This 25-Year-Old Hasn't Owned a Cell Phone in 4 Years, and Loves It

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Ben Brast-McKie on right (Ben Brast-McKie)

Could you imagine living without a smartphone?

What about living without a cell phone at all?

Ben Brast-McKie, a 25-year-old tutor in the midst of applying to graduate programs in philosophy, decided to ditch his cell phone altogether back in August 2009, right before his trip to India.

Brast-McKie also doesn't use Facebook, Twitter, or any other forms of social media. 

"The reason is just that they don't really appeal to me," McKie told Business Insider. "I felt averted to the idea of creating a digital identity to publish online. I am not some digital profile. I don't know why I would want to be receiving tweets or what have you. I don't like spending too much time transfixed by a screen; it feels like life is passing me by."

He uses a landline phone sometimes, but only once or twice a month. The only other technologies he relies on are his laptop for writing and reading papers, email, and Google Voice. 

Down the road, Brast-McKie isn't necessarily sure if he'll ever get a cell phone again. 

"I like not having one, though it is also constantly challenging," Brast-McKie says. "I am constantly facing challenges from my peers. But I think I'll keep on going so long as it makes sense. I'm not opposed to having a cell phone again one day; I am opposed to the abuse and overuse phones."

The best part about not having a cell phone, Brast-McKie says, is being present all the time, wherever he is. Living without a cell phone has also taught him to be self-sufficient, and to trust his own abilities to deal with new situations. 

Think, for example, how a lot of us blindly rely on Google Maps when navigating through cities. 

But living without a cell phone doesn't come without its qualms. 

These are the worst parts about not having a phone, in Brast-McKie's words:

  • Other people assuming that I am judgmental of them or their lifestyle.
  • Constant, subtle pressure from others to get a phone.
  • Most of my close friends have at one point or another told me to get a phone.
  • Attempting to make plans with others who do not otherwise make plans, or stick to them.
  • Constantly having to explain to people that I don't have a phone.
  • Others being critical, or put off.

Last December, a close friend of Brast-McKie's was putting a lot of pressure on him to get a cell phone.  So he wrote him a letter via email to explain his motivations. 

Here's an excerpt from the letter: 

"I got my phone when I was 17, around the same time I got a car. This is when my social life exploded. I was all over the Bay, driving and coordinating between people, places, events, etc. It was great, but it was also all I knew. I did not know what it was like to socialize the way that my parents grew up. I didn't know what it was like to have a car but no cell phone, or neither, and be at an age of relative independence. All I knew was what I had and I explored its powers, only later coming to find its limitations.

What changed? First I noticed that I had developed many compulsive tendencies. I would feel the 'itch' as Corey so vividly depicted. I would also feel the 'leash' if you know what I mean. The phone became a constant interruption. It doesn't matter that the people interrupting are people I knew and loved. It was still an interruption. I noticed myself being interrupted, breaking the natural cadence of my conversations. I noticed others doing the same to me. At first this was socially 'rude.' People would apologize but do it anyways. But this didn't last very long. Now it is accepted and expected. The idea of being wholly present to each other and the conversation was to be archived as something of the past.

These observations of mine ran in tandem with a broader project: to know myself. Part of what this meant to me then was expanding my own awareness of my states of consciousness. I was working on being mindful, present, and non-judgmental. These aims fell into direct tension with my engagement with the constantly evolving social landscape that I was struggling to understand. I found my cell phone and its interruptions a distraction, breaking my ability to remain present and mindful of where and what I was, and was doing then. The itch was just as bad. Instead of being at peace with what was, I often felt anxious about the ebb and flow of some social something I was working to pull together or participate in one way or another. I would find myself thinking, 'I should call this person; I should text so and so.' The timing was important. It was convenience in overdrive to the point of exhaustion. This is something we Americans specialize at."



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