When Ryan Gleeson punches out a text message or takes a call on his mobile phone at parties, he expects to get questions -- and probably snickers.
That's because the 24-year-old film post-production associate from Chicago carries a $50 flip phone -- the Samsung Gusto 2. It has no touch screen or apps. No Web-browsing capabilities. No collection of music to enjoy through ear buds.
"Definitely it's like a black sheep in the room when I pull it out," says Gleeson. "I work with a lot of Apple people -- creative types. Everyone has an iPhone."
Gleeson is among the minority of cellphone users who are OK being dialed out of the world of iPhones, BlackBerrys and Androids. In an increasingly connected and accessible culture, these stalwarts have chosen hand-held devices that offer only the basics, despite the social isolation and limitations that may come with that choice.
For Gleeson, hanging up on the iPhone was a way to tamp down his compulsive email-checking. With the basic phone, "It's a lot easier now to just step away and say, 'I'm not going to work right now,' " he says.
He also feels that he has more peace of mind and is able to just sit and think or take in his environment while riding to work on the bus. "I feel more free," he says.
Make no mistake: Smartphone ownership is growing -- and quickly. According to a Pew Research Center survey released last June, 56 percent of U.S. adults had one, in contrast to 35 percent in 2011. And smartphone users tend to skew young. According to the survey, 81 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds have a smartphone, in contrast to 18 percent of those 65 and older. The survey also found that 35 percent of U.S. adults carry a mobile that is not a smartphone.
Some young adults who could afford the Web-browsing phones and the monthly fees associated with them are sticking with more basic devices.
At Sprint, these gadgets are called "feature phones," and fewer are offered now than ever before, says director of product development Ryan Sullivan. But still, the service provider continues to roll out new devices to meet the demand.
In many cases, feature phone users are customers who don't see smartphones as useful or necessary, or are looking to save some cash, Sullivan says. Without a contract, smartphones can cost $650 or more, compared to about $150 for many basic phones in the Sprint line, he says.
Still, it's not unheard of to encounter a customer who wants to stick with a more rudimentary device because he or she got "over-wired," Sullivan says. "We all have a threshold for how much access we want people to have to us."
Craig Griffin, a 36-year-old freelance illustrator in Chicago, says that being smartphoneless gives him fewer distractions in social settings. He says he has resisted upgrading from his 2-year-old Samsung slider partly because of the irritation he feels seeing people glued to their screens. "It's important to me to be there with the people that I'm there with and give them my attention," he says.