Casaubon's Book

Increasingly, the cost of staying wired is eating up a huge part of people’s budgets accordinging to The Times:

It used to be that a basic $25-a-month phone bill was your main telecommunications expense. But by 2004, the average American spent $770.95 annually on services like cable television, Internet connectivity and video games, according to data from the Census Bureau. By 2008, that number rose to $903, outstripping inflation. By the end of this year, it is expected to have grown to $997.07. Add another $1,000 or more for cellphone service and the average family is spending as much on entertainment over devices as they are on dining out or buying gasoline.

And those government figures do not take into account movies, music and television shows bought through iTunes, or the data plans that are increasingly mandatory for more sophisticated smartphones.

For many people, the subscriptions and services for entertainment and communications, which are more often now one and the same, have become indispensable necessities of life, on par with electricity, water and groceries. And for every new device, there seems to be yet another fee. Buyers of the more advanced Apple iPad, to cite the latest example, can buy unlimited data access for $30 a month from AT&T even if they already have a data plan from the carrier.

“You don’t really lump these expenses into a discretionary category,” said Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. “As the expectation of connectedness increases, it’s what is expected for people to be functional in society.”

Americans are transforming their homes into entertainment hubs, which is driving up the amount of money they spend, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

“More people are creating experiences in their homes that are very similar to the kinds of public experiences they enjoy in movie theaters and concert halls,” he said. “Our homes are bristling with technology.”

Most people think home entertainment is cheaper. “Every time I want to go to Fenway Park or see the Killers in concert, I’m paying $50 to $100 each time. But once you build and install that home system, its basically pennies per minute of enjoyment,” said James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research.

But they do not take into consideration the long-term economic effect — both in the maintenance and operational costs — of the devices they purchase. “A subscription model is the perfect drug,” Mr. McQuivey said. “People see $15 per month as a very low amount of money but it quickly adds up.”

I notice the sense that these costs don’t really count or add up as well, both in an ecological and economic sense. The perception that it is a good deal to spend money on things that allow you to stay at home has some truth in it, of course, but if the cost of staying home rises up to look like a night out, that’s a problem. I see this with food also – people with bags full of pre-prepared, high cost food saying they are cooking more, but not seeing their food bills go down.

Our own investments in technology have gone up too. We now have a second tracphone, bought when I was going to GA and Eric to NY. We don’t use the second one, but we own it, and paid for it. The big shift has been wireless – at $60 month for rural high speed (which doesn’t really operate at a speed called high, but is way better than the dial-up I worked with for the first four years of my blog) it is a hefty budget line item. But it also isn’t optional – with both Eric and I doing a substantial amount of our jobs online, it just isn’t a choice. The rest we avoid – no cable (no tv reception), no gaming, no subscriptions, no texting. But I understand that in many cases these things feel as necessary to some people. Some of them are materially necessary – that cell for work, or your blackberry. Others are socially necessary – kids may struggle with not participating in social activities taking place on media they can’t participate in or your spouse may flat out refuse to give up the cable.

Do you see the “my home is my castle” theory having more limitations? Where do you draw the line on technology investments and costs? How discretionary are these things for you?

Obviously, I’m a “less is more” gal when it comes to personal electronics and wiring, but I also don’t see it all magically disappearing anytime soon. What worries me is that people become increasingly dependent, and struggle to hold on to things that are viewed as necessities – indeed, sometimes function as them – and the costs thereof.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 dewey
    February 10, 2010

    I don’t have most of these things and don’t want them, whereas my DH is a tech junkie. It used to enrage me that we were paying over $900 a year for *TV* – which I am old enough to think should come over the air for free. Given the excuse of a pay cut, I was finally able to force cancellation of the DirecTV, and my beloved was amazed to find how much was actually available on the air. Alas, he does not spend any less time watching the boob toob. But at least it’s now very cheap mindless entertainment. :-)

  2. #2 phisrow
    February 10, 2010

    This trend, as far as I can tell, is really about two things:

    One, because of technological changes/advances certain classes of expense that weren’t historically “technology expenses” have now become them. Buying DVDs replacing going to the movies, internet transmission replacing postal mail and catalogs, that sort of thing.

