Cell Phones, Data and Marshmallows

We spend a lot of time on our cell phones in today’s world.  We take them to dinner, they wake us up in the morning, tuck us in at night, and we pour time into them that is better spent on our partners, friend and children.  I’m part of that we as well and I am trying to be more mindful of my usage of technology.

What are we using these magical devices for?  I’ll include a stat I found from 2012 because it’s amusing to see how even the taxonomy of what phones do has changed over the years (i.e. download apps…of course!):

cell phone usage 2012

What it boils down to though is that we spend a lot of time on our cell phones.  Although the above stat from 2012 is cute I always encourage people to do their own research.  The reality in today’s world is that whatever that something is that makes you pull your cell phone out of your pocket during your child’s concert 20-40x is usually requiring some sort of data.  To feed that addiction you are most likely consuming a data plan. If it’s really coming out 20-40x, or you just leave it out, probably a sizeable data plan.

Marshmallows

I am sure you have all heard of “the marshmallow” test, if not it’s worth a Google.  It is basically an experiment that tests that measures the correlation between resisting temptation and the level of success you will have.  Again, do your own research, but the results seem to indicate that the greater your ability to resist temptation the greater the overall success you will have.

I went through a personalized version of this test when choosing whether or not to have cell phone data included in my phone plan.  As I type this these are the two songs playing in my head:

The initial decision for myself was to get a plan that did NOT include data.  I talk more about how this has progressed in the sub-section called “temptation”.

Intention

To set the stage for this section: recently I purchased two new cell phones for my son and myself for entirely separate reasons.  The plans are going to change over time and I am not going to focus on that although if you are looking for a good plan in 2019 I do have some recommendations.  I’ll try to look more at the scaffolding and thoughts behind them and also the points on the journey when I questioned those thoughts.

For my son, the cell phone was purchased so that I could feel start to build the trust that he would contact us if he was on an unsupervised playdate.  These are something that he and his mother believe are intrinsic to survival as a 10-year-old child. I’m still not so sure but I am trying to be “modern” here with some training wheels.  Currently, the cell phone is being used to build trust that my son will communicate with us when needed which is pretty much every time we text him. On my end, he’s still not there and based on some uncomfortable emails from his mother maybe he needs some more work all around.  I have hope that we’ll get there someday and it’s helped me look critically at my own cell phone usage and ideas around cell phones in general so this has been a valuable growing experience all around.

For me, my purchase was to separate my work phone from my personal phone.  The gist of that decision is that I was sharing my work phone for some personal accounts and usage.  This was totally blessed by my company and I feel grateful for it as I did make good use of it over the years.  Although I had a few different reasons for separating these the most important was that I found I was checking my phone repeatedly.  This was not a requirement from work but more a side effect of having a phone.  This side effect also made me look very closely at the reason I was using the phone and how I was using it.  It made me very aware of how often I pulled it out at the dinner table (my son and I have a “no phone” rule now at meals).  This eventually fed into the cell phone plan I chose for myself and is something I return to over and over again in this post.

When I bought the two phones I decided I would also use the opportunity to do some shopping/ comparison on cell phone companies (ethics and community), customer service and plans.  As I alluded to above I also wanted to do a bit of a “data diet” for myself and limit myself to try to stick to a no-data plan. I’ll talk more about that in the temptation section.  The initial purchase came in as follows:

  • My son went with Chatr: They have a $35/ month plan that includes unlimited nationwide long distance and text and basically unlimited data.  I say basically unlimited because they advertise it as 1GB at normal speed and then it is downgraded to slower internet. I don’t think he “needed” data however I went with a hunch and if you read on to the “temptation” section it was a good hunch.  The upshot is that it provided me with peace of mind in case of accidental overages.

Chatr Plans

  • For myself, I wanted to put myself on a bit of a digital diet.  I intentionally went for an alternate company in order to do this and chose TELUS as my provider.  I went with their $40/ month unlimited call and text plan with no data. I get a cookie for trying to be a better human by limiting my data, cell phone usage and hopefully increase my interaction with other fellow human beings.  Was that worth $5/ month?  I am still not sure, but being mindful of the choice was so I get a cookie.

I would like to say that both companies have provided me with exceptional support when I called.  I did spend a lot more time on the phone with TELUS however I did have an inquiry or two with Chatr and both were very kind and helpful.

The TELUS support I encountered was really above and beyond and a huge reason I am still a customer and haven’t moved to Chatr.  Although each of the reps did take efforts to solve my issues and move me towards my ideal it was also the personal touch that they added to each call.  For example, one rep, Kevin, was a huge Johnny Cash fan and a fellow guitar player. He taught me how to play “Hurt” by Johnny Cash and we had a great chat about music.  

