Why I Hate (And Can't Live Without) My Phone

This is a cross-post from James Altucher‘s blog Altucher Confidential. His previous appearances on the Freakonomics blog can be found here.


That’s my phone number. It has been for the past eight years and presumably will be for the next eighty. Until they make the Google Chip for my brain. Initially it lived inside a Blackberry. I vaguely remember ordering it online from a company that sold Blackberries to deaf people. I’m not deaf.


For some reason they gave me a Connecticut area code even though I live in New York. I always tell people it’s my “Greenwich office.” Greenwich is famous for all the hedge funds there. It’s a joke. I hate Connecticut. Too many roads have the same name and all run parallel to each other. You drive on them for hours until you finally realize you’re simply never going to arrive at your destination. Every house is bigger than the next in Connecticut. It makes me feel anxious and jealous.

I see little kids riding bicycles outside these mega-mansions. I hate them. Then I hate myself for hating little kids. There’s nothing good about Connecticut.

Except my phone comes from there somehow.

One time I left my phone in a cab. The cab driver called me. Twenty bucks to get it back, he said. So we met at the corner of 50th and 7th. I got there in the rain and had to wait 20 minutes. Then he got out. I didn’t see my phone. Forty bucks, he said. I said OK too fast. A hundred bucks, he said. Hey, I said, we made a deal. Haha, boss, just kidding with you. So I got my phone back for $40, twice what we originally agreed to.

But I had calls to make. Calls that were important back then. I’m sure none of those calls were important. At the time there was this girl. And I had to talk to her even though she wasn’t taking my calls. So $40 seemed like a bargain.

This phone number has stayed with me through three different phone networks, five different phones (it’s now an Android), four different businesses, an ex-marriage, a new marriage, maybe 100 different homes if you count all the hotels I’ve stayed in when I’ve been “in between” things.

But I never answer it.

I like the voicemail2text feature. So people can leave me messages and then I can read them. Within a few weeks. But… I don’t always read them. It’s hard to talk to people on the phone. And not just for psychological reasons. All the protocols for electronic communication via phone were made in 1957. Throw in a wireless network that’s not really that good and suddenly you can barely hear the people on the other side. I’m always saying, what?

And when you answer the phone you have to go through a little interrogation. What’s going on? I have no answer to that. You just interrupted my walk in the park, my coffee, my game of online chess, my writing, my reading, my time with my kids, my time with Claudia, my trading, I was about to brush my teeth, I was listening to the sounds outside and doing nothing, I was watching The Office – the episode where they interview Warren Buffett to replace Michael Scott. I was watching it on my phone.

I know: you have something very important to tell me. But 100 years from now we’ll all be dead. The only thing important you might be able to tell me is that I just made a lot of money. But I’d prefer if you email that to me. Even emailing me that I made a lot of money probably wouldn’t change my lifestyle. I like a simple life.

I don’t even want to hear if you have to tell me someone is dead. Who could be dead that I could possibly want to hear about on the phone? But he took pills and then shot himself in the head! Tell me later. Or never.

The worst is when someone emails, “Call me.” What do I do with that? There’s nothing I can do. But then I wonder, “Are they about to tell me I made a lot of money? Why couldn’t they just tell me via email?” But if I respond via email, “What’s up?” I feel that’s sort of rude. Doesn’t he want to talk to me, they might think?

Or worse yet, if someone emails, “Call me. Important.” And it’s a Friday night and they won’t be in until Monday. If I do a statistical analysis, I bet you when someone writes, “Call me. Important”, there’s an 80% chance it came at 5:01pm on a Friday night. And it’s probably bad news.

But I have a problem responding to emails as well. And since I don’t keep a directory of contacts on my phone I don’t really know who’s texting me. I have to wonder, Whose number was that? Why did he or she just text, “finally this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Call me back!”?

But sometimes I’ve needed to call people. I need to know something from them right now. Like, are they stealing money? Or cheating on me? And if they don’t pick up the first time I get anxious. Why didn’t they pick up? Are they avoiding me? So a few minutes later I call back. And then a few minutes after that. “Call me back, please!”