    Two, the marketing guys have gotten better than ever at the cognitive trickery of extracting maximum money with minimum psychic pain(I suspect that the rise of credit cards as a standard payment method hasn’t helped).

    At least for the services I use(internet and cellular voice/SMS) cost per unit service has absolutely plummeted over the past decade. When I first got internet access, it was something like $40 a month, on top of the phone line I was dialing in over, for something between 36k and 56k dialup. Later, we switched to one of the cheaper providers, at $20 or so, plus landline costs. Today, I’m running on a “naked” DSL connection, substantially faster than dialup, for the same $20 and no need to pay for a landline(and the associated 911 fees, and universal service fees, and miscellanious fees, and so forth). That internet connection is fast enough for basic upload/download purposes, instant messaging, video, and VOIP(which has eliminated my need for a landline, and is either free or extremely cheap, depending on your needs). On the mobile side, I replaced my ~45 a month plan with a cheap prepaid. $20 for the phone, $100 for 1,000 minutes and a year of service.

    Particularly when you keep inflation in mind, the costs of equivalent goods(or even better goods) in the technology area have been absolutely plummeting. Computers are $300 items, not $3,000 items. Internet access is cheaper, VOIP has largely murdered the landline, cell access is cheaper, the internet has improved access to cheap used goods(and good old fashioned copyright infringement). This makes it all the more remarkable that marketing has managed to ratchet up our expectations fast enough that our overall spending is actually sharply increasing.

  3. #3 Raya
    February 10, 2010

    I am struggling with that myself. My mother hates it when I can go a week with my cell phone missing and it doesn’t bother me. (My son finally found it under a doll in the temperware cupboard.

    When my printer died, I was more then happy to make a stop once a week at my parents to use theirs. She bought me a new one. (hmmmm, I still only use it once a week).

    I am trying to figure out if I can live without my desk top and/or what to do when I can’t get it to function any more.

  4. #4 Katharine
    February 10, 2010

    As a freelance work-at-home graphic designer, I really struggle with that too. With the kind of life my husband and I are hoping to build, the technology addiction sort of sticks out in a one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others way. I’ve even wondered if I could just quit designing, cut out all the technology, and be just as financially well off as before. I don’t really WANT to, though. I love the internet, I admit it.

    For now, I’m still working as a designer, so DSL is a must, but we get the “slow” DSL. We have one emergency cell phone (prepaid) and no cable. At the same time we dropped our cell plan, my parents added texting to theirs. It’s kind of frustrating knowing the rest of my family keeps in touch by texting each other, and I can’t participate. Oh well. I guess I can always call them. On my land line.

  5. #5 Heather
    February 10, 2010

    Luckily, my husband and I are on the same page when it comes to technology. We would both find it hard to live without high speed internet but we gave up our tv package 2 years ago. We watch shows online when we have the time and feel so much better about it. With less ads being thrown at you all the time, life feels so much more peaceful.

    So we splurge on high speed ($45CAD) but can do so much with it. Like I said we watch tv, DH plays free online games (beta versions), I blog, do research on living off grid, gardening, raising chickens etc, I found out about government rebates on home renovations (it’s saving us money!) and we keep in touch with family and friends.

    We have hasic phone serivce, no cells, no tv, no blackberry, no gaming systems, we don’t buy cd’s or dvd’s, we don’t do itunes or anything like it. People used to think we were weird for not having tv but it’s catching on. ;)

  6. #6 Anna
    February 10, 2010

    $80 a month is what we spend on local phone, long distance, and internet — it always feels very high, but I can’t do without any of it right now. Our phone company is a co-op just for our county, so to call the post office fifteen minutes away is out of their local range and a long distance call. And I work over the internet, so the latter is mandatory. I feel lucky that neither my husband nor I wants a cell phone or cable or any of the other options.

    A note to Katharine — I’m currently reading “Your Money or Your Life”, which you should check out if you haven’t already. It helps you break down how much it costs you to work so that you can see if it’s worth your while. Also, don’t forget that you can write a lot of home office expenses off on your taxes!

