A Life Without Certain Technologies

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Well, there I am...smack dab on the front of the Technology section of the New York Times site today. A few days ago I was interviewed by Times reporter Claire Miller about my cell phone-free lifestyle, a choice that began due to budgetary necessity and in time morphed into a norm in my life. Only in America can you find yourself famed for living without luxuries...

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I want to first acknowledge there are indeed people whose careers revolve around the necessity for constant communication and where a cell phone is integral. In my case, this is true also, but the modes by which I can be reached have migrated completely online (since we cut out land line also). Luddite, I am not, but someone whose purchasing habits are dictated by a realistic budget and also a system of measuring necessity vs. cost. In my case, a cell phone would be a hardly used technology, thanks to IM, email, social networking and Skype. I know, because I've owned several cell phones before.

What's a little unfortunate about the article is the picture it paints people who choose to do without certain technologies in their lives as "smug" or backwards. My own quote about the luxury of not being able to be reached subtracted the context of which the point was mentioned; I prefer not to carry anything disruptive or intrusive while hiking on the weekends, at a museum or enjoying a movie. Who does? Even if your phone is off or on vibrate, it's there, and one will likely check it occasionally, if not regularly. It also happens to be an expensive monthly cost, and in these economic times, it's prudent to weigh cost vs. utility.

When I inform someone I do not own a cell phone, there are two typical responses, both preluded by a moment of surprise. Most seem to find the premise amusing, occasionally followed by a, "Wow, I wish I could do that...that sounds great!". But there's also the flip side: a desire to mock, as if I've told the person I commute to work on a penny farthing on the freeway. In either case, the idea of living without integrated, always-available communication has become as foreign as someone living without an internet connection.

Although Unplggd is a home tech site, we've always wanted to communicate that technologies we bring into our lives should always be beneficial and specific to our needs; cell phones for most of us have become synonymous with a new world necessity, but I've personally found I've gotten well off enough without it integrated into my lifestyle. But we all make decisions about what is and is not important in our lives...which luxuries we keep and others we edit out. As a former first-adopting junkie, perhaps the luster of once owning the first color screen or the first slider phone was enough to satiate the thrill of being amongst the 85% in the United States. Or maybe it's just because I sit here all day and look at press releases of tens of home electronics each day that the consumer need fades (I still want a new GPS unit!).

An interesting fact we've learned about ourselves as we've edited our lifestyle is we're generally happier with less in our household. We didn't die when we cut DSS service. We haven't had any drama since canceling our land line. Our friends didn't ostracize us once we sold all our gaming consoles. The technologies I've kept in my life are truly beloved and important to my specific interests: our projection screen setup, our two laptops, our digital cameras that help record our adventures in and out of the home. So perhaps the lesson out of all of this is a reminder that it's not more technology that improves our lives, but better technologies which complement our needs and lifestyles.

Refusenik? More like a Larry David "ehhh" and shrug.