The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Gadget-free, and not looking to plug in


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I don’t own a cellphone or have cable TV. What is the most polite way to respond to people who look at me like I’ve grown a second head when I tell them I can’t “text” them or call them from every spot on the earth?

I have a full life, am working on a college degree at night and do own a laptop for school work, e-mail and Internet browsing. I don’t think I need to be wired to the world 24/7 to be a complete person. My workplace and friends think otherwise and have been quite aggressive about trying to correct this problem they think I have.

I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to delve into a long story about my lifestyle. What would you recommend as a clean and simple reply?



“I’m not preaching to you to unplug, because that’s your business. My choices are my business. Deal?”

Anyone who pushes further needs to be ignored. “I’m changing the subject now” works well for that, as does not judging them for, ahem, “being wired to the world 24/7” and “from every spot on earth.” That phrasing and your quotation marks around “text” suggest you put on a bit of a lemon-sucking face when you talk gadgets, and if you do, then that’s not helping your cause.

Re: Cellphones:

I certainly respect people’s desire to unplug. But I find those who don’t have cellphones are being amazingly selfish. When they are lost or running late, it’s always, “Oh, you know I don’t have a cellphone.” I understand people survived without them, but I have to say, I’ve slowly cut a few otherwise lovely friends out of my life. And I say this as a punctual person who never checks my cellphone, except when needed.


Wait — you “respect” something “amazingly selfish”?

And isn’t it selfish to want everyone to do things your way because you find their way inconvenient for you?

What if some friends move to a neighborhood where you struggle to find parking; was their move selfish?

What if they don’t watch the same shows or sports you do, so you have to work harder to find things in common — does that make their entertainment choices selfish?

With the friends you describe, the problem is mostly manners and partly style, since you’ve staked out a clear area where all gadget use must fall to meet your approval. (Golly.)

Cutting someone loose who is often late seems fair, often lost is debatable (I’ll get to this in a second) — but either way it’s about those traits, not about being unplugged. Unpluggedness just adds a layer of difficulty to those things. I think, by the way, we’re on to a new word here: (adj.): combative about tardiness.

Someone who often gets lost but refuses satellite navigation arguably is being dismissive of the value of others’ time, yes — if the refusal is an I’m-anti-gadget Statement — but then you’d be dropping friendships not over technology, but for putting causes above courtesy.

And what if the refusal is a budget necessity? I could keep going this way, but, in the end, it’s not about the “what” (cellphone), it’s about the “why.”

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at



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