A (Phone) Call for Sanity

Smartphones often only exacerbate student stress

Sitting at Uno the other night with a table full of people, it struck me at some point that I was out of place. Not because I lack table manners or was dressed inappropriately—but because I was the only one without an iPhone or BlackBerry.

Given the demographic that makes up the primary readership of this newspaper, you can probably identify with my friends who use smartphones. At any given college function, it seems as if the number of people with BlackBerries or iPhones outnumber the number of those without. A busy and overscheduled lifestyle is par for the course in this country in general—and students here, whose mantra can be summed up “I’ll sleep when I die,” are particularly prone to the lifestyle that the smartphone represents.

To be fair, owning a BlackBerry or an iPhone does not automatically destroy the spontaneity in one’s life. In many cases, it can actually be very useful. Imagine a busy painting. It is full of detail and inordinately cluttered; the number of elements it tries to encompass exceeds the limits of the frame. Much like a busy painting, a busy life is full of details with little prioritization and structure. Scheduling one’s time allows one to overcome this busyness by imposing order on chaos and applying priorities and scales of importance. Since being busy is generally a function of poor planning, the BlackBerry or iPhone allows one to organize one’s life in such a way as to accommodate basic things like meals, exercise, and rest.

Yet the extent to which students rely on their Blackberry or iPhone is often excessive. Most people who own one are constantly checking the latest e-mail in class, in the elevator, at dinner. Ironically, in many cases a smartphone can contribute to stress rather than allay it; the perception that one might be missing out if new messages aren’t checked every few minutes begins to take hold. And overscheduling can even damage relationships—when dinner with one’s significant other becomes just another task to be completed in a busy day, all genuineness and passion disappears.

Managing the work-life balance is clearly difficult. Thankfully, we have an exemplary model. No one would argue with the fact that the President of the United States is a “busy” man. Multiple daily meetings and briefings, speeches, and engagements seem to leave the president with no time to do anything but work—but not so. In August of this year, the president and his family enjoyed a summer vacation at Martha’s Vineyard. In addition to this scheduled activity, the president schedules basketball games with advisors and close friends as well as dinners with his wife. To be fair, unlike President Obama, students don’t have a double-digit staff to handle their daily affairs. However, students also don’t have the ultimate responsibility that the president carries and can afford to work and play in a balanced way. All it takes is some adjustment to one’s activities in order to leave time for relationships and self.

I’m not advocating smashing your BlackBerries and iPhones upon the completion of this article, but it is worth reflecting on how much of your life depends on the technology. Consider whether you are addicted to your BlackBerry. Think about your mental health and whether a gadget will exacerbate your stress in Harvard’s already tense environment. The BlackBerry or iPhone can be a useful tool when coordinating events with friends and can definitely increase productivity. Even I may consider acquiring one sooner or later. But if I ever feel like it’s becoming more of a crutch than an aid, I’ll stick to my good old Samsung Gravity.

Patrick Jean Baptiste ’09-’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is a biochemical sciences concentrator in Cabot House.