  7. #7 abbie
    February 10, 2010

    We have phone, high speed wireless internet, and cable, for about $100/month. We also pay about $100 for cellular phone service per month. These costs are balanced by the fact that we don’t upgrade equipment often. Our one TV is 8 years old, which we bought when we first moved in together and neither of us had our own TV (it was a combined birthday/valentine’s day present back then). I tend to use the laptop provided by my school as opposed to my desktop, which is a couple of years old. My cell phone, well that’s 8 years old too. No camera, no keyboard for texting. Since I use it once a month or less, it’s certainly functional for me. My husband has used all my “upgrades” for his phone, which gets a lot of weather and sawdust damage and has to be replaced every few years.

    I wish the service cost less, but that’s what it costs. Plus we’re keeping tech out of the landfills or bogus “recycling” programs (which result in shipping our tech garbage to the the developing world to pollute there). That’s a rant for another day.

  8. #8 Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife
    February 10, 2010

    We pay for high speed wireless along with our entire phone bill (unlimited long distance) in one package. This allows my husband to work from home about 80% of the time. That comes to around $100/month, which we pay out of pocket. I think we could get cable for just a few bucks more per month, or maybe it’s even included with what we pay. But we don’t have a tv, so I’m not sure. His employer pays for his cell phone service. I don’t have one and hardly ever wish that I did.

    I think for us, $100/month for phone and internet is entirely reasonable, considering that we certainly do save on commuting costs (so also lower miles driven/year => lower insurance premiums), and meals he might otherwise eat out. Not to mention he needs less of a professional wardrobe and its attendant laundering costs. Even if he weren’t working from home, we’d still be paying for some phone and internet. How low could those costs really go, and how much would we really be saving if we didn’t need a few extras for him to work from home? Some, surely, but certainly less than we save with this work arrangement.

    I suspect losing the high speed would be a disappointment, because as you say, it is very easy to take it for granted. But if/when the mortgage gets paid off, I hope he’ll quit the high-expectation, stressful, well compensated job he’s got at the moment. If/when we lose that salary and the need for that level of internet service, I think the high-speed will have to go.

  9. #9 Karen
    February 10, 2010

    My husband and I were just talking about this stuff last night. We spend over $300 a month on telecommunications and would like to cut back but we just can’t figure out how.

    We have 3 phone lines – our home line, my husband’s business line and fax line (all essential as he is a home-based real estate appraiser). Our DSL is also essential as hubby’s business is primarily conducted over the internet. He has an iphone with a data plan which he needs to check his email while out on the road inspecting properties. A job order will be reassigned to another appraiser if it is not accepted within 30 minutes. I have a bare bones cheap cell phone for 10 bucks a month that I barely use but keep in my purse for emergencies like a flat tire in the middle of a blizzard with my kids in the car.

    We cancelled our satellite TV package a year and a half ago when we realized that we were paying $50 a month so the kids could watch cartoons as my husband and I rarely watch TV. Best thing we ever did.

    The only saving grace is that everything but the home phone line and my cell phone (about $40 a month) are business expenses and tax write-offs. Even so, it’s still depressing to watch all that money go out the door every month.

  10. #10 del
    February 10, 2010

    I canceled my cable TV subscription when I realized that I was spending over $600/year to basically watch three channels (PBS/Discovery/History). I think I was watching maybe five hours of actual programming a week. Obviously I’m not the typical American TV viewer.

    After pulling the plug I’ve since rediscovered my love of reading and music. When I do watch TV it’s usually a Netflix DVD or a disc that I purchased previously. I’m not sure I’m actually saving $600/year because now I find myself buying more books!

  11. #11 Alan
    February 10, 2010

    I feel that there is one important consideration that’s often overlooked in the landline versus cellphone only debate: namely that the most cellular towers have extremely limited or no backup power capability. When the grid goes down, a great deal of the cellular system goes down, too. The traditional landline phone system has substantial backup capacity in their central offices and can keep operating for quite a while without grid power.

