Phoney Baloney: Escape the Cell

Originally published in Idler 51.

It’s sad how much has been sacrificed to convenience. Strivers shun idlers for our apparent laziness, but it’s they who shamelessly sing the praises of any undignified gizmo promising to make life easier.

What of the pleasure of doing things long-hand? What of time-honoured, analogue ways? What of the contemplative scenic route? If a technology is sold as liberating, it’s likely to be anything but. Guaranteed, it’ll seduce you into replacing something durable, social and stylish with something ephemeral, isolating and naff. Perhaps most emblematic of this problem is the mobile phone.

It’s beginning to seem unthinkable that a person might live in the modern world without a mobile, but (predictably) I believe it’s both possible and desirable to escape the tyranny of the network. If Houdini could escape a jail cell, we can escape a cell phone. But why, you ask? Hear me out before you have me arrested.

When you escape your mobile phone, you also escape your bosses. With no direct line from their office to your eardrum, they can no longer startle you into action when you’re lounging on the sofa or sitting on the bog. Without a mobile, you’ll never be caught.

Dependencies detract from your freedom. If you need a thing, you’re under it’s spell and therefore not free. This is much talked about when it comes to drugs and alcohol, but not often when it comes to technological or commercial dependencies. Sever all ties, my friend, and fly free.

No mobile means one less information channel. The best way to eliminate stress is to limit the number of channels through which you receive information. Be like the 300 Spartans: force your pursuers through a single gap and dispense with them at leisure.

To escape the mobile is to reject the myth of meritocracy. A mobile phone is an all-too conventional symbol of “success”. This sort of success—the kind evocative of hard work and hard consumption—is to be sneered at. Angry Birds is not the only game you should refuse to play.

To escape the mobile is to escape with dignity. Mobile phones were undignified when they involved a lazy thumbing of little Nokia buttons. Now they’ve got you aggressively jabbing at a screen like a moron.

To refuse the mobile builds muscles of resistance. “Anything popular is wrong,” said Oscar Wilde and I agree. You don’t have to do what you’re told. Finding your own solutions instead of defaulting to the standard one is always more creative and rewarding.

A mobile phone spoils the line of a suit. I finds my outfit looks better with one less lump in it.

Financial cost. In the second edition of this column (Idler 49) I encouraged you to cut yourself loose from commercial commitments wherever possible. This is a good idea because the less your life costs, the less work you must do in order to pay for it. If you can get your fixed monthly costs down to £500, part-time work and cottage industry suddenly become more feasible.

Social cost. There was a time when people stuck to their social plans instead of tentatively scheduling them and cancelling by SMS at the last minute.

Divest from unethical toil. Mobile phones are the product of big firms in which workers toil in near-slavery. It’s best not to give those companies your money if you believe in the idle life for everyone.

It’s entertaining to tell someone you don’t have a mobile phone. They’ll be either be curious or appalled. The way people respond to your eccentricity will help you decide if it’s worth talking to them for long.

Someone has to stay in control. What if it turns out that mobiles are cooking our brains or making us stupid? Wouldn’t it be a good idea for some of us to stay disconnected just in case?

Put distance between yourself and the alarm clock. Chances are, your phone is also the cursed, goddam thing that arrests you from sweet slumber in the morning. Why carry such a hated object around all day, so close to your heart?

Four things depress you: work, consumerism, bureaucracy and fear. A mobile phone contributes to all four.

There are some possible objections. The usual one is that you might need your phone in an emergency, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever be in an emergency: living in fear is for chumps, especially when the cost is so high. Apps? There was no such thing a few years ago and the old systems are all still there. Social ostracism when people can’t reach you? You have three things to help you here: landline, email, and personality. You’ll never hear the last of people.

If you’re on the fence about this because you can relate to the points above but you also like to play Pokemon Go, ask yourself: are you ever happy–truly happy–to hear the damn thing ring?

Escape the eye in the sky! Escape the dull gamification of quiet moments! Escape dependence on a little jabby screen! Take of your shackles and be free!


If this resonated with you, you’re probably already doomed so you might as well buy my books Escape Everything! and The Good Life for Wage Slaves for additional wisdom from the goblin king.

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