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This Guy May Be The Only App Designer In San Francisco Without A Cell Phone

As Matthew Rogers walks the city’s streets, he sometimes feels he’s the only person living the reality right in front of him.

In 2015, it’s hard for most of us to imagine life without a cell phone. That’s doubly true if you happen to be an app designer in San Francisco. But a new short documentary tells the story of UX designer Matthew Rogers, who is possibly the last smartphone-free tech person in Silicon Valley. The film contrasts his life with a smartphone-addicted teenage girl.

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Filmmaker Ivan Cash met Rogers while working on a previous project that asked people to share the last photo on their phones. When Cash asked for a photo, Rogers said he didn’t have a phone.

“He’s in San Francisco, in the Mission, and I was just intrigued,” Cash says. “I found out he was a UX designer, and I said ‘Wait, you’re designing apps but you don’t own a phone?”

For Cash, it was an opportunity to dig into questions about our technology-obsessed lives. “I grew up without TV,” he says. “I feel like that’s informed a lot of my interests and what I do creatively–looking at technology and media through a critical lens. I’m fascinated with how smartphones are changing the cultural and political landscape.”

At first, Cash planned to contrast Rogers with a mindless tech-addicted teenager. But then he met 15-year-old Tess Viega, the other subject of the film.

“I realized immediately that she wasn’t what I was hoping for–she uses her phone a lot but she’s also extremely self-aware and articulate,” Cash says. “But I realized it doesn’t have to be this black and white film with a heroic guy who doesn’t have a phone, and a teenager who’s totally trapped. I feel like it’s a much more diplomatic and fair account.”

The film raises questions about how much time most of us spend staring at our phones. “I kind of feel like I’m one of the only people living here sometimes,” Rogers says in the film, as he mimes people texting as they walk down the street. “I feel like I’m one of the few people walking around who’s actually there…I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything by not having a phone.”

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Though she wakes up and goes to sleep with her phone, Viega tries to curb her addiction. “It sounds super cheesy, but life just moves too fast to not look around for a minute,” she says. “Do I really want to be on my phone?”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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