Why Do We Need Cell Phone Plans?

I’ve long felt I pay way too much for my phone service. I live in the Bay Area, where wifi is ubiquitous; between home and work, I’m rarely off wifi. An end result is that I pay for a VPN (I use Mullvad) while also paying AT&T for data that I barely touch. I’m on one of the lowest-level data plans, 5GB, which costs $50.00 per month (!!!). “All plans include unlimited talk and text,” which is useless. Before they switched to this model, I was on the lowest-level number-of-minutes plan and it was still much more than I ever needed.

The culprits when it comes to the ~0.95GB of data I use each month are normally the background activities of my work communications channels, and Facebook/Instagram/Feedly — whatever my time-killers are when commuting. Importantly, it’s easy to turn off all cellular data access if I want to be strict; there’s no technological requirement for the core functionality of my iPhone that I use cellular data at all.

I feel I’ve kept my plan going for so many years just because it’s What One Does. Everyone I know has a plan with one of the big carriers. My whole family is on AT&T; a funny brand loyalty that emerged a few years ago when everyone was pushing free in-network calls (particularly T-Mobile. Anyone remember “myFavs,” “top 5;” any of those options?). I kept thinking: if there’s no real benefit to staying on these inflated plans, why doesn’t anyone I know… leave? Are the alternatives awful? Is switching to something else too sketchy? Too time-consuming? Too unreliable? But seeing that fat chunk of money come out of my account every month has been like a mosquito’s whine. Eventually, I had to do something. It was driving me bonkers.

Alongside this vague feeling of financial exploitation, there’s my love for my iPhone in general. Well, my love for the internet. The iPhone is just a good vector for it. Even before smartphones were ubiquitous, you’d need to pry me away from a computer lab; I’ve been ready to be “always on” since I first heard the tones of a dial-up modem.

This has some consequences, obviously. Like many, I notice I’m never really… Not Working. I notice I multitask a lot, sorting through email or skimming articles while ‘watching’ TV in the evenings with my girlfriend. I’ve always thought of myself as immune to the shit-talking multitasking gets, by the way. Maybe this is an ADHD superpower, but I feel Born 2 Multitask. My brain hums happily along 2+ different tracks, weaving stuff together, enjoying little patterns and confluences.

At the same time, though, I have always been a bit anxious. And my always-connectedness often contributes to that sensation. I started to wonder about my sleep; about that glow on my face (yes, before anyone says anything: I use Night Shift and f.lux-like things everywhere.) And during the day, when going for a walk or running a quick errand, I’d struggle (sometimes hilariously) to find a spot to jam my phone into my clothes. Why? Am I concerned my steps won’t be counted / I won’t get credit? A bit… I do like my fitness trackers. God forbid I lose an opportunity to hatch a Pokemon Go egg. But overall the reasoning was very In Case of Emergencies, a worry that only an irresponsible person would ignore (right?). I started to wonder what a Responsible person would do, if they wanted to be able to leave their smartphone behind.

So far, I’ve arrived at a combo of Freedompop and The Light Phone.

Freedompop doesn’t seem fly-by-night and has been written about and reviewed in the usual publications, so my concerns about sketchiness are pretty well assuaged. Reliability-wise, it’s using established networks (Sprint, Three, AT&T). As for the frustration/annoyance of switching over to it, I’ll report back.

The Light Phone is certainly overpriced, but would give me an option to control my connectedness without feeling like I was exposing myself to any risks in case of emergencies. After hemming and hawing for a week, and reading too much identical coverage of it, I decided the combination of my 6S+ and this minimalist doo-dad would be ‘good for me.’ Again, I’ll report back.

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