Blake Snow

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The anti-technologist: How to smartphone without a data plan

iphoneEditor’s note: The Anti-Technologist is a new column by Blake Snow. It advocates late adoption of consumer technology and expels the wonders of finding offline balance in an online world.

I’m convinced that cellular data plans will someday replace the broadband cable lines most of us still use to access the internet. I also think data plans are great for mobile workers, extended-stay vacationers, or anyone else who doesn’t have access to the internet for the entirety of the work day.

I also know, however, that the last four years of my life after quitting my data plan have been irreversibly better than the four previous years in which I subscribed to a plan. The reason I abandoned the portable internet? In short, I did it because I was tired of being on a self-imposed work leash. That and the “always there” internet didn’t mesh well with my indulgent lust for information. So I cut it.

A lot of people I encounter are surprised by this, mostly because the mainstream view incorrectly assumes that staying on an internet-connected smartphone for extended periods lets you get ahead in life (i.e. make more money). It doesn’t. It’s just an illusion. In fact, all-day internetting actually leads to less inspired work, since obsessive users are never able to truly break away, recharge their batteries, and return to work with a hungry mind.

Nevertheless, smartphones are still great, even on dumb plans like mine. Here’s why:

  1. Smartphones can connect to the internet using wifi. First off, you need to understand that to enjoy a smartphone without a data plan, you have to own the phone and/or have it factory unlocked. This enables you to have voice and text plan only. With that out of the way, wi-fi is how I access the web on my phone while at the office, around the house, or at any of the bajilian places that offer free wifi. Plus, wifi is faster than most phone speeds. Of course, you’ll need to plan ahead if you require internet in an area without coverage. But you should be doing that anyway as a non-mobile web user.
  2. Smartphones on dumb networks still let you text, call, and even email. The first two, including photo texts, are obvious. Virtually all cell phone plans come with talk and text. The latter is a little trick I learned. While you won’t be able to connect to email via the web or email app without a data plan, you can send an MMS text message to any email address in the world. I do it all the time, sending notes to myself, or other stuff I’d rather not send through text. I don’t check work email on nights and weekends, but I have set up an emergency email that goes to my phone should the need arise. Pretty nifty, no? The trick is to setup a phone contact that only lists an email (otherwise you’re phone will try to send the MMS email to the phone number).
  3. Smartphones on dumb networks let you update your calendar on the go. Most calendar software, like Gcal, lets you update, check, and review your calendar via text message. Or you can sync later when you do have a connection. So if I’m away from my desk, and an event pops up, I text the following to 48368 (GVENT): “Meeting with The Most Interesting Man in the World Tuesday Noon.” Google then sends a confirmation that it’s been added to my calendar. If your meeting is further in advance, replace the day of the week with day of the month. You can also check your calendar by texting “day” for your present day schedule and “nday” for next day’s schedule. Very nifty.
  4. Smartphones on dumb networks still give you turn by turn directions. For example, you can text 466453 (GOOGLE) “150 Main St to 450 State St, City, State” and it will return step by step directions, including mileage and estimated times. Granted, this isn’t as nice as colored web maps and I still prefer printing directions off in advance or calling a party if I’m lost, but I’ve successfully used SMS maps in the past and will in the future if needs be. Definitely nice to have in a pinch when I don’t want to trouble someone with a call.
  5. Smartphones on dumb networks still let you search the web. Almost all of it, in fact. I use Google SMS for trivia, definitions, movie times, food ideas, flight status, price checks, etc. I’ve never really been able to get sports scores to work, but other than that, it’s a very helpful feature when away from wifi.
  6. Smartphones on dumb networks even let you update a blog, tweet, and Facebook. Since most large websites, including blogs, support mobile SMS, you can pretty much do everything with text these days, often in less time than firing up a browser or app. Since my blog supports email posts, I’ve even updated my blog on rare occasions using MMS email. If your a narcisistic Tweeter, you can update your profile with SMS as well. Same goes for Facebook, at least before I deleted my account.

So there you have it. Smartphones on dumb networks can still provide almost all of the wired essentials, without overly interfering with your better, more social, offline life. About the only thing they can’t do is streaming media, but that’s why I load up my iPhone with lots of good music, photos, movies and games in advance for long trips.

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