American literature students who have read Thoreau generally remember two things about Walden: that Thoreau spent $28.125 building his cabin, and that he deemed the four necessaries of life to be food, fuel, shelter, and clothing.
Cell phones did not make the cut.
To students, a phone seems to be an absolute essential. They could, theoretically, use one to submit work on Canvas. They might use it as a small-screen textbook to avoid carrying a heavy anthology to class. They can go places in safety because their AI of choice can route them there. They carry the world in the palms of their hands.
Yet it seems smarter not to have a smart phone. First, calculate the actual cost of the devices. Assuming that you’re an average user who purchases a new phone every 32 months, you’ll spend about $12,500 on phones before your death. Once you add data and apps, you’ll have spent over $75,000 in 60 years as a phone user.
If you prefer to look for hidden costs, think of the money wasted by spending too much too early on phones. If you set aside $1000 a year from the age of eleven–the average age of a first-time cell user in America–until the ripe old age of sixteen, you could put the money in an annuity that could yield as much as $85,000 in thirty years. Other hidden costs involve a greater potential for accidents while using the phone, lower productivity, the increased likelihood that data miners will sell you things you don’t really need.
The greatest damage I see involves the emphasis on having rather than doing. Keep your nose in your phone long enough and it’ll own you. Instead, see the world. Do interesting things. Keep a journal. Read the room instead of reading your feed. Free yourself from your digital chains.
I suspect that many of you will reply to this post on your phones. Some of you will want to show that you can document the interesting things you on a phone more effectively than in any other way. We’ll have to visit during your 10-year reunion to discuss everything you gained when you put your phones down.