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Will We Soon Pay to Remain Disconnected?

I just did — to a strange and wonderful company 

KDDI, one of Japan’s leading mobile telephone operators, recently released a cell phone for kids whose selling point is that it prevents users from sending e-mail or browsing the Web.unplugging.gif

In other words, in the world’s most advanced mobile communications market — the first to create a wildly successful Internet-enabled mobile telephone sector — “disconnectivity” is now a selling point.

This on-purpose disfunctionality is squarely aimed at parents concerned that children will view objectionable Web sites or become victims of online bullying. But can it be long before the value of being less connected becomes a desirable “feature” for adults?

Not long ago I read an article predicting that future elites (by which I presume the writer meant subjects of Wired magazine features, etc.) will be those unreachable by e-mail, text message, or cell phone. True privacy — real disconnection, the opposite of always-on, always-reachable — will be the new “cool.”

That prediction is already coming true, at least here in the Clark household. While buying a new cell phone recently, I paid to remain unconnected to the Internet (the prognostication about a disconnected future is supported by my kids, who consider my buying a cell phone a leading indicator that mobile devices will soon be uncool).

Yes, in submitting to what I consider the electronic equivalent of putting a bell on a cat collar, I bought a new handset and service package from a strange and wonderful company here in Portland called Consumer Cellular.


Consumer Cellular has an intriguing, highly-differentiated approach to selling mobile telephone services.

For one thing, its service descriptions are clear and easy to understand. This it is completely out of step with the rest of the industry.

For another, it doesn’t list 27 service plans followed by several permutations of asterisk combinations referring to bottom-page fine print readable only by 12-year-olds with 20/10 eyesight. And when I called them, a nice lady who seemed to enjoy her job immediately answered the phone, and was able to quickly answer my questions.

The kicker was that they don’t offer Web services (yet). This impressed me so that I promptly ordered one of their phones.

When the package arrived, I was even more pleased. Their instruction manual begins with copy after my own heart:

Imagine a cellular company that believes looking at the world is more interesting than staring at a phone.

At the end of the manual is a “Mantra” which includes these lines:

I will use my phone only when necessary.

I will look at the world instead of tiny buttons.

I will call for directions before starting the car.

I will spend in-person minutes with my friends and family.

I like these guys.

So, Consumer Cellular, there’s your free plug. Now, how about sponsoring us over here at Soul Shelter? I’m in your target demographic, the one that’s grumpy about technology, the one that’s, well, more chronologically endowed than your average blogger.

And no, Consumer Cellular, I didn’t buy your texting package. And come to think of it, why not hold off on the Web services? Surely there are more technology grumps like me out there willing to pay to remain disconnected …

You may also enjoy:

My Valuable Downgrade

Why Businesspeople Speak Like Idiots

Is the Internet Dangerous? (Part One)”

4 Comments to Will We Soon Pay to Remain Disconnected?

On Mar 19, 2009, Michael the Dumb Tech Geek commented:

I would find that disconnect a very useful feature. I’m 22 and have been an avid texter for a little over 3 years now, arriving later to the game than many of my younger acquaintances. But it was mostly that I KNEW texting would become predominant in my life. It starts with a ‘good morning’ text from my friend when he wakes up at 7am, and ends with a ‘good night, sweetheart’ from my girlfriend anywhere from 9pm to midnite.

But I’m rambling. Back to my agreeing: my entire household and I have had phones for the past decade that had internet capability and it was constantly something we fought against using. More often than not we’d accidentally activate something that would download a page or two, and we wouldn’t even notice until the bill came in. This led to more time on the phone with our service provider trying to get the extra removed. Finally I researched all our different models and put a pass code on all the applications that could access the web on our phone. And then I actually forgot the code… so that put a reasonable stop to it…. until we get new phones that is!

On Mar 19, 2009, by Tim commented:

Michael, thank you very much for weighing in on this subject. Validation by a real geek, especially one young enough to be my, er, very much younger brother, is very satisfying to this geek-wannabe-but-neverwillbe.

During my last stint in Japan (1999-2003) I carried and used Internet-enabled mobile telephones (and was peripherally involved as a beta user in the world’s first 3G service — you would have flipped over this stuff), so my view is informed by more than grumpiness and age (though age and grumpiness are certainly important).

On Mar 25, 2009, Nelson commented:

It is my goal to retire to the countryside and grow tomatoes and other vegetables. I’ll have internet access and a land-line phone. However, the only way for non-immediate family to reach me is via the postal service.

That’s luxury.

On Dec 23, 2009, Rolanda commented:

What can I say. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Thank you for this and keep up the good work.

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