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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?