Are We Becoming Too Dependent On Mobile Phones?

from the lose-a-phone,-lose-a-friend? dept

Three years ago, we wrote about the fact that very few people back up the address book in their mobile phones — and when they lose those phones, it can be like losing access to certain people. It appears not much has changed. In a more recent article, a bunch of people relate similar stories, suggesting that losing a mobile phone is like being “disconnected from life.” Of course, with social networks and email and other forms of communication, it’s not necessarily as dramatic, but it does make you wonder why more mobile operators don’t offer services to automatically back up mobile phone address books.

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Comments on “Are We Becoming Too Dependent On Mobile Phones?”

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Syborg1404 says:

Automatic Cell Phone Address Book Backup

Actually, if you’re a Verizon Wireless subscriber and you have an online account you get free online backup on any “Get it Now” enabled phone. You can even add information online and it will synch to your phone. My phone had to be replaced last year and it took less than 5 minutes to restore my information.

Theoden says:

And another data theft just waiting to happen

I can hear the mobile phone companies announcing that their system was hacked, and that all of the numbers it has stored for users have been stolen. Any notes attached to the contacts become a new way to steal identities, since the thieves now know Aunt Barbara’s address and birthday as well as her home and cell numbers.

Maybe the phones should come with the data cables necessary to back up the address book to a PC. It would cost a little more, but probably less than what a mobile operator would charge for the service.

On second thought, that would be like including the wired headsets…everyone would have them but only a few people would use them.

rwahrens (profile) says:

Re: Disconnected from life?

Yeah, and everybody still uses a land line?

Idiot, the whole point of the article is the number of people who no longer use that paradigm any more! I know at least three people, two of whom are family, that don’t even have a land line at all.

Being able to back up your data to your PC is almost a requirement. Backing up ANY data is a requirement if you don’t want to lose it.

That said, Apple’s iPhone does just that, simply, easily.

Joe Harkins (user link) says:

who really needs a cell phone?

For the past 10 years I have owned a web site building and hosting company with clients in 7 countries. I have never owned a cell phone. I never will. I add new clients every week. I have a very high client retention rate over the years and usually lose them only if they go out of business.

Because I do not have a cell phone, I am never interrupted during a meal or a conversation or some other real life. I also do not own a car. I can ride a bus and read the newspaper in peace. I will never have to worry over the controversies such as brain damage, etc.

I’m not a total tech-phobe. I own a very (very) expensive very lightweight full-featured notebook and have a wireless account that hooks me up pretty much anywhere in the USA and I can get similar connections even if I am in Germany, Australia or one of the various Caribbean islands where I have clients.

You may go through withdrawal similar to that of quiting any any other drug, but there is life after french-fries, marijuana and iPhone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: who really needs a cell phone?

That cellphones are any more intrusive than regular phones is a popular myth: dinner time at my home is CONSTANTLY interrupted by the landline (yay telemarketers), and if you don’t have the discipline to ignore a cell call when ‘real life’ is happening, that’s a personal problem not a technical one.

When I need it, my cell phone is there. When I don’t, it’s off. If I miss (or ignore) a call, they can leave a message and I’ll get back to them. This is no different from a regular landline except that when I need the phone it’s with me, no matter where I am.

Boost says:

Re: who really needs a cell phone?

“I own a very (very) expensive very lightweight full-featured notebook and have a wireless account that hooks me up pretty much anywhere in the USA and I can get similar connections even if I am in Germany, Australia or one of the various Caribbean islands where I have clients. “

So, you don’t own a cellular ‘phone’, but you still have a cellular account, just instead of voice it’s data, which includes voice if you so choose. That’s kinda like saying, “I don’t need a any kind of a car to get around, but I’m not a total autophobe, I do have a pickup truck.”

courtney benson (user link) says:

Re: who really needs a cell phone?

Joe –

I hear you and wish I could trash it. Just wanted to let you know that in spike of the fact that you don’t own one – just about everyone else does and your not escaping the downside: “brain damage, etc” because your exposed to all the folks around you with phones and your wireless notebook is zapping you as well. Just thought I mention it.

Nasch says:

Re: who really needs a cell phone?

