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Dialing Down

Even the not-so-smartphone can teach us something

By Irene Y. Chen

Verizon recently began selling the iPhone 4, freeing aspiring iPhone users, who are no longer obliged to suffer under the tyranny of AT&T. In loosening the iPhone’s carrier regulations, Apple hopes to retake its number two-position in the smartphone wars; The L.A. Times reported in January that Google’s Android platform has overtaken Apple’s iPhone to have the 2nd-most smartphone subscribers in the U.S.. Meanwhile, the Blackberry is still the most prevalent device in the U.S. smartphone market. As the superpowers of hand-held technology clash over dominance overhead, it’s easy to forget the bystanders, the sheepish consumers who buy less sophisticated phones—students shamed into silences that their parsimonious natures overcome their technological savvy. No more. I am the proud owner of a dumbphone.

My simple-minded Samsung-A237 can make phone calls, send and receive texts, and take low-quality pictures. According to the user manual, Internet capability is also included, but the interface is so unwieldy and the connection so poor that I could probably walk to the Science Center from the Quad to check my email more easily. You might classify my phone as the student who works hard but has no brilliance.

On campus, the lack of a smartphone has rarely seemed fortuitous. Time-sensitive emails go unanswered for hours. Books titles, homework assignments, and miscellaneous notes I meant to write down are all forgotten. I once wandered up and down Oxford Street for thirty minutes searching for Maxwell Dworkin when a GoogleMap search would have solved that problem instantly.

Without sounding like a Luddite, however, the lack of accessible technology has done me a favor. Although my Google Calendar is chock full of lunch dates, assignments, and miscellaneous speakers, I memorize my schedule for the day before leaving my dorm, a high-stakes game, which is theoretically strengthening my brain power. Because texting outside becomes cumbersome once the weather gets freezing, and pushing buttons requires a large amount of force, I rarely text on-the-go. This frees me to greet people I meet along my way to class and admire the beauty of Harvard’s campus. Even getting lost has its perks as I have discovered secret gardens and hidden eateries in the area.

The single moment when I most lament not having a smartphone occurs when a lull of unexpected extra time appears, perhaps when waiting for a class to start or a friend to get ready. In this period, lucky smartphone students whip out their miniature machines and begin arranging the future or discussing the past. While the efficiency often makes me envious, my lack of advanced technology forces me to engage myself where I am. By escaping these shackles of technology, I intend to savor every Harvardian moment.

If given a free phone by the iPhone gods, I would hardly protest. To be perfectly honest, I would celebrate for days. Such compact technology represents convenience and scientific knowledge inconceivable decades ago. Alas I am too cheap to buy one for myself, so for now, my simpleton phone will suffice. While others pass the time playing games, video chatting, and emailing at their leisure, I intend to walk forward with eyes open and hands empty.

Irene Y. Chen ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.

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