    That is the main reason we maintain a basic landline phone — that and we don’t have to worry that our cellphone battery is discharged when we need to make a call (to report a power outage, for instance). A traditional landline phone (i.e. not a cordless model) operates off the low-voltage power in the lines.

    All that said, we do have cellphones, operating on a very nice contract we got years ago and have renewed a couple of times — nobody (including our provider) offers such a good deal now. We get two lines and 300 shared minutes per month (which we never come close to using all of) for $42 per month (and my wife’s employer picks up 1/4 of the cost for her occasional work use of the cellphone). It includes free domestic long distance and an extremely large network.

    Our cellphones are turned off most of the time and turned on pretty much only when we want to call someone or are expecting to be called. We never set up voice mail on them so we never have to check for messages.

    We must be part of a minuscule proportion of the American populace who have never had cable TV and don’t want it. Of course, we live on a hilltop with line-of-sight to every broadcast tower in our metro area, so reception (digital and analog before that) is excellent with just rabbit ears.

    Over the years we have found ourselves watching less and less TV as the quality of programming has declined (“reality TV”, anyone?). Now we mostly use our set to watch movies and the occasional series on DVD (no commercials! YAY!!)

    Broadband internet is the biggest expense and I hope that we never have to forgo that.

  12. #12 Katharine
    February 10, 2010

    Anna, thanks for the book recommendation! I’m requesting it on interlibrary loan right now. :-)

    It’s a question worth asking. I do expense a lot of things (working on our taxes right now) but I wonder what the opportunity cost of my time is…

  13. #13 sealander
    February 10, 2010

    Just for a point of comparison with the US, here in New Zealand there is only limited competition in the telecommunications market, so prices tend to be high.
    For a basic landline phone connection we pay NZ$38 a month. Long distance calls cost extra.
    For broadband internet with a data cap of 50 Gigabytes we pay NZ$110 a month. This is a bit steep but we ran into problems with every other provider we tried as often they wouldn’t allow more than one person in the house to connect to the internet at a time, and you’d get disconnected. And the speed of the connection often was much lower than advertised.
    Cellphones in the household are pre-pay and I don’t use mine much so I don’t think it costs me more than $5 a month.
    No pay television……..mind you I think we might actually get a lot of programs on the free-to-air broadcasting that are only on cable in the US. However broadcasting is switching from analog to digital soon so we if we want to keep watching we either have to spend several hundred on a box for the exisiting TV, or buy a new one. Trying to hold out as long as we can….;)

  14. #14 Lora
    February 10, 2010

    They will take my land line when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

    I love, love, love it that in the horrible event that I must call 911 (have done so three times in my life, hope never to need it again), if I am on a land line, they know exactly where I am and can forward the address to the dispatcher in the event that I am discombobulated by the nature of the emergency. I love it that if 911 gets a hangup call from a land line, they must send someone to investigate. This is a service that has helped many women in danger from abusive family members, and I love it to pieces. It has helped me personally when a schizophrenic neighbor broke into my apartment and assaulted me.

    In contrast, I was recently in a car accident and had to use my cell phone to call 911. My elderly cell phone does not have all the GPS bells and whistles on it, so I had to be not only coherent but able to give driving directions to the dispatcher so he could figure out which police barracks was closest. Can I just tell you, when you are in shock and trying to decide whether you are seriously injured or just had the wind knocked out of you really hard, it’s very difficult to give clear directions and explain your situation. It does not work like those Onstar commercials, you have to argue with the 911 person and say, “no, the OTHER exit, where the interstate and the turnpike…no, not that one, the other one…” while you are trying to catch your breath and wondering, holy shit, is my fucking lung collapsing?

    Husband runs most of his business from his cell phone, though. He could not work without it. I use my home computer for work purposes, as our work computers are so antiquated and the IT department so strict about software usage that we can’t run the software we need on a daily basis. Everyone uses their home computers instead. This is yet another reason I suspect that the future of employment in the US will be everyone working as a freelance-type contractor with no benefits–we’re halfway there already.

