No Cell, No Problem | By Emerson Csorba

Already, The Wanderer Online has published a host of articles about current student leaders’ and alumni’s first days and years on campus. We’ve brought you lists, videos, essays, an article on asking questions, and much more. Today, Emerson Csorba talks about his 16-month experiment living cellphone-less. Though he now plans on buying an iPhone, Samsung or whatever else is out there, it’s not an easy decision. As a university student, it’s easy to get swept away into the must-be-connected-at-all-times attitude. Take a read through Emerson’s story to see how a highly-productive student survived without being connected 24-7. 

* * * * *

Sometime around April 2011, my Razr cellphone died, and I never purchased a new one. Fast-forward more than 365 days, and the 2012 fall semester is upon us. I still don’t have a cellphone, and though I’m planning on purchasing one, it’s not a clear-cut decision. I still don’t feel as if I need one. There’s been a fair share of complaints over the last year from friends, lamenting the fact that I cannot be contacted at all hours of the day and night, and that has certainly been stressful for me at times. As I approach the purchase of an iPhone, Blackberry or whatever else is currently on the market, I feel that it’s important to share the story of living cellphone-less. We live in a hyper-connected world, and though there are obvious benefits to it, there are drawbacks that we should also consider.

Looking back, the biggest reason why I never purchased a cellphone is the sight of people texting while walking outdoors, heads down, looking at a screen, unable to experience the world around them. In part, I was mad at myself for doing this. As years passed and my texting frequency increased, I spent less and less time looking up, and more time looking down. I could walk through campus without experiencing the sight of people relaxing in quad, the rich architecture or the gentle sway of trees on a cool summer morning. Instead, I’d be texting “bahaha” or something to that extent, responding to something that probably didn’t even require a response.

It is probably not a coincidence that just as I gave up my cellphone usage, I started training in earnest for my first marathon. As I spent more time out on the river valley trails, it became obvious that there is more to the City of Edmonton than what I knew. Today, when I hear people refer to our city as “Deadmonton,” I cringe. If you say this, then you don’t get out enough. Or you don’t run. Or perhaps you are a cellphone addict. As my weekly running increased from 50 kilometers to 75 and eventually 100 k, I discovered nooks and crannies in Edmonton that left me energized, no matter how taxing the run happened to be. I discovered the bridge next to Fort Edmonton Park, the adjacent steep staircase and picturesque trails, where runners and walkers are well out of earshot from any car. I discovered narrow walking paths in Riverbend, and ran through the industrialized areas on the city’s northwest edge. The more I ran, the less a cellphone was needed. I figured that if I got lost, I would find my way back home. If I found myself in a precarious situation, I would find my way out of it.

With that said, there are several instances where a cellphone would have really helped. They are few and far between, but they stand out:

1. The Saint Paul Ultra: In mid-October 2011, I ran my first ultra-marathon, a 100 k race through rolling hills and countryside around Saint Paul and Elk Point, Alberta. The race was going well, and by the 75 k mark, I had hit my stride and was feeling good. After making my way out of a short bog, the race markers (coloured pegs in the ground) were gone. Nowhere in sight. Ahead was more of the same: forest and bog. To the left, an open farmer’s field. To the right, a beaten trail. My heart said, “Keep running straight,” but I chose to ignore Robert Frost’s advice, taking the road already-travelled: the path to the right. As I began to walk, unable to find pegs, my legs stiffened and I veered way off path. (Keep in mind, this is about eight hours of running already; when you stop, your legs basically cease up.) Close to four hours later, I finally hit the next aid station, at 77 k, to a mum in tears and several worried volunteers. I don’t know whether a cellphone would have received service out on remote country trails, but I’m sure that making a call to my support crew would have helped.

2. Travelling to Pittsburgh: Coincidentally, only two weeks before the Saint Paul race, Colten Yamagishi (then the Students’ Union Vice-President Student Life) and I travelled down to Pittsburgh for a conference. Leaving the flight scheduling until last minute, Colten and I wound up on different flights, both on Saturday. We figured that we’d get to Pittsburgh and then book a hotel there. We had a hotel for both Sunday and Monday, but nothing for Saturday. But what the heck? Finding a hotel shouldn’t be too difficult. Wrong. What he should have known – because we had tickets to the game – is that the Pittsburgh Steelers were playing a home game on Sunday afternoon. Upon arrival in Pittsburgh, I gathered my luggage and headed to the shuttle bus. I ventured down to the nearest Raddison (way out in the middle of nowhere, about 5 kilometres from the city), went to the front desk, and asked, “Do you have any rooms for tonight?” No luck. I made my way to the hotel next door. No luck. Same deal with the third hotel, the fourth and the fifth. Suddenly, I started to panic. My laissez-fair, I’ll just figure things out attitude was fading. Apparently, all hotels were fully-booked within a 50 kilometre radius of Pittsburgh. Over the next two hours, I managed to talk my way into using a hotel’s computer room, Skype home, call around, and then by some divine working from the Hotel Gods, find a beautiful half-price room in the downtown Pittsburgh Hilton. Colten and I crashed there for the night, and they provided free cookies, pizza and more. A cellphone would have been nice – I could have called around and perhaps found a hotel an hour earlier – but again, it wasn’t imperative.

These are the only two situations where I could have really used a cellphone. That does not, however, take away from the on-and-off stress brought on by friends saying, “You really need a cell!,” “I can never contact you,” or plan and simple, “You’re a luddite.” But herein lies my problem: we don’t always need to be connected. Last year, I served as VP Academic of the SU, and there was one day – when the then-Dean of Medicine plagiarized his speech to the graduating class – where there were about twelve interviews in as many hours. Global, CTV, CBC, Canadian Press, you name it. But preparing with my media advisor was never an issue. I was up by 5 am on most days, in to work by 7 am, and then out by 5 or 6 pm. For the important interviews and big meetings, a cellphone just wasn’t necessary. If you prepared well enough in advance, you’d be fine. The only communication that I never received was the stuff that could wait – plans for breakfasts, links to hilarious videos, jokes, etc. These could all be discussed through Facebook, or better yet, in person.

One of the major benefits of going cellphone-less is the ability to set limits with yourself. When you don’t have a cellphone, you set your own schedule. You play by your own rules. If people want to contact you, they know how to do it: Facebook or gmail, in my case. You realize that you don’t always have to be connected, that you can still thrive at your job, maintain an active social life, meet tons of people and do so without being connected to a device, 24-7. Eventually, I developed the ability to say “no,” to do things on my terms, playing in my home field. Now, as I return to life with a cellphone, those skills will (hopefully!) remain intact.

And above all else, I’ll be sure to keep my head up as I walk.

Photograph by Sophia Le. 

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  • Sydney

    You’re so brave. I get antsy if I leave my cellphone in my bag while I go to the washroom.

  • Solomia


  • Erika

    Pretty sure Robert Frost’s “Road Not Taken” is about the path less travelled upon.

    • Erika

      Nevermind, just reread what you wrote. Haha

  • Em

    In terms of the cellphone use, yeah it was the road less travelled. But for the race, that beaten path seemed like the right direction. Bad choice in hindsight haha.

  • Collin

    I love this, Emerson. Hopefully this will inspire more people to take in the world.