My life as a cell-phone holdout

For the last two decades, I have spent 83% of my waking hours enjoying the freedom of not owning a cellphone, 5% feeling smug about it, 2% in situations in which a phone would have been awfully convenient and 10% fielding incredulous questions. The first is always: How do you do your job? (I’m not the junior blacksmith at the Renaissance Faire; I’m a managing director at a private-equity firm.) I explain that my colleagues are very tolerant, the firm provides me with all of the latest communication tools (computer, telephone, Post-its) right at my desk, and accomplishing my daily tasks without a smartphone is not beyond human capability. Indeed, people lived this way back at the Dawn of Civilization, circa 1992…

I know that cellphones have their uses. But it was hardly a difficult choice to sacrifice their utility in an attempt to make more room for thought. I don’t walk around most days musing about ways to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” I walk around most likely musing about sandwiches. But I cannot help but dwell on Thoreau’s most famous words as both a hope and a warning: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what I had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I hope that I have a few more years left before I come to die, but I have gotten incalculable pleasure from not owning a cellphone, even if I never did make it, as Thoreau did, to the woods. But in a few weeks, I will buy a phone. I am scared. I am afraid of losing a small part of my identity, goodbye to No-Phone Gary, cousin to Dial-Up Dave, wherever you are. I’m afraid of becoming rude, of placing my phone faceup on a restaurant table, or playing “Words with Friends” at a funeral because the deceased did, after all, like words and have friends.