    We don’t have cable. Never watched much TV in the first place, and now when we visit friends who have cable, there’s still nothing on we really want to watch. Spouse entertains himself via video games, I am busy with chickens, cooking.

  15. #15 Mary
    February 10, 2010

    We have high speed internet, cable and phone on Cox. Must haves for me are my digital camera, Kindle, digital photo album, and pre-paid cell phone. The Kindle is a phenomenal tool and because I read so much, it’s better than the weekly trek to the library. I suppose that will be one good thing during the “Long Emergency” and limited gasoline.
    I do have two engineers at home right now (sons), one civil and one mechanical who work from their computers in their rooms. They have the electronic toys and use them but mainly stay on their laptops and PCs working. At least now, they don’t take everything apart to see how it works.

  16. #16 Gene
    February 10, 2010

    Good comments. Besides the cost, what upsets me is that so many of these things we are suppose to need, actually seem designed solely to waste our time. In one of his last interviews (on Jon Stewart), George Carlin addressed this, stating (in regards to our vanishing freedoms), that we’ve all been ‘bought-off’ with little technological trinkets.

    I’m constantly peppered with requests from friends to join social networking sites. Isn’t it just great that there’s so many things to keep our minds of the truly important elements of our lives.

  17. #17 oil monkey
    February 10, 2010

    Half the time we live in ‘the big city,’ the other half on a rural homestead- or what we’re attempting to turn into a homestead and reactivate agriculturally. The idea is eventually to be on the homestead full time. In the city we both spend much of the day in front of computers as part of our jobs (about ten years ago I watched my current occupation go from having nothing to do with computers to being utterly centered and dependent on them, the result being far more ‘work’ for less pay), and we’re reading stuff on the ‘net all the time, listening to music via the net, etc. In the country we have no internet, no land-line. We go to the local library for internet access. When I’m in the city hardly an hour passes that I don’t check email, etc. In the country I’ll go several days before making the trip to the library- and I don’t miss it at all! When I do check at the library they have a one hour limit on their computers- its rare I spend more than twenty minutes. There just isn’t that much that is important. But in the city, it just takes over! I have clients that expect me to be accessible by the minute.

    I think Jerry Mander is right- we get sold technology as being beneficial to us, but really its benefiting our exploitation more than anything else. We are ‘bought off’ with these techno-trinkets. Or as Mark Crispin Miller wrote, ‘Big Brother is not watching you, Big Brother is you, watching.’

  18. #18 Anna
    February 10, 2010

    Hearkens me back to 2000 when an employer required me to get a personal cell phone to use as part of the job. I balked and said I didn’t want one. She countered, “You really will want one, trust me.” Like she was selling me an addictive substance. I haven’t been without one since though I secretively hope I can kick the habit soon.

  19. #19 Stephen B
    February 10, 2010

    ‘Lots of good comments here and I don’t care try folks’ time and repeat. I think I can add a few more thoughts just the same…

    I too like the idea of the reliability of landlines, but at the “other” end of the cord, they aren’t what they used to be either. Back in the day, the telco’s landlines were copper wires all the way back to the “CO” (or telephone Central Office.) At that office there were large backup batteries and then generators. The whole system was largely passive unless a call was active on the line and thus, the system used very little power, resulting in high blackout reliability. Contrast that with VOIP over cable or cell phones that need backup power at each cell or network node site. But…. nowadays your “copper” driven land line is probably only copper to a nearby digital loop carrier cabinet somewhere down the street. There, the copper lines from your street’s homes are converted to some other line type, perhaps fiber, and perhaps some kind of VOIP itself, consolidated with many other lines, and *then* sent to the CO. Now if all those neighborhood cabinets with their bridges and routers have substantial backup power, great, but I bet this hybrid “copper” system won’t last as long in a blackout as old-fashioned copper all the way to the CO does/did.

    Still, I do favor the 911 capability of land lines.

    At our house, we currently have cable/Internet/”land line” phone all wrapped up in a cable company deal for ~115 per month. I would LOVE to dump the TV cable part, but others at home watch a LOT of TV…ugh. I think I’d dump the land line too, risking a bit of 911 adaptability as well, but again, others at home have other ideas.