Two points, first if you don’t need a cell phone, that’s great, but that doesn’t imply that someone else doesn’t need one. Second, even if I don’t need one (I don’t, I could get by without it), it’s really nice to have sometimes, so I want one. If you look at the size of the cell phone market, you can see there are millions of people just in the US who need a cell phone or want one enough to make it worth paying for.

I’m not sure if your point is simply that you don’t have a cell phone (in which case, yawn), or that very few people *need* cell phones and so should go without them even though they would *like* to have one, or that people shouldn’t even *want* cell phones and should be like you instead, happy not to have one. If it’s one of the last two, I disagree.

Jesse McNelis says:

Re: Re:

“I was recently reflecting on the fact that prior to Mobile phones, we used to store around a hundred phone numbers in our memories. The organic kind that sits inside the skull!!”

No we didn’t.
We had address books that contained this information.
The human brain isn’t made for remembering strings of unrelated numbers.

sonofdot says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, we did. Or at least I did. I’ve never had a phone book that I kept phone numbers in — it was all in my head. That is, until my cell phone came along and I can just hit “Dial” without having to key in the number. You’d be surprised how many telephone numbers you can remember when you have to actually punch in (or worse, rotary dial) them.

Maybe it’s just YOUR brain that isn’t made for remembering strings of unrelated numbers.

Celes says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

This is true; I have lots of numbers programmed into my phone but frequently find it easier to just dial the number rather than fishing through my contacts or even remembering which speed dial button they’re on. (‘Course, I’m sure I look like an idiot for remembering tons of phone numbers and yet having trouble with a couple of speed-dials. But such is life.)

comboman says:


it does make you wonder why more mobile operators don’t offer services to automatically back up mobile phone address books.

I don’t wonder at all. I tried to buy a USB cable for my Nokia phone from my phone company. They were charging more for it than I paid for the phone! They don’t want people connecting their phones to their computers because then they’ll figure out they can get music and ring tones and java games for free instead of paying outrageous prices from their phone company.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

My Cell Phone

I have always referred to my cell phone (for the whole almost 2 years I have had one) as an electronic tether.
I think it makes it too easy for people to get ahold of me sometimes.
When I go to bed it is ALWAYS off (unlike my brother just because somebody might call him). If I am doing something and don’t feel like talking on the phone (am not that big on phones) I turn it off. Silent setting is for the weak. =P

CHL Instructor (user link) says:

Re: Silent setting is for the weak. =P

Not necessarily. Back when I first started with Cingular, I found that if I got a call while my phone was off, I would sometimes get the associated voicemail notification three or four weeks later (if at all). If I left the phone on, but silenced, when I came back to check it later, I would at least see that I had a missed call. VM has gotten more dependable since then, but I still have that habit.

Nowadays, my cellphone is almost always on vibrate.

BTW, I manage most of my calls with VoIP, which I use to filter and forward calls. My wife has my actual cellphone number — and nobody else. Next time I change cellphone providers, only my wife will notice — better than LNP because it’s completely under my control, and I don’t have to beg anybody for a switchover. If I decided to do without a cellphone completely, I can forward all of my calls to wherever I happen to be (or to a convenient proxy), as long as I have internet access.

Since I run a business (actually 3 businesses), I have to have a phone. It doesn’t absolutely have to be a cellphone, but I’ve found that a cellphone is far more convenient than the alternatives. BTW, have you tried to find a public payphone recently?

Wolfensteinnu1 says:

Silent setting is for the weak. =P

CHL Instructor: Since your Viop calls are forward to your cell phone, I take it that sometimes you have to return calls from your cell phone. Do you block your number(caller ID) from going out when you make calls? I don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t know or ones that are provided. soemthing to think about either way, cause if you don’t block itm then they do have your cell number.

TheDock22 says:

Love my cell phone

I haven’t had a landline in 5 years now and I do not miss it at all. I don’t have to pay extra money to be unlisted in the phone book and I don’t get telemarketer phone calls at all. There are a couple downsides.

I left my phone at a friend’s house the other day and spent an hour looking for it before driving over there because I couldn’t just call it and see where it was. The second downside is if I lost my phone it would take me days or weeks to restore all the numbers because I couldn’t tell you a single person’s phone number in my cell phone. I put them in once and forget about them.

