Do People in Silicon Valley Ever Turn Off Their Phones?

Even the world's tech leaders crave moments of wifilessness. (Well, some of them.)

Elias Stein / Zak Bickel / The Atlantic

Hearing from the leaders of the tech world is always revealing, and very often surprising. In our second annual Silicon Valley Insiders Poll, a panel of 101 executives, innovators, and thinkers weigh in on some of the biggest technological, political, and cultural questions of the moment.

I’m gonna say it: Unplugging is overrated. I’m all for keeping your phone off the table while you enjoy the company of your dinner companions, but great declarations about digital hiatuses always strike me as a little much.

Of course, what people are really talking about when they describe self-imposed bans on gadgets is a rejiggering of how to use one’s time. And that is a useful exercise. Essential, even.

So maybe it’s not surprising that many of the tech leaders we polled said they yearn for more occasions when they’re unavailable—even if they don’t get them. We asked: Are you ever unreachable?

Many people said, “no.” Or, as Owen Grover, the general manager of iHeartRadio put it: “Oh hell no!” But others pride themselves on carving out time away from device-enabled connectivity. “I put my phone on airplane mode when I need to get something done,” said Kiki Schirr, a co-founder of Fittr. “So maybe two to four hours a day. I do sleep with my phone under my pillow, though!”

“Sunday mornings I have a tech sabbath,” said Tony Haile, the CEO of Chartbeat. “I spend that time reading and training for whatever ridiculous bike race or triathlon I’ve been tricked into registering for.”

Others in Silicon Valley reported being unreachable while at band practice, horseback riding, hiking, bicycling, or while on vacation. “I’d also suggest no one should use their communication device in the bathroom, please!” said Cindy Padnos, a founder of Illuminate Ventures.

Though a few people were outright dismayed by the fact that they were ever unreachable, like Andrew Rubin, CEO and co-founder of Illumio. “On the occasional plane without wi-fi, frustratingly, yes. We’re building a company for the long term and being offline is not an option.”

Of course, ignoring devices or being forced to stay offline on a plane ride—even a long one—is different than being truly unreachable for a time.

“I can’t remember being unreachable ever in the last eight years,” said Alastair Mitchell, the president and a cofounder of Huddle. “Even on my honeymoon on a small remote desert island off Mozambique, I still had cell signal!”

And besides, for a lot of people, the answer to the question depends entirely on who’s asking: Are you ever unreachable?

“To work, yes,” said Jennifer Pahlka, the founder and executive director of Code for America. “To family, never.”