September 21, 2018 | ° F

DEANGELO: Young people may spend too much time on phones


Opinions Column: All That Fits


It is the first thing many do in the morning. By way of groggy eyes, we all can admit to checking our screens for the day’s weather, news and occasional mind-numbing Instagram post at least once. Or twice. Or 86 times a day if you are between the ages of 18 and 24, according to recent data

The magical portals that live in our pockets, our hands and our attention spans have become our greatest friends. Their apps know our music preferences, our goals and, on occasion, our insecurities. Screens keep us in touch with the people we care about, and even swipe to find us a Friday night date. Algorithms that record the patterns of our behavior, the likes and the dislikes, are too adapting to know us better than we know ourselves. 

But, how much harm does our attachment really cause? According to MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, device dependency is hurting our social and emotional development. Not only have we resorted to scrolling at the dinner table ruining the art of conversation, but device dependency also forces the brain to live in a world of perpetual noise. Studies have shown that humans get a neurochemical high from this continual stimulation, and it has become a behavioral addiction. 

With the internet linked directly to our phones, it is easy to satisfy our cravings for attention. Social media, texting and even search engines are catalysts for what psychologists call “dopamine loops,” a term used to describe the reasons why phones act as a fix. If we want to speak with someone right away, we shoot them a text. If we need information on practically any topic, we plug it into google. This seek-and-instant-reward routine is the root of our screen addiction, because it taps into our survival needs, regardless of if we are conscious of it. 

Millennials have been thought to be the most out of touch with face-to-face values. Although those who grew up alongside the rapid evolution of technology may have an unhealthy connection to it, this issue pertains to all who own a smartphone. Commenting “Pick your head up!” or “Your face is locked into that screen!” does not remove you from the conversation. (I am talking to you Generation X and baby boomers.)

Though, when I am apprehended by adults older than me for constant use of my devices, my thoughtful reaction is to agree with them. After all, I have sat in groups where every person was on their phone and experienced how detached that feels. Even as a budding 20-year-old, I know the harmful risks that phone intimacy poses to genuine relationships.

But, the phones themselves are not the enemy. The answer to this dilemma is not to do without technology, but rather to do better with it. Self-control plays a large part in this scrolling habit, and even as I write this I am having a hard time not checking the nonstop notifications. But, if we move toward finding solace in the lulls of mundane life, our brains would get the decent rest they need. Simple moments should pair with stimulating ones, so that an awareness and appreciation of what physically exists around us can build. According to Turkle, the illusion of boredom does not necessarily mean your brain is not working. During that time, it replenishes its cells — meaning downtime is crucial. 

Much like many things, our relationship with mobiles is about balance. Instead of passively scrolling, find ways to make the most of the technology in hand. Do not value the “likes” you receive as much as the smiles you cause or the laughs you share. It is easy to forget that life in the digital world is far more contrived than the reality we live in. Use your phones as a vessel, not robotic entertainment. 

In order to do this, start by making small changes in your daily routine. Rather than checking the weather, news or Instagram in the wake of the morning, get up and begin your day differently. Try not to multitask while eating with friends, and instead learn something new about them. Pay attention and become aware of what is truly important to you, so that you may devote more of your time to it. 

Because in truth, it is not the digital moments that drive our experiences, it is the human ones. 

Julia Deangelo is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. Her column, "All That Fits," runs on alternate Thursdays. 

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Julia Deangelo

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