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Commentary Smart Home

In defense of the old-school alarm clock

Commentary: Keep your fancy phone alarms. I don't want 'em.

Photofusion/UIG via Getty Images

Like any self-respecting tech writer, I completely ignore the suggestions against using my phone right before bed. 

I've read about the negative effects of screens, and most nights, I just don't care. I'd rather watch something on YouTube -- or message with my friend 13 hours ahead in Japan than tuck my phone away in a corner for time-out.

But there's a problem. Because I use my phone for nearly everything, I can't use it as my alarm clock -- even though it regularly winds up in bed with me. Here's why.

I'm a heavy sleeper

"Oh good, you're up. I was just trying to think of ways to wake you up."

That was my husband Kevin talking to me this morning, because I slept through my alarm. That isn't fair to him, because I'm really hard to wake up. I'm guessing you think this means I'm just kind of not a morning person. That's absolutely true, but I'm also a nightmare to wake up. 

I sleep through tornadoes; lights don't bother me. My parents used to set multiple alarm clocks -- one on the other side of my bedroom at full volume -- so I had to stand up to turn it off. It was genius/I hated it. My phone won't work for that. I don't always want to stash it on the other side of the room overnight. 

Also, all of those expensive smart alarm clocks that wake you up with lights and other gentle techniques have no place in my bedroom. You can keep your alarms with whale sounds and chill music. I won't budge. 

I turn my phone's volume off

I know I'm supposed to go to bed reading a chapter of a book while sipping chamomile tea and meditating, but I don't. 

I'm much more likely to fall asleep watching an episode of The Office.

If Kevin is trying to fall asleep -- or if he's already asleep -- and I've left my headphones downstairs, I'll inevitably be far too lazy to get them. So instead I'll turn off the phone volume and turn on the captions. 

This usually happens when I'm half-asleep and therefore never think about how I'll need that volume on to wake me up in the morning. 

Note: If you're an iPhone user like me, there's a difference between lowering your phone's volume and toggling the ringer switch. Even so, I regularly manage to mute my alarm. 

Phones aren't reliable enough

Forgetting about the volume speaks to a larger problem with using phones as alarm clocks. A device that does "all of the things" doesn't make a good alarm clock for me. 

Because I'm so used to its various chimes and alarms -- asleep me is more likely to ignore the phone than an old-fashioned alarm clock with a standard, annoying tone that I don't hear anywhere else. 

There are other variables, too. What if my phone battery dies overnight? That's way more likely to happen with a device like a phone (and it's happened) than with my old low-power alarm clock. 

My current alarm clock

My alarm clock is a vintage-style number like this one (the exact model of mine rubbed off long ago). It runs on a single AA battery. It doesn't connect to my phone or work with Amazon Alexa voice commands. It doesn't really do anything except sound an obnoxiously loud alarm, which is what I need to get out of bed on time. 

I stash it across the room, so I have to get up to turn it off (thanks for that idea, Mom and Dad) -- and then I don't think about it again until the next morning. 

It would be nice if it let me know when the battery was low, but even without that, I'd rather stick with my old-school alarm clock than use my phone to wake up. 

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