Students Without Cellphones

At Harvard, where access to e-mail and texting is almost as necessary as access to oxygen, some students choose to go without today’s most ubiquitous form of communication.

It’s cold, wet, and I’m waiting outside of Winthrop G entry for an interview. Luckily, I have my phone to keep me company, and I am happily jamming to Pandora, keeping an eye on my steadily growing email inbox, and browsing Facebook to pass the time. My phone and I have a close relationship. His name is Theodore.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013, 78% of teenagers were the proud owners of cellphones, 47% of which were smartphones. As one such teen, I think it's safe to say that many could not imagine life without one. However, even at Harvard, where access to e-mail and texting is almost as necessary as access to oxygen, some students choose to go without today’s most ubiquitous form of communication.

When moving to Cambridge from Toronto, Nestor Maslej '17 purchased a new, American phone, which, in the tradition of American-built products, promptly broke. To fix it, he needed to travel out to rural Massachusetts. However, he soon realized that not having a phone jived with his lifestyle, and he ended up putting off the trip.

“It's not essential, I think,” Maslej says, but acknowledges that owning a cellphone can be helpful. “If I want to get dinner with a friend without a phone I'd have to say four hours before: do you want to get dinner? Whereas with a phone I could text him five minutes before, and see what happens.” In these cases, Facebook and a computer can easily step into the role of immediate communication, making a phone less essential than one might think.

Maslej has a phone now, but he still doesn't consider it a vital part of his life. “I'm not glued to my phone, I don't even have it on me right now. I have no phone addiction. I usually don't carry it around with me.” He views it as just another tool, and not something integral, like many can. “Your life can be in your phone. My life was not in my phone. To some extent I think everyone has that sort of outlet of wasting time and that's what the phone can serve as.”

Corey C. Husic ’17 also finds that having a phone isn’t strongly necessary. “I've had friends tell me: ‘How can you live without a phone, how can you keep in contact?’” says Corey C. Husic '17. “But with Facebook, and having a computer, they pretty much do everything I need.”

“I've always had this appreciation for nature, and when I go out in nature I want to put everything else aside,” notes Husic. “A lot of times going out in nature is just my time to reflect on myself, and reflect on what's happened with my life. And if I give other people the ability to reach out to me and know where I am in those moments that kind of detracts from my own personal meditation.”

Whereas most students also use their phones for entertainment, Husic finds enjoyment in the three-dimensional world around him. “If I'm on a bus going home for the holidays, I can just look out the window. I'm very much an outdoors person, very much appreciative of nature.”

Still, the lure of a phone is strong, even for the phoneless. “I've definitely considered getting a phone. It's probable it'll happen before I graduate,” admits Husic. Safety concerns, or the inevitable need to beg a roommate to come help you retrieve your wallet, are strong arguments for joining the cellphone revolution.

I ask Husic to imagine a world where all of Harvard inexplicably loses their collective phones. “I think a lot more work would get done,” he muses. “I think if people didn't have their phones they'd have a lot more free time be spending doing intellectual work. But I think people would be just fine. It would take a little getting used to, but everything would be fine.”

“Right now, I'm happy,” he states contentedly. Perhaps more Harvard students should consider trying to go without them, he suggests, and see if these reasons hold true for them too. But on the way out of the building, I give Theodore a gentle rub. Neither he, nor I, is going anywhere anytime soon.