I got my first cell phone in the sixth grade. Most of my friends received theirs at the tender age of nine. So, once I did too, I quickly felt part of the conversation again. It’s now been seven years since then, and as an 18-year-old college student, my phone usage has increased exponentially. I now spend more time on my phone than studying, eating and sleeping combined.
This proves to be the case for many teenagers and especially college students like me. Currently, my daily screen time lies at eight hours and three minutes. While a substantial fraction of that time has been utilized for educational purposes and connecting to my loved ones, most of it is composed of mindlessly scrolling for hours on end.
For me, those eight hours and three minutes take over my day-to-day schedule as such: The moment I wake up, I roll over and take my phone from my nightstand to check my notifications — not to read or comprehend anything, because that’s not the point of the reflex. I use it on my way to the bathroom to type lightning-fast email replies, then I place it on the little ledge above the toilet paper, only to grab it again while peeing. I keep it near me during lecture and reach for it whenever my attention span shortens. My phone is used for background noise while I eat. Or read. Or cook. Or exercise. Or to do anything that requires my attention, really, because doing otherwise is just too quiet.
This pattern continues throughout the day until my phone is the last thing I see before I sleep. My phone is involved in the majority of my everyday tasks, where its presence is unnecessary. Thus, the meaning of “cell” phone has changed drastically for me: I feel like I’ve dragged myself into a jail cell — into an unending cycle of distraction.
I know I’m not the only college student imprisoned by my phone. The national average screen time for college students rests at eight to ten hours, with the average individual checking their phone 352 times a day. This equates to about 2,920 hours — 122 days a year — that a college student is on their phone. Despite the long-distance connection and swift access to information that cell phones offer, having this convenient of a device has caused people to develop a dependency upon it. Phones have become an emotional crutch.
When I first moved to college, I noticed that all the girls on my floor immediately pulled out their phones whenever I walked by. It was as if my presence was a trigger for them to grasp onto their devices. At first, I wondered if I was the problem, if I seemed too unapproachable or too odd. Thus, I tried to ameliorate my social gesture abilities through smiling and timid attempts to start conversations. My endeavors were embarrassingly futile. Nevertheless, I realize now that they were simply trying to avoid eye contact with me to minimize the awkwardness a potential chat could possess.
Although I’m comfortable with inconvenient interactions like these, I still find this disheartening. Awkwardness and uncomfortability are crucial constituents to being human. Those two emotions enable growth and a gateway to a multitude of perspectives, allowing one to build a fulfilling life. College and campus living are difficult in themselves. But they’re even harder when students who can meet with each other in-person consciously refuse to create any real association because of a singular device. Not only are cell phones replacing the social aspect involved with the college experience, but they’re leading people away from the human one as well.
Humans yearn for relationships with each other. True companionability is the human heart’s natural longing, indicating that it is part of our brains and critical to a fruitful life. While phones do allow for communication through apps such as social media, they will never replace the rudimentary human need for face-to-face connection. With the reliance on phones as a substitute for this, humans simply become less human. Non-productive apps like social media take up a worldwide average of usage for 151 minutes per day by creating algorithms geared toward the phone user, with the only perspective created in doing so to be one’s own. There isn’t much room in the algorithm for open-mindedness, other opinions or any component necessary in developing a relationship — only mindlessness. Because of this, users are left unavailable in the present moment and unable to obtain the fellowship they truly need. That is the thing that phones can never fully replace.
Today, fifty percent of teenagers report being addicted to their mobile devices. To me, the scariest part of this complex issue is the fact that these people are fully aware that they are addicted to their phones, just like me. But neither I nor they have the discipline to fully stop. The constant access to new knowledge that phones provide is exceedingly alluring and easy to be chained upon. Without setting limits, phone usage is a slippery slope: one that can control a person’s entire livelihood.
Even so, living in a technology-based society will not fully eradicate the problems that cell phones cause because not many are willing to just throw them away — including me. But there are still ways to take back the control that devices have had on our society and decrease our screen times to an amount that wouldn’t raise eyebrows.
I find the ones that help me the most are extremely simple: placing my default phone mode on “do not disturb,” setting screen time limits in my app settings, deleting needless apps and taking walks. These solutions can be implemented into anyone’s daily life, since they each take up less than thirty minutes combined. As a busy college student, the timesaving part is my favorite. By implