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Cut the Cord

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Save money and untether yourself from older technologies.

The following are changes I have made in the last year to save money and reduce my reliance on less flexible services. I bring these up as ideas for you to consider now, but also to provide a description of the what the future likely holds for all of us.

Dropped the Land Line
My wife and I no longer have a home phone. Beyond just relying on our mobile phones, like many people already do, we signed up for a free Google Voice number. Google Voice provides you a phone number, including many local area codes, that will forward to any phone of your choice: cell, home, work, and even Gmail on your computer--to a personal Gmail account, not a University Gmail account. Our new phone number forwards to both of our iPhones simultaneously. The service includes voicemail, voice-to-text transcription (not perfect, but good enough), email or text alerts when you receive messages, free text messaging, and free/inexpensive calling out features.

Unfortunately, you cannot "port" your current home phone number to the Google Voice service. This was not a big problem for us, as it provided an opportunity to escape many telemarketing lists. We set up the Google Voice number and over a few months updated schools, utilities, banks, friends, etc. of our new number. Once we were pretty sure we had told everyone, we dropped the land line for good and started saving over $35 a month.

Notes:

* 911 service does not instantly know where you are calling from. Having had to call 911 last month, we just had to tell them our address--something we have made sure our daughter knows. The local phone company offers a $4/month "security phone" service along with Internet service. I'm considering getting it.

* Babysitters need to have their own cell phones--most already do.

Dropped the Satellite Dish
I have always loved the Dish Network service, but last month I shipped the equipment back for good. We had already stopped watching live TV and the commercials by using our DVR. Neither my wife nor I are sports fans, and both of us despise TV news, so there was little reason to continue getting hundreds of channels of live TV. I had actually stopped watching much TV at all.

But now, I am watching a lot more. Instead of paying Dish Network upwards of $80/month, we purchased an Apple TV for $99. The Apple TV device hooks up to modern flat screen TVs with a single cable. Apple provides TV show rentals for $1 and movies for about $5, however, we don't often watch these. We subscribe to Netflix for about $10/month which gets us DVDs by mail, and access to a large library of movies and TV series streamed over the Internet. The quality is about the same as our Dish service (this is not the small, poor quality Web-based videos you may watch). Neither Apple nor Netflix have everything, but how much do you really need? So far, we've found plenty to keep us entertained. Watch whenever we want, no commercials, great quality, and very inexpensive.

Notes:

* Many devices, like game consoles, newer TVs, Apple competitors, and some Blu-Ray players, allow you to connect to Netflix too.

* If you like the idea, but need occasional live TV for news or sports, get a cheap antenna for local broadcast stations. Although I have not done so, I think you can do it for less than $40.

Dropped the DVD Player
A few years ago I gave my DVD player to my grandfather (though he still hasn't quite figured it out) and have been using a computer for playing movies. I have no interest in Blu-Ray and believe that the technology will never replace the DVD--physical media is just not the future. Movie rentals and purchases will be over the Internet.

A Few More
Wallet: I don't often carry one. The case to my iPhone has space for my driver's license and my credit card. Rarely use cash. Never carry a checkbook. Store pictures of membership cards (zoo, insurance, AAA, etc.) on my phone.

Microsoft Office: I do not have Word or Excel installed on the computer at home. I use Google Docs for most things and Apple's iWork (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers) when I need more. I can read and edit any file sent to me.

USB Flash Drive: I don't carry one. Too easy to lose or forget. I use Google Docs and Dropbox which give me access to my files from any Internet-connected computer. Use of Dropbox has not been reviewed by the University so please do not use it for protected data such as student grades.

Adobe Flash and Adobe Reader: These ubiquitous tools are currently among the biggest security holes and threats to your identity (CLA-OIT spends a lot of time and money to keep these patched). I use Preview, Google Docs, or my iPad for viewing PDFs. I've installed "ClickToFlash" on my browser so that Flash objects (some videos, ads, and some interactive websites) are grayed out until I click on them. This protects me from malware that could compromise my computer by browsing the web, it dramatically improves battery life, and it greatly reduces the number of ads that I may otherwise be annoyed by.

Windows: Never owned or used one at work (as my assigned computer) and I'm very glad that I never will. The era of "Wintel" (Microsoft Windows on Intel-Based computers) is coming to an end. No, Macs did not "win" but technology is moving on and Microsoft is not leading or even messing it up.

Pen and Paper: The iPad has not replaced my laptop, but it has significantly reduced its use and eliminated a lot of paper (i.e., clutter) from my life.

Simple and Cheap
After some adjustment time, these changes have given me state-of-the-art technology with less complexity and less cost. I don't know about you, but these are very welcome changes right now.

2 Comments

A very intriguing essay that puts together a lot of pieces about reducing the cost of personal communications in a thought-provoking way. One question on eliminating a land line: I value the privacy of my cell phone number and rarely give it out (my own mother does not have it!). This way, the telemarketers hit my home phone and almost never my cell. If the cell was all I had, I'd have to give the number to a lot more people, and I'd get a lot more annoying calls on it. What to do?

Jamey,
It's interesting how many things that were fixtures in our lives are quickly becoming irrelevant or replaced.
Chris

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