    As for spending all the money on telecommunications and the Internet? Well, in the 15 or so years I’ve been online, I’ve learned about Peak Oil, masonry heaters, electric bicycles, and cheap gardening tools and supplies. I can more easily shop for used items such as books and clothing that I just wouldn’t have bought previously. It has saved me countless miles on my truck – my 16 year old truck that I probably would have had to otherwise replace by now if I didn’t have the Internet to allow me to stay home as much as I do. (Even my job, a mere 1.5 miles away, was found on the Internet.) Yeah, I’ve paid a good deal of $$$ for Internet access over those years, but it has saved me countless dollars in other ways.

    Lastly, reading these comments, I continue to be amazed at how *many* folks now work from home over the Internet, at least for part of the week. Now if the Internet were to go out nationally in a substantial way due to unrest, extended bad weather, economic strife, etc., what would all those people do?

  20. #20 cynthia
    February 11, 2010

    We have never had cable TV. Friends who have it talk about surfing constantly with the remote, unable to find something they want to watch! I’d rather read a book.
    No cell phone either. I can’t get past the absurdity of paying for calls people make to me, i.e. losing minutes when they call. One never has to pay for incoming calls on a land line. I’m waiting for them to outlaw that! ha.
    I guess I’ve always been aware of the drawbacks of technology. While it’s great for some things, it can take over your life. I’d like to maintain some control.

  21. #21 Jen
    February 11, 2010

    For the last 3 years we eschewed cell phones, annoying lots of people with our lack of connection. Now, we are huge Apple fans and my husband bought us iphones for our birthdays last month. Of course we hardly use them and we DO NOT need such a pricey sassy (oh but sexy) phone. We do get a reimburesment from an employer, but u my husband works from home and I stay at home with our kids!

    We still carry a basic land line and my husband can’t be convinced to give up the cable since the World Cup is this year, but we watch movies mostly and only ever have had one tv

    The thing is these are NOT necessities so they are listed in the expendable items section of my budget. We can afford the technology we have and still accomplish our homesteading endeavors, but I do hate even the time taken up by them. Oh but the internets, I will miss the internets.

  22. #22 Rob Monkey
    February 11, 2010

    Gotta say I’m shocked by the amount of landline users here! I have one friend that still has one, and he only has it so he can avoid giving his mom his cell #(don’t judge too harshly, if you knew his family . . .) My dad is a half-Luddite, he’s not oppposed to technology, but is like the exact oppostite of an early adopter, so he didn’t get a cell till 3 years or so ago. Guess maybe prices are different in other areas, but I convinced him when I found out he paid about $40 a month and still had to pay extra for long distance. He looked at me like I had grown another head when I told him my generation hadn’t paid a long distance fee (what the hell is that?) in years. “Wait, you mean you can call your brother in CA for the same price as you call me?” “Yes dad, and I pay about $45 a month total for that privelege.” “Holy crap, I mostly get telemarketers for my $40 a month.” I can definitely agree with this post, although part of me just thinks that in response we need more cheap public networks, especially since there’s basically no way to find a job without the internet nowadays.

  23. #23 Nita
    February 11, 2010

    We haven’t seen the need for cell phones, although it drives our friends and family crazy. Why, I have no idea.

    DSL internet service through our landline brings our monthly bill to $90 per month. Our daughter is doing online school, so that is a necessity until we are past that time period. And I doubt we would like living without our internet service. But we could. The library offers 1 hour of free internet service per day, but that entails a 15 mile drive, so that is out. And the people wait in line for their computer time. So for now we will continue to enjoy our $45 internet.

    As for TV, we watch PBS occasionally, and rent movies. A lot of our friends feel sorry for us so they loan us movies, I guess we look a little forlorn ;)

  24. #24 Sharon Astyk
    February 11, 2010

    Rob, we have a landline for the simple reason that cell phones don’t work in our house most of the time ;-). One of the PITA elements of being rural.

