve never had a smartphone. My husband and I both have dumb phones that cost us $10/month for each one (a plan that is over ten years old). We will hold out with our dumb phones as long as possible!

  21. Some great reading for a calm Sunday night 🙂 Reminds me of whenever I forget my phone at home and suddenly have to live without it for a handful of hours… I always come back relaxed and not missing it!

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks. Although I’m shocked that a techno-hipster like you would ever be without your phone, I’m glad you’re able to hang it up for a while.

  22. I always put my phone away when I’m with others, whether that be at the dinner table or even just chatting over coffee. But it’s really frustrating when someone starts texting their boyfriend or checking their instagram newsfeed when we are in the middle of a conversation. Then inevitably someone else takes out their phone until everyone is just on their phone, and no one is living “in the moment”. One of the reasons I love to travel: everyone is disconnected and willing to engage with their environment!


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