Annette John-Hall: Going cold turkey on social tech - by choice

Posted: April 26, 2011

The e-mail directed us to come to the training session armed with our new cell phones and computers, prepared to start a revolution.

Well, not actually. But our instructor did remind us that the first pictures from the late January uprisings in Egypt were taken by a photojournalist using nothing more than a smartphone - photos that changed the world.

For an old-school scribe honed on pens, dimes, and notebooks, it's dizzying to think that I can write, text, tweet, Skype, video, photograph, listen to the police scanner - oh, and talk, too - all on a single device.

Uh, make that two. I'd almost forgotten about my personal iPhone, smudged, unused, uncharged, and tossed aside. Cutting-edge three years ago, now all but obsolete.

Not to mention confusing, since now I have two cell phones to keep track of and charged. This may be common for some, but for me, it's like one more set of keys not to find in your pocketbook, one more set of underwear not to find in the gym bag. One more thing to keep track of is one more thing to forget.

Truth is, at my age, there's just not enough capacity left on the memory card.

Powering down?

Lately, as the reluctant owner of two cell phones and two laptops, I've been obsessed with notions of powering down.

Can't help wondering: What would happen if I limited my information portals to the lone dinosaur of a house phone everybody ignores on the kitchen counter?

But then . . . what would become of me professionally? Would I wind up in some no-name pub where washed-up hacks go to unplug?

Not necessarily, says my young pal Heather Faison, who proved that being cell-phoneless doesn't mean you have to be disconnected.

Mind you, Faison is a digital journalist to the core. Her four-part multimedia series, "Beyond Baby Fat," which explored childhood obesity in African Americans, appeared on She owns a slick website ( on which she defines herself as a "multimedia producer, graphic and Web designer, and writer," as if writer were the least of her priorities.

As with many twentysomethings, Faison's ever-blinking BlackBerry served as her phone, her e-mail, her alarm clock. Her technology was as indispensable as oxygen. She couldn't live without it.

But, interestingly enough, a recent three-month teaching fellowship in Cameroon made Faison realize that her tech-crazed life was less normal than she wanted to believe.

All but unplugged

Thinking she wouldn't have access to sophisticated technology in Africa, Faison sold her BlackBerry on Craigslist. Once in Cameroon, she opted for a basic cell phone that cost her 12 bucks.

No e-mail, no Facebook, no Twitter. "All I could do was text and call," she said.

There she was, the media, video production, podcasting, and social-media teacher, pretty much unplugged.

Not only did Faison learn to live without her smartphone; she loved life without it. So when she returned to the States, she did one better.

She opted for no cell phone at all.

"I missed the solitude of the village I was living in," Faison said, speaking from her parents' house phone in North Carolina. "I fully planned on getting another phone, but it never happened. ... I was still alive and in contact with people, so I knew I could do it."

Her tech skills enable her to live without her mobile device, yet not miss a beat. She texts on Twitter free. She Skypes on her computer.

And when Faison wants to talk, she uses the house phone.

"I call my friends back when I'm able, and they're OK with that," she says. "Before, I'd see the missed call and immediately feel overburdened with guilt."

She admits that, at 27, "I'm a throwback." But being cell-phone-less not only gives her more free time; it also allows her quality time when she does talk on the phone.

Hmm. Maybe getting rid of my cell phones isn't such a bad idea.

At least until it's time for an upgrade. I hear the iPhone 5 debuts in June.

Contact me at 215-854-4986 or

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