As far as it being a nuisance for other people I highly doubt it. I keep it on silent when I am at work and low ring when I am out in public. Beside, I spend MAYBE a couple hours of the week actually talking on my cell phone. 90% of my communications are by txt messaging.

Ian Ward-Bolton (user link) says:

or "Are Mobile Phones Becoming More Useful?"

I don’t think it’s that we’re too dependent on them – it’s that they provide a lot of very efficient ways of doing things, and so we choose to use them over alternatives. That’s economics in action!

To see whether mobiles are doing more harm than good (ignoring the potential brain cancer controversy), how about looking at places that are just starting to have mobile phones – e.g. developing countries.

This site I just found on google seems to think mobiles are a good thing for developing countries:

… so it’s not about being too dependent, it’s about recognising something good and exploiting it!

James says:

Reliance on mobile phones

I partially agree atleast for myself on my reliance on my mobile phone. Not b/c of the address book, any smartphone or pocket pc or heaven forbid a iPhone can backup your contacts to your computer.

But my pocket pc phone is my communication center(voice, txt, IM, email), it is also my GPS system on the road. My connection to servers and routers. I watch TV and movies on it. Play music. Watch my security cameras at my house. and my internet access. In fact, I’m typing this now at Boston-Logan waiting for my plane. It is called progress. Some people prefer camping, some prefer hotels. To each his own.

Woadan says:

Smartphones typically link up to your Outlook address book every time you connect it to your PC. So do Blackberries.

I have a non-Smartphone cell phone, and it is supported by bitPIM, an open source application that you can use to upload contacts, songs, pictures, and videos. (Phone model dependent, but they support a lot of CDMA phones.)

You can go to to see if your CDMA (e.g. Sprint, Verizon, Alltel) phone is supported.

If you’re a GSM phone user (AT&T or T-Mobile), often these items are stored on the SIM card, and you can do a Google search for SIM card readers to find one to purchase.

If you store your contacts in Outlook and want to back them up to a file, Microsoft has an excellent knowledge base article on how to do that (The article talks about exporting the file to Google, but the resulting file is a back-up of your contacts. You can also use this process to back-up your calendar if you like, too. Just substitute “Calendar” for “Contacts” in the instructions.

As a final thought, most people don’t back up their hard drives, either. So it is not surprising that the cell phone isn’t, either.


MIchael says:

not I

I recently just let my pay-as-you-go cell phone expire… I got rid of my subscription phone ages ago, I found the phone to be more of a leash than a help. I don’t want people to be able to bother me wherever I may be, and I think its ridiculous how much they charge for txt. I have an answering service through my home line and I can get msgs, a phone with no service attached can still dial 911 in an emergency, and I have more cash AND time because I don’t have the phone, I don’t know why people think its worth all that money to txt and talk on the phone all day, but I for one got real sick of it real fast, but then again I spend a LOT of time on the phone at work, and I don’t really care for idle phone chat. I won’t give my kids cell phones, if they want one, they are going to need to earn the money they need to pay for it, maybe it will instill some money sense if they have to pay for it them selves. But honestly do you really need to have a phone on you at all times? come on.

Hulser says:

Re: not I

In spite of the fact that the title of your post is “not I”, the main point you seem to be making is that since you don’t use a cell phone, you don’t see why anyone else would want to either. Obviously other people do use cell phones, so not everyone is like you. What’s wrong with that? Why the “come on”? Why are you so critical of people that happen to view the cell phone as a good way to keep in touch with their friends rather than a “leash”? Can’t they (we) have their preferences and you have yours?

Joseph Durnal (user link) says:

I'm not so

I have a mobile phone and recently, the family disconnected the landline. I don’t keep much information in the phone, just a few numbers to make it easier to call some one, not because I can’t remember them. A few other numbers (mostly local take out places) can be easily found elsewhere without much trouble.

I do have trouble remembering new numbers at first, but once I know it, I’ll never forget. I still remember the number we had when I was 5 years old, 304-823-2053, and numbers of friends from elementary school (80’s). I guess you can rate your friends by how likely they are to actually bother memorizing your phone number. If you are locked up in jail, you better know at least one person’s number to call for your one phone call, I doubt they’d let you use your mobile.

Anonymous Coward says:

Windows Mobile? Blackberry?

