Joseph Choe

Why I Don't Have a Smartphone

People are always surprised when they see my phone.

It’s an old Motorola MOTO W755 that I’ve had since 2008 or 2010, I can’t quite remember when I bought it. The dust plugs have long since fallen out, and the case is being held together by tape. And yet, I will never replace it.

I’ve never owned a smartphone. It began mostly as a work philosophy thing. Let me explain.

A Work Philosophy thing

When I started working in the mid to late 2000s, smartphones were just becoming a major fixture in the office. Not everyone had one, though most people did have a bulky cellphone at least. The BlackBerry was king and the iPhone wouldn’t come out until late 2007. Yet there was a marked shift taking place in the office.

Phone reception still wasn’t great, you could drop calls spontaneously, but with the newer smartphones you could browse the Internet, receive emails, and do all sorts of other things.

My employers began expecting near instantaneous responses to email and texts, even after work hours, sometimes even in the middle of the night. Now call me old fashioned, but I’m of the belief that once I leave the office for the day, I’m no longer working. And yet, employers expect more, much to their own detriment.

If employers know that you have a smartphone, they will expect you to answer messages within five minutes upon receipt, no matter the time of day (or night). Some of them will even turn on receipt notifications so they know when you receive emails. If you don’t answer, the next day they’ll take you into their office and ask why you didn’t respond to their “urgent” message. They’ll ask why you’re not a team player.

Or you’ll turn your phone off to unwind and relax and turn it back on hours later to find several frantic messages. Why did you turn your phone off? Don’t you know that the company needs you?

As you can imagine, I found this to be very onerous and nerve-wracking. Now I was just as fascinated as most everyone else by the demos Steve Jobs was giving of the new iPhone. But giving in and buying one would have meant acquiescing to an employers’ demands so they could harass me while I was at home.

And that was an unacceptable trade-off.

What to do?

So I refused to get a smartphone. And since my employers at the time didn’t want to buy me one, and I didn’t really have a computer to check emails at home, I was able to escape from my employers’ scrutiny. I don’t know if it would have worked with every employer, as I’m sure some would have made the expense and forced their employees to buy a smartphone.

Still, for me that mindset stuck, and to this day I refuse to buy a smartphone. Of course, things have changed even more drastically these days. People work at home with even greater frequency, and remote setups are quite a bit more powerful than they were back in the late 2000s. The lines between work and home have blurred. From a computer at home, you can easily view work emails and SSH into a work terminal in order to deploy some “urgent” fix.

My refusal to buy a smartphone means one less vector for harassment to worry about, yet there are still others. The battle against this sort of encroachment is ever eternal. While I’m adamant that there be a set block of time devoted to work and everything else is my own personal life, there are some battles you win and some you lose.

And of course, personal inertia has played a huge part in this. I’m not one to change things in my life unless there’s a good reason for it. I largely view this as a failing of mine, but it’s worked here to my advantage.

Will I ever get one?

If I do, it will be because the choice has been taken away from me. I’m not sure, but I expect my device is nearing its end of life, and 3G isn’t really supported anymore either. So one day in the future I’ll have to upgrade.

When that happens, I may end up not buying a new phone at all. That would be far preferable than the alternative.