What a week. What. A. Week.
I was without a working phone for the past week.
Let me clarify – the device was perfectly functional as a tiny hand-held computer. With access to WiFi, I could do all manner of smart-phone-things – check email, send and receive text messages (but only to or from another iPhone), scroll through facebook, etc.
I just couldn’t use it, you know, as a phone.
My phone could not receive texts, or calls, google maps was out of the question, anything outdoors was out of service. My phone was out of commision on my birthday, so any phone calls from well-wishers got lost in the ether, never to be found. It sucked.
I tried to think of it as an opportunity to free myself from my device, but instead it was a constant source of anxiety, frustration, and isolation.
It all started with a blog post I read about MVNOs. MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) are phone plans that take excess data and service from major service providers (think Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc.) and resell them at a much lower cost. The most helpful comparison that I have found describes MVNOs at the TjMaxx or Marshall’s of the phone world.
I love TjMaxx and I love Marshall’s, and my beloved parents have been gently encouraging me to pay my own way in regards to my phone bill. After getting married, moving to a new city, and buying a house it made sense that I should provide for my own phone plan. It was my last financial tether to my parents
A quick google search pulled up four or five choices for MVNOs. One cost too much for too little data. One cost too much for too little cell service. Finally, I found a good middle option – or so I thought.
I placed my order for three months of service with Mint Mobile. It would cost just over $20 a month for 8GB of data. Bonus, their mascot is a fox. I fricking love foxes.
A few days later, a small envelope arrived with a new SIM card. I went to my old cellular provider, cancelled my plan with them, and sat down to install and activate my foxy new cell service.
Within about an hour, “MINT” was listed as the service provider in the upper left hand corner of my screen. I only had two bars, but the set-up process had recommended that I activate WiFi enabled calling anyways. I was home (with WiFi), so I wasn’t too worried.
I sent a few text messages to friends as a test, called my parents, and gave myself a mental pat on the back for being such a frugal and savvy consumer.
Oh, sweet summer child. You gullible nincompoop. Why did you not heed the minimal bars of service as a harbinger of doom!?
The next morning, I left for work. Waiting at the bus stop, I pulled out my phone and attempted to open a certain social media app that is my go-to for wasting time.
Instead of friend-centered life updates, a grey background and darker grey text appeared: “Unable to load…limited connection.” A little voice in the back of my head whispered “on no…”
I closed the app and tried another app. Nope.
I tried my email. Nope.
I checked my bars. Two bars!? Still!? Two bars should count for something!
“It’s ok,” I told myself, “give it a day, or two, maybe it’s just a weird quirk. Maybe the phone has to do some self-regulation thing.”
Maybe if I weren’t such a patient person, or maybe if I weren’t so optimistic about this whole MVNO deal, or maybe if it weren’t for that adorable little fox I would have paid attention to the red flags sooner.
After about a week I was very done with the terribly unreliable service, the inability to make or receive phone calls, and the lack of access to email (and social media) without a tether to reliable WiFi. The fox was cute, but not that cute.
I emailed their customer service department (I would have called them, but as I mentioned, my phone service was terribly unreliable).
They kindly cancelled my service and refunded me for my trouble.
Which was great!
But then, I had to find another phone service provider.
The sweet savings promised by MVNOs was too tempting to give up after just one week, so I figured I would try one more – if this one didn’t work, what was another week without a phone?
I did more research, reminding myself to be wary of adorable woodland creatures, and read some reviews online (I learned from my mistakes!) After a few more hours, I made a month long commitment to Red Pocket.
Red Pocket uses service from Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint – I figured three providers are better than one! I also checked the coverage and read the fine print around what kind of coverage I could expect.
My email confirmation congratulated me on my choice and told me to watch the mail – my new SIM card would arrive in 2-5 business days.
In the age of “2-Day” and even “next day” delivery, it is easy to ignore how long five days can be. Also, ever the optimist, I was sure it wouldn’t take a full five days to receive one little enveloppe.
My optimism was not deserved. It did take the full five days. Business days, which did not include the Saturday or Sunday in-between.
I spent my birthday week like Harry Potter in the summer before his second year at Hogwarts. A stubborn, unseen force blocked any communication that came my way. I felt the absence of well-wishes more than I like to admit.
When the new SIM card (finally) arrived, there was another hurdle to jump.
In order to transfer my phone number, I had to “port” it over from my old provider. That meant I had to log in to my MINT account, and that meant that I needed a working phone number to reset the password I conveniently forgot just after cancelling the service.
I’m glad I don’t live alone. [REDACTED], benevolent, supportive, and loving husband that he is, agreed to let me use his phone to call the Mint Mobile customer service line.
After a total of 1.5 hours on hold (that is not an exaggeration), I had all the information that I would need to transfer my number.
I sent my request to Red Pocket to have them finalize the details.
“It may take 12-24 hours” they said.
Awesome. I can’t wait. I mean, I can wait.
I went to bed, and when I woke up…
FOUR BARS OF SERVICE!!
I called [REDACTED] from the kitchen just because I could. Then I called my parents, and texted several friends to be sure the bars were real.
On the bus, I checked my email, scrolled through social media, and texted a few more friends.
My week without a phone did not enlighten me to the wonders of a life lived without technology. Instead, it brought a deep sense of isolation. It felt a little bit like a depression. I wanted to reach out and talk to people, but had no way of doing so. If I left a familiar place I immediately felt lost. I was less capable of keeping up with day to day activities since I had limited access to my calendar.
It really was horrible.
I’m embarrassed to think that I could be so deeply impacted by a little box of plastic and wiring, but I absolutely am.
I am now, more than ever, thankful for the technology I have.
Google maps is amazing! Sending a goofy GIF to a friend – that’s awesome! Knowing that I can call [REDACTED] anytime I want? Priceless.