The Ups and Downs of a Smartphone-Free Life

People applaud the fact I don’t have a phone—but why?

Ailsa Ross
Human Parts

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Photo: Francesca Lagonika / EyeEm / Getty Images

WWhen someone asks for my number and I say, “I don’t have a phone,” the reaction is either “that’s so cool” or—if it happens to be a guy—“yeah, right” and an eye roll. It’s fair to assume I’m lying: In the U.S. today, 95 percent of adults own cell phones, leading Elizabeth Segran to opine that “choosing not to own a mobile device is a minor act of protest.”

Am I protesting? Kind of. I spend enough time in front of a screen for work, so when I’m outside, I want to be unconnected and free. But mostly, as a Scot, it’s just my Calvinist roots showing. I’ve dropped one too many phones in one too many sinks to justify spending money on an item I’ll only end up breaking.

And it turns out, not having a phone makes me cool—for the first time ever. The backlash against constant connectivity is real, with many questioning whether our smartphones wield too much power over us. Our phones—through ads and algorithms and apps designed by millionaire software engineers—are designed to be addictive. As Segran writes, “You may think you have control over it, but how often do you not answer the Pavlovian bell?” Cellphones seem like just another example of how we’re not in control of our own lives.

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Ailsa Ross
Human Parts

Celebrating women adventurers (illustrated book out in March). Writing about history and place for Outside, BBC History, Nat Geo Traveler. https://ailsaross.com