Yes, Virginia, there are New Yorkers who don't own cellphones
They are as rare as cheap wraparound penthouses in NYC: Adults without cell phones.
According to a recent Pew Research report, 91% of all American adults own cell phones. Among the young, percentages are higher, with 95% of 35 to 49-year-olds and 97% of 18-29 year olds in the grip of an electronic leash.
But some New Yorkers are blissfully free of mobile phones -- and they're not all elderly people with poor eyesight and no desire to play Candy Crush. Reasons for opting out of the mobile universe are diverse, but often include a desire to control one's time, an aversion to stress and unworthy distractions, and a complete lack of "FOMO" (fear of missing out). "Cellphobes" tend to prize autonomy, uni-tasking, awareness of their surroundings and promptness -- and making precise plans in advance so that there is no need for follow-up phone calls.
"I have a realistic notion of my bandwidth," explained Matthew Stillman, 40, a landlord, writer and author of "Genesis Deflowered." Constant connectivity "exhausts people. It exhausts me and degrades the nervous system," said the Harlem resident. Stillman prefers to concentrate his attention on one activity and interaction at a time. Constantly juggling screens and inputs "degrades the sincerity with which I interact with people - and I want to give them my very best," he explained.
Jozsef Meszaros, 28, a lawyer, neurobiology graduate student and adjunct faculty member at Columbia University, went cell free three years ago. Being on his own "prevents me from outsourcing my brain functions to a phone," by resorting to apps instead of figuring out routes and problems himself, said Meszaros, who cherishes thought and reflection. Meszaros, who lives in Washington Heights, posited that people who are very attached to their phones have highly responsive reward centers in their brains: They're biolgically primed for "consuming and winning, and climbing up various hierarchies and proliferating their social influence," Meszaros explained. He, however, "is not very competitive," prefers socializing in person, and has little use for the opportunities beckoning from the digital world. "I don't need to scan the bar code of my favorite restaurant to get deals," he said drily.
Steven Doin, 17, of Long Island City, cut the cordless after losing his fourth or fifth cell phone. "I'm irresponsible with phones!" said Doin. He borrows friends' phones to apprise his mom of his whereabouts and hands out his mother's number to people wanting his contact info.
Serving as his secretary "is a little bit stressful, but at least I know who he's connecting with," rationalized Doin's mom, Irma Viera.
The only time musician Natalia Paruz, 36, of Astoria, misses a mobile is when she's visiting "friends in these old apartment buildings with locked doors and the buzzer doesn't work. But then I just look for a pay phone," she said.
Paruz's choice is part economic ("they're so expensive!"), and part deliberative: She dislikes interruptions and prefers email to texts or calls. New acquaintances are shocked to discover she's not textable, but often admiring, and even jealous. "They think it's some kind of accomplishment to be without one," she said.
Work expectations and job demands prevent many who would love to cut the cordless habit from doing so, said Robert Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University. But "the assumption of the eight hour day has gone the way of Betamax and the telegraph," and many employers now expect employees to be "a 24/7 transmission and reception device," he noted.
Being cell free is, in a way, the ultimate status symbol. Poor people are often eligible for Medicaid-subsidized flip phones, but you really have to be a macher to be intentionally incommunicado. Director Christopher Nolan (of "Dark Knight" fame) told one interviewer he doesn't use a "toy for grownups" because "it eats your time and pulls your concentration." Talk show host Tavis Smiley and billionaires Mikhail Prohorov and Warren Buffett also reportedly eschew the devices.
But "it will become harder and harder," for anyone to resist the lure of the ping as the technology achieves almost total penetration in all aspects of American culture, Thompson predicted.
There is, indeed, "increasing pressure to monetize every single moment of the day," by returning emails and texts around the clock from a phone that functions as a virtual desk, Stillman acknowledged. But life - at least his life - "is bigger than that," he said happily.