    But while a 1-1 comparison for a single person household matches up pretty well, I tend to think that it doesn’t do as well for multi-person households. The same folks use the same landline in most cases – 2,3,4,5 cells in a household adds up to a lot of money, even on family plans. But for me the major consideration is the ecological cost – cell phones aren’t made to last very long, landlines are. Don’t get me wrong – our tracphone is now 6 years old, but msot people upgrade regularly, and that cost, plus the ewaste cost has to be counted in too.

    Sharon

  25. #25 et
    February 11, 2010

    Being connected may seem expensive unless you count the cost of internet vs cost of maintaining a vehicle, gas, insurance etc to get to away from home job. The $200 I pay are much less than commuting to a lesser paying job would cost.

    “The Kindle is a phenomenal tool and because I read so much, it’s better than the weekly trek to the library.” Sharon, this is fodder for a discussion/post. I was just at a meeting discussing the future of libraries. What do we need them for other than physical books? Are we prepared to chuck public libraries out the window to become hooked to e readers? What happens when gas is more expensive, internet more spotty and technology glitches more frequent? Security concerns, too.

  26. #26 Susan
    February 11, 2010

    We have high speed internet (which, like yours, is NOT but is better than dial up), two smart phones, land line, and cable. Now, we both need the internet and the high speed for our schooling as we go on line, so that’s a necessary expense. We have the land line because our cells are iffy for reception — you can have five bars and it drops to nothing and drops a call within seconds, even though we’re within line of sight to the tower 4 miles away. We have cable because like another poster, my husband is addicted to the Discovery channel…but we did without it for 3 years while I was in nursing school and I would love to get rid of it again, as soon as I can convince him that we’ll get more guitar playing done together if we’re not watching The World without People (or whatever it’s called). That is more than $60 a month I can easily put somewhere else!

  27. #27 Brad K.
    February 11, 2010

    Sharon,

    The economic impact from personal electronics doesn’t stop with the bills. Someone texting, or waiting for a text, someone making a personal call or playing games – is not available for person-to-person contact, for work, for attention to the movie they paid to attend (while annoying others with their lit light source) or the concert or other public performance.

    Electronic interaction appears to interfere with sleep patterns, with attention span, and with communication skills.

    Not to mention detracting from learning skills like storytelling and learning oral histories of families and regions.

  28. #28 Claire
    February 11, 2010

    My DH and I are both in our 50s, we have no children, and we are retired from paid work. This means we can go very minimal with communications technology. Because our income is quite low, we also have to get the biggest bang out of the least buck. Hence the choices we’ve made, as detailed below.

    Minimal for us is one landline with an answering machine (remember those?), with only basic service from AT&T, with a separate very cheap long-distance carrier. Yes, we have to pay for long distance calls – in fact, we didn’t get so-called intraLADA service on our landline, just basic phone service, so we have to use the calling card we got from our long-distance provider to call any number that is in-state but outside of our local calling area. My DH swears every time he does this because you have to punch up an extra 10-15 digits from the calling card to make the call. I told him, the phone’s in your name, so call up AT&T and get intraLADA service if it pisses you off that much. So far he hasn’t done it, so I assume he’s not yet motivated enough to go through that hassle. I make so few such calls that it doesn’t bother me.

    Anyway, even though all my family is out of state so I have to pay extra to call them, our total landline cost in 2009 was $438, or $36.50/month. I just don’t call long distance all that often, and when I do, I do it when it’s cheap. It’s not hard, and the payoff in low phone bills is worth it to me.

    We have the lowest level of DSL service, which for us is $15/month, or $180/year. (I don’t think new customers get a rate that low anymore, but so far ours hasn’t gone up.)

    We have nothing else – no cell phones, no cable – we don’t even have a tv at all. We don’t get Netflix or buy any CDs, DVDs (except for the one video I was in), or download any music or videos unless they are free. Occasionally we check out a CD or DVD from the library; our computer has a DVD drive so we can watch a DVD if we want to (we very rarely want to). We listen to a local community radio station if we want to hear music, or play it ourselves.

