November 2012 marked a big change in my life . During that month, I lost my “dumb phone” on a flight to St. Louis (still haven’t figured out how I managed to do that) and upgraded to my first smartphone. For the longest time, I fought off the smartphone craze, saying things like “I don’t need it,” “I can live just fine without having the internet at my fingertips,” and “I don’t want to be one of those people addicted to their phones.” Well, after I left the airport and realized I didn’t have my phone in my pocket, that change I had been fighting for so long was forced upon me. Fast forward to summer 2016 and I was forced back into the “dark ages” for a week….I had to turn my data off! The good news here is that I am still alive to tell you all about it and I learned a lot about our addiction to data during these “troubling” times. I wanted to share this experience with you all, but please note the references to “struggling” or “tough times” or any other dramatic phrase have a major sarcastic undertone to it!
Why did I have to turn my data off?
My family is on the Verizon (Ticker: VZ) share plan. I’m sure most of you know, but up to 10 lines can share a certain data limit with up to 10 lines on it and the cost of the data is split among the phone lines. My family plan has six members on it and we share 10 GB of data. Typically this hasn’t been a problem; however, for this month, both of my sisters and my wife each took separate trips. What do you do on your trips? Burn through data as you try to navigate a new area and figure out your surroundings. No, this wasn’t a Pokemon Go inspired data overage! With seven days to go in our plan, we received notification that we almost hit our data allotment and would be charged handsomely for each GB we went over.
For me personally, my solution was to return to the “dark ages” that I referenced in the introduction to the article. I turned my data off immediately and turned back the clock on my phone. When I wasn’t connected to WiFi, I could only text and call on my phone. Unless I was connected to WiFi, there would be no Tweeting from our account, no Facebooking from the Diplomats’ page, no aimless surfing, no unnecessary/lazy usage of Google Maps for directions, and no responding to comments on our blog. If I wanted to do something extra, I would either have to suck it up until I went home or try to find a WiFi connection wherever I was. Folks, the struggle was real!
What happened & lessons learned
What happened? Nothing. Absolutely Nothing. I was joking above, but there was no struggle. It is funny, turning off my data showed me just how much of a luxury data was. I didn’t need my smartphone or the internet to live my day-to-day life. Remember those quotes from the introduction, the things that were my biggest fears and reasons why I didn’t need a smartphone, data, or the whole nine yards? I had forgotten that as my smartphone became intertwined with my every day life and our blog began to take off. I forgot that there was a time where I lived just fine without having unlimited information at my fingertips and all answers readily available. I forgot that it is okay not to have my phone attached to my side or explore on my own without knowing the answers or the Yelp scores of every place I went.
Of course, I wasn’t completely handicapped here. So many places offer WiFi nowadays that I can still use my phone if I can access the internet. So I wasn’t living in the dark ages when I went to a restaurant with WiFi, when I was at home, or when I was at work and could hop on my company’s WiFi. That’s a huge disclaimer to all of this. But, not having the data turned on my phone did open my eyes to a few things and teach me a few lessons that I can hopefully carry forward when I turn my phone’s data.
It Can Wait – Whatever it is that you think you need to look up and know the answer to now, most likely it can wait. Who was the MLB All Star Game MVP in 1997? Don’t know, but it can wait (Will give major props to anyone who knows that without looking it up and lets me know in the comments section. Honors system here folks!). Who followed our Twitter account or followed the Dividend Diplomats on Facebook today….It can wait. What was the name of the movie that featured X actor/actress 10 years ago with that really funny plot about something that I just can’t remember during this conversation…it can wait. Having smartphones and access to this information whenever we want through data or WiFi has created this “Know Now” mentality that forces us to look up everything at that moment in time, because let’s face it, the world will end if I don’t know the answer to all my questions within 10 minutes. Before, I was absolutely a “Know Now” person. But this experience reminded me that I can function just fine without knowing the answers to my questions until a later date.
Improved Conversations– Part of my seven days without data overlapped on a work trip and one of my co-workers and I traveled to Vermont for a client. Typically, what happens when we travel with our co-workers is that most of our lunches and dinners involve catching up on Twitter, the news, the markets, what happened in the sports world during the day, and for me, catching up on a lot of the Diplomats happenings since we can’t check during work all the time. Well, when I didn’t have my data turned on and the restaurant didn’t have WiFi, I wasn’t able to do any of those things. I actually had to talk to my co-workers about things. OH MY GOSH…STOP THE PRESSES! It turns out we had a lot of great conversations and I got to know them pretty well (Shocker, I know).
To parlay off of the last point, we had a really fun conversation one meal where we tried to name all the Heisman Trophy winners since 1995 and their respective teams. My data was turned off so I couldn’t look up the answer and we set a rule that he couldn’t look it up on his phone either. It was a blast and I think we hit about 75% of them since we took the time to think about it, talk about the possibilities based on our knowledge of championships, etc (Darn you Chris Weinke!). But if we just sat on our phones the whole time like we typically would, these conversations would never have happened. Funny how the basic art of conversation gets away from us as we are glued to our phone screens.
A Lot of Places Offer WiFi– I was shocked about this. Since I didn’t have my data turned on, if I wanted to use my phone for anything outside of calling and texting, I had to connect to WiFi. It blew my mind how many places offer free WiFi to their guests. So many restaurants, stores, and public places have a free WiFi connection that is either open to the public or is easily accessible if you ask for the password. All I had to do was ask, a favorite frugal living lesson of mine from a year ago, and the waiter or waitress happily provided me with their creative WiFi password. My favorite password was “End Apathy!” Having access to WiFi was huge and definitely eased the pain of not being able to use my data. Without free WiFi, the tone of this article would have been a lot less optimistic and probably had a much more annoyed tone to it. But it is great to know how easily you can access WiFi and will help reduce overall data usage going forward when I do decide to flip the switch back on.
Improved Focus on The Road– This is the last one and it is kind of embarrassing, but not having data has made me a better and more alert driver. How easy was it at red lights to update your Twitter feed, see who was the last person to follow you on Twitter, or read the comment on your blog that prompted your phone to vibrate? Extremely easy! Well, you will never have WiFi while driving, so not having data turned on removes all of those distractions from you while driving. My focus on the road has never been better. Our cars cause us enough headaches with all of the other costs such as insurance and costly repairs, we don’t need another self induced expense from an accident caused by our smartphones. Sadly, it honestly should have been like this all the time and I shouldn’t be writing this. But, it is a major pro to all of this!
Told you all this had a sarcastic undertone to it. While it sucks that we used up most of our data allotment, this was a great eye-opening experience that the world will still revolve without it. My life will be okay without data and in fact, it will barely be impacted (especially with how readily available WiFi is). All the stuff I thought I needed data to do can still be done without it. Going forward, I am going to focus on remembering all of these lessons learned and hopefully continue to apply them all. I don’t need data to have a good conversation at dinner and I don’t need to have all my answers answered immediately. This week proved how wrong that mentality of mine over the last few years was and I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong. This was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.
What are your data usage habits? Do you try to only use data in an emergency? Or does your plan allow unlimited data usage? How have you handled situations like this? Are there any other lessons or points that you would like to make that I left out of this article? Please all, share your experiences here, I would love to hear them!