I also want to thank Joe, Ben and Pablo who helped me along the way, they were all very happy and personable people and a joy to talk to.  These are the great people that helped me through my various issues and ultimately kept my business with TELUS rather than going with a cheaper alternative.  They deserve a cookie or two each.

Temptation

Over the progression of a month or more, I had a number of other issues with the no data plan that made me question the decision.  I’ll go into each one a bit as it helps explain how I found features and did my customer service evaluation for TELUS over the months.  As I encountered each of the temptations I do see that my own hidden desire to have a data plan partially drove this journey.  I also see that society helped enable this along the journey as well.  Simply put: not having cell phone data is not normal and typically the question is: “how much do you need?”.  I think the journey gave me time to reflect on both of these and a more balanced perspective of want vs. need.

The first temptation for data usage came when I was in the passport office attempting to get an emergency passport for a trip my son and I had planned.  I had a trip planned with my son and had not double checked that my passport was in the safe when I booked it, bad dad, no cookie. As I was waiting in line, the 2nd time that day, I realized that I had also forgotten to print my itinerary.  Normally I am not this frazzled but the stakes were high and I didn’t want to let my son down.  I chose to take the L and pay for data to download the itinerary.  I need to write another blog post on how our emotions can impact purchasing decisions but the result of the “impulse buy” was that I spent about $70 on data, which brought my phone bill over the $130 mark for that month.  It was an expensive lesson however I decided that I still not want data so I didn’t change my plan.

The second temptation came when I attempted to send a picture over SMS, a feature that used to be called MMS.  I’ve included some more on this in the “Side Notes” section but the gist of it is that I had to enable data on my phone.  I was not being charged for this data and TELUS had provided a service to block data usage which I could set myself and block data entirely.  I flipped this toggle and happily enjoyed the new MMS.

The third temptation came from an issue with that toggle.  The toggle for the data block feature resets at the beginning of every month.  I was a bit outraged at this as it seemed like a sneaky way to get me to pay for data.  After a bit of time though and some more experimenting it does make sense and my outrage is probably just a bug or edge case that wasn’t considered.  The expectation for the data blocker is that it would only be used by someone who actually has a data plan, or that everyone has a data plan. They probably wouldn’t know about the use case for enabling this for MMS as I hadn’t.  The issue could probably be fixed by adding a check to the toggle reset code to check for AVAILABLE_DATA > 0 when data is re-enabled monthly.

The final temptation came because my voicemail was constantly full and I also wanted to be able to scroll through messages and back them up if needed.  I had done some research and a feature supported by the iPhone called “Visual Voicemail” would solve this as messages would be downloaded to my device.  This was a feature that I was told required data and unfortunately cost $5/ month. Through a series of calls, I eventually managed to get 1GB of free data to support this for free however could not get the $5 waived.  So now I do in fact have both data on my phone and am paying $10/ month total more than my son’s plan.

Optimism

One way to look at this experience is that I eventually succumbed to the temptation of data.  I did struggle a bit with that when I accepted the deal as actually having data again on my phone gave me a sense of euphoria.  I have reflected a lot on that and I keep reminding myself that my initial intent was to reduce cell phone usage.  So although I have succumbed to the data gods I have still made progress on my goal there.  I have also become more mindful and that is truly what has made the experience invaluable.

Doing some poking around I also see a change coming in favour of the consumer.  With technologies like 5G coming out it will become cheaper for companies to deliver data to consumers.  Since this is the largest toggle being used in companies currently as the cost to deliver comes down it will be the one most widely leveraged by companies to attract customers going forward.  As such we will see more plans like the Chatr “unlimited” model or variants of that, coming forward.  I expect that as this happens companies will start to be more proactive in retaining customers and there will be larger deals for longer-term customers, similar to what happened for phone lines around the year 2K.

Side Notes

SMS, Pictures and MMS

Mr. Wayback will tell you that there was an old protocol in the day called MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) that was used to send images over the SMS network.  I won’t go into details of the protocol because I’d just be repeating what I found on Google and also because it doesn’t really matter at this point. 

What matters is that the protocol required some special handling both on your cell phone as well as your cell phone provider.  It has actually become easier and cheaper to deliver this feature using either wifi or your existing data protocol.  If you are curious about that you can find some additional information here.  

Because the service was being delivered for free traditionally most companies still deliver it for free and it’s exempted from any cost on your data plan.  If you are a little odd however and don’t have a data plan then you get a glimpse on how the way this is implemented has changed.

References

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