But I can’t lose my phone. My entire life is in there. Photos, videos, emails, texts, numbers, messages, books. My phone is part of my brain. It’s a moon whose gravitational pull keeps it orbiting around my life.

I know I’d be happier if I just throw the phone away once and for all. Never use a phone again. It would be peaceful detachment at first. Like a Himalayan ascetic. But what if I then miss someone? What if I had a fight with her and now I want to apologize. But it’s too late and now I have no phone and she’s too far away for me to shout. What then?


What the hell does this post have to do with Freakonomics? This is just a flippin' rant about nothing. If I wanted that I'd watch "Seinfeld" and it would be a million times better. Please stop these worthless cross-posts.


Why do you publish this guy's posts? It has nothing to do with economics--he's a self-help guru for aspiring entrepreneurs. Has no place on the Freakonomics blog, and makes me respect this venue less and less.
Stick to the academic economics, not the business hucksters, please.


Can the Freakonomics people just not have this guy on Freakonomics? I've skipped the last several posts by this guy, and the only reason I'm commenting on this one is that it finally occurred to me that this guy is dragging down my opinion of Freakonomics and I probably should communicate that to Freakonomics beyond just stopping my visiting.

Get rid of this bozo.


agree...love your other stuff though

Justin Bassett

This mindless drivel belows on your twitter, compressed into 140 characters so that a reader can ignore it without a scroll wheel.


This is one of the most ridiculous posts on Freakonomics. What is the point?


These posts always depress me.

Samantha Cernock

Oh my gosh, I feel the exact same way!


Looks like someone's challenging Hamermesh for the "Worst Freakonomics blogger" title.


Some of the other posts have been OK, but this one is just weird and useless. Kick him out or at least check that it's relevant before blindly just reposting stuff...


Please stop publishing this guy. He is not as interesting as he thinks he is. Even his articles that could be interpreted as on-topic for freakonomics are obnoxious.


Yeah. I remember the one a few weeks back, where he was whining about having to cut back 'cause he couldn't afford his usual $40K/month spending any more.

Honestly, if I'd noticed his name on this column before reading, I'd have skipped it.

Neil Garratt

Please stop re-publishing this guy's self-indulgent nonsense. Please, just make it stop.


This guy gets paranoid and wants to call people to find out whether they're stealing from him or cheating on him? Like he really thinks they're going to tell him that on the phone?

I'd go a little further than the previous posters: not only should you quit posting his drivel, if he's a friend or someone you car about at all, you should seriously urge him to seek counseling.


I also fail to see the economic tie-in with this one, though a slight connection could've been made to achieve some token relevance.

Normally I do enjoy Altucher's posts despite that he's such a self-promoter (almost every piece he writes contains links to every other entry he's ever written).


I agree with the other commenters. This post (even worse than other similarly bad posts from this author) is a waste of time and dilutes the Freakonomics brand.

On another note, someone whose priorities include "The only thing important you might be able to tell me is that I just made a lot of money" and "Who could be dead that I could possibly want to hear about on the phone?" is just a sad, sad person.


I disagree with the flow of commentators here. This is somewhat interesting than many of the posts here, particularly the predictable nonsense the authors like to spout whenever the subject involves anything environmental.

And this dude has some sage wisdom to say about Connecticut. If anything, dude was too kind regarding that wretchhole and it's occupants.


Also, why did he give us all his real phone number? That's just asking for trouble. I'm tempted to text him that he just won a lot of money. Or else to please stop writing pathetic blog posts and talk to someone about his communication problems.


Please stop posting this guy. The last thing anyone needs is another rant from a technophobe about cell phones. For a much better cell phone article, try Johnathan Frazen

Coffee is for Wimps

What is wrong with this guy? All he talks about is how much money he makes and then alludes to how we should feel bad for him. Please stop putting this clown's post on such a great site.