Jan 15, 2016 · 4 minutes

Earlier this week, the Guardian published a fun little lifestyle piece written by a political consultant turned “startup founder” called Steve Hilton. In it, Hilton explains why, for the past three years, he has not owned a cellphone.

Or as he puts it:

I do not own a cellphone; I do not use a cellphone. I do not have a phone. No. Phone. Not even an old-fashioned dumb one. Nothing.

Hilton has since been ripped apart in the Guardian comments by readers mocking (amongst other things) his pretension and also the fact that he admits to carrying a laptop everywhere to replace the functions of his phone, and to borrowing phones from friends to accomplish basic tasks.

He even imagines his wife yelling at him for his hypocrisy:

You see, he’s a hypocrite! He doesn’t have a phone but he relies on other people having a phone. And this whole ‘not having a phone thing’ isn’t some cool rejection of tech addiction. It’s the ultimate selfishness. It means the whole world has to revolve around him. If you make a plan to meet, you can’t change it because you can’t let him know. It drives me completely mad …” etc, etc.

Once I made it through the hypocrisy and inconsistency, though, I actually found myself agreeing with most of Hilton’s rationale for rejecting -- fearing even -- our always-connected mobile world.

I remember the exact moment when I realized something important had happened. I was on my bike, cycling to Stanford, and it struck me that a week had gone by without my having a phone. And everything was just fine. Better than fine, actually. I felt more relaxed, carefree, happier. Of course a lot of that had to do with moving to California. But this was different. I felt this incredibly strong sense of just thinking about things during the day. Being able to organize those thoughts in my mind. Noticing things.</blockquote>


Unlike Hilton, I do have a cellphone but, as I wrote here, it’s one barely worthy of the name. I use it to make important work calls -- breaking news demands I stay at least partly in touch throughout the work day -- and for incoming calls from a very small number of close friends and loved ones. Maybe half a dozen people have my number. I don’t tweet, or instagram or use any apps whatsoever. Unlike Hilton I don’t carry my laptop with me most of the time, either.

And, he’s right. It’s fine. The less time I spend connected, the better -- and more alive -- I feel. And rarely do I miss anything really important.

The part where I really found myself agreeing with Hilton, though, was when he explained his concern at how the devices in our pockets track our every move….

But just in terms of our basic humanity, I find the idea that we should all be connected and contactable all the time not just bizarre but menacing. We used to think of electronic tags as a way of restricting criminals’ liberty – we can keep them out of jail but still keep track of them. It seems that now, everyone is acquiescent, through their phone, in electronically tagging themselves; incarcerating themselves in a digital jail where there is no such thing as true freedom or independence or solitude or privacy.

Hear hear! I’ve lost track of the number of stories we’ve published here on Pando about companies creepily tracking their users. The amount of data -- including location data -- we willingly share with companies like Google is terrifying. And Uber has shown us the very real dangers of companies using that data for evil. Only recently the company reached a settlement with New York’s attorney general over its abuse of its “God View” user tracking feature. That follows a pledge by Senator Al Franken to investigate the company’s potentially illegal abuses of user privacy.

The company’s threats to investigate critical journalists and their actual behavior in tracking those same journalists and countless other users resulted in such a public backlash that, as we’ve reported before, they recently had to hire a professional political fixer -- Rachel Whetstone -- to repair their image. Before joining Uber, Whetstone worked at a senior level at Google.

I’d love to put Hilton in a room with Whetsone and have him explain to her all of his fears about how Valley companies like Uber and Google track their users. Fortunately getting them in the same room won’t be particularly difficult to accomplish because Rachel Whetsone is Steve Hilton’s wife.

That’s right, the exact same creepy and sometimes illegal tracking of users that so freaks out Steve Hilton also happens to pay his mortgage. IT'S COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!

So what does Hilton do when he’s forced to interact with his wife’s employers?

There have been occasions when I say to a friend – at the end of a night out, for example – in a slightly embarrassed voice, “could you, y’know, order me an Uber? I’ll pay you for it obviously …

Yes: The husband of Uber’s chief political strategist, hired in part to combat the damage done by the company’s abuse of user privacy, is so concerned about his own privacy that he only hails Uber through other people’s accounts.

Sleep well, America.