    This means our total communication cost in 2009 was $618. It’s really too much. We don’t *need* the internet since neither of us work for pay. We do use it a lot, and it would be much more difficult to do my volunteer activities without internet access at home because they are quite reliant on email. But if it got to the point that we needed that $15/month for something else, we’d drop the internet. I’d bike to the nearest library branch and access the internet from there. It’s always easy to get a computer in the morning because most people are working for pay at that time.

    Count me in as another backer of landlines – and not just landlines, but actual tied-to-a-physical-line phones. When the St. Louis area suffered large-scale losses in electrical service in 2006 due to severe thunderstorms and an ice storm, many people lost phone service either because their cell provider went off the air, their cell phone battery ran down and they couldn’t charge it up, or their cordless phone didn’t work because it needed electricity. We, on the other hand, were never without phone service.

    When we are not in the house, we don’t want phone calls, so no cell phones (not to mention we don’t want the added expense). Heck, even when we are in the house, there is plenty of time we don’t want phone calls – hence the answering machine. Works great for no extra charge.

    Re the e-waste, I’m glad that because we never went to cell phones, and because we have no tv, we are making minimal contributions to that problem. We even have the original dial phone that’s been in this house since at least the 1960s, and it still works! (We also have a few of the more modern touch-tone phones, but even then, the ones we have are all at least 20-30 years old, and they all work fine.) Of the four computers we’ve gotten in 20+ years, we still have and use 2 of them, including the oldest, a Mac SE, and the hard drive of a third one is inside the computer we’re currently using so we are still using it as well. We recycled the fourth (and only non-Mac) computer when it died and a couple of printers, monitors, and keyboards that quit working or were no longer used, but we are very much trying to limit the waste we generate, for both economic and environmental reasons. That in turn means strictly limiting the personal technology we use.

    Finally, I find a health benefit to limiting communication technology: I notice that spending time on the computer contributes to excessive jumpiness. It takes me about two hours to feel back to normal after several hours of computer use. I don’t like the way tv sucks my attention, and since we do have occasional opportunities to watch it at other peoples’ homes, I am well aware of the total suckiness of everything on it. I have no interest in anything on tv.

  29. #29 Karen from CT
    February 11, 2010

    My husband and I both have cell phones paid by our employers. If we lost our job we would probably get prepaid phones and have them available for emergency only. I only use the text feature occasionally for work, my husband does not use it at all.
    We currently pay $159 a month for land line, unlimited long distance, high speed internet access and satellite TV-basic channels-no movies. Even tho we don’t watch a lot of TV I really love what I do watch and would miss it. If we had to we could lose the TV and just watch stuff on the internet which would not get the ax. If we were out of work we would need it to help us search for new jobs. The internet is a powerful tool to help you get where you want to go. I save postage by paying my bills online, compare sales at the local food stores, do research on frugal living, read for pleasure all my fave blogs, etc.
    If we were gamers or had teenagers we would be spending a lot more money. Our TV is 10 years old and will not be replaced until it is dead! When we wanted a second TV for the summer for visiting family I found a TV with a VCR built in on Craigslist for $35.
    We saved all our tapes and you can pick them up at tag sales for 25 cents so I thought that was a good deal!

  30. #30 Jen
    February 14, 2010

    We have tried to go as cheap as possible on the technology while still balancing the enjoyment/convenience it brings to our lives. My husband and I each have a cell – at a total cost of $47 per month (we are on a family plan with my parents and it works fabulously, we pay them our share each month). A landline costs in the neighborhood of $45 per month here; I think the cells are a better value as we can have them with us at all times.

    We also have mobile broadband internet from Sprint at $51 per month. I think this is the best $51 per month that we spend! I have learned SO much from the internet. Hell, I probably wouldn’t even be peak oil aware if it weren’t for the internet.

    As for cable, I could cut this out completely without thinking twice, but hubby seriously loves his TV. It’s kind of like the internet is my thing, and TV is his, so I can’t really say too much about it. We pay around $70 for this (too much in my opinion, but DH allocates some of his personal spending money toward this.) We are doing well financially so I don’t see any harm in having something he enjoys. It would be one of the first things to go if times got tough, though. I think we could get by fine with a digital antenna.