They don’t offer services because it isn’t needed. Also, many people might not want those services. Look at Paris Hilton? She had everything syncing from her T-Mobile Sidekick. Her account got hacked and suddenly all that info was leaked. I don’t want my phone company having my personal contacts on their servers, period.

Now, with the use of Windows Mobile, or Blackberry, or any other “smart” phone, these problems are easily avoided. I can format my phone, reload the OS, and with wireless active sync get everything back from my exchange server in just a few minutes. Mail, calendar, contacts, tasks, etc. I can even setup a brand new phone and pull all this information in minutes.

The ability to active sync with my desktop via USB is also an option. Even regular cell phones, like the popular Motorola RAZR have easy ways of backing stuff up. Just pickup a data cable and do 15 minutes of reading on Google to learn the process.

Don’t get me wrong, adding more software to make it easier is never a bad thing… However, I think the real issue is people just don’t do backups, ever. People in general are very bad at that process. Backing up your stuff is very doable, so why ask providers and phone makers to automate it for you? That is a huge expense to them, all because Joe over here is too lazy to do it himself.

The question is about how lazy you are. If you depend on your phone, and you lose it, don’t complain if you can’t recover your contacts. You shouldn’t expect a cell phone company to cover your laziness. If you want that kind of coverage, expect to pay more money for a smarter phone (even then prices are falling), data service, and so on to keep everything in sync.

Posted above, Woadan is right… Most people don’t back up critical computer data, so why on earth would they spend time backing up their phone?


MLS (profile) says:


When one lives in an area prone to storms such as hurricanes, the usefulness of a landline becomes only too apparent. Three years ago we in Orlando had three such storms pass over us within a matter of about three weeks. Cell phones were useless, plus with the loss of power recharging was difficult. Landlines, on the other hand, continued for the most part to work just fine.

Rekrul says:

I have a Verizon pre-pay phone that’s I have to put $15 a month on, or they shut off the account. Since I only ever used it for emergencies, or when I was out and needed to reach someone, I had plenty of time on it. Then I missed the renewal day by one day and they took all my time away. I called customer service and eventually got the time back, but they had to send the matter to the main office for approval. About a year later, I missed the renewal date again (yes, I’m that forgetful) and again lost my time.

That was about a year ago and I haven’t bothered to put more time on it. Frankly, it pisses me off! My name and number is still in their system, so clearly it’s not costing them anything to keep my entry active. So why do I need to pay $15 every month or have my time taken away? Why can’t I buy an hour’s worth of time and have it last until I use it up?

Wolf says:

Sonofdot, thanks. I grew up with a rotary dial, and they were slooooow. Especially the older ones. The time spent on each digit, plus the muscle memory helped to cement the number in memory. All I ever had to do to remember a number was to think of the person’s name, and bang, the number was at the forefront of mt mind. I can still remember the tone sequence of an old girl friend from the touch-tone days, although I don’t recall the actual number.

TheDock22 says:

Not Dependant, Dependable

Here is a news story that is a perfect example of how cell phones have changed the way we live:

This actually happened locally, but a young pilot crashed about an hour into his solo flight and sent a txt message to his teachers saying he was alive, but cold.

Without the cell phone he would most likely have died. He was wearing shorts and tennis shoes and we ended up getting a freak snowstorm that day. So all you naysayers that say cell phones are a waste of money and we become to dependent on them, remember they are a superior technology and can even save lives.

Виртулис (user link) says:

They don't?

Of course, with social networks and email and other forms of communication, it’s not necessarily as dramatic, but it does make you wonder why more mobile operators don’t offer services to automatically back up mobile phone address books.

SyncML anyone? Even *if* the operator does not provide any, there is plenty of free SyncML services on the internet. Of course, it costs you some GPRS traffic and a couple of minutes to set up, but if that’s the main problem, there’s no reason to blame the operator.

William C Bonner (profile) says:

SmartPhones are the answer

I use a windows Mobile phone and it syncs with my exchange server over the network and does this all of the time, so If I lose my phone the main question is if it was locked at the time, or if the finder can modify all of my info.

I got my mom a Windows Mobile phone (the T-Mobile Shadow) partly because of the ability to hook it to her laptop and sync all of the addresses with outlook.

Dad didn’t want a “complicated” phone so he got a samsung phone, and I couldn’t figure out what software he might be able to use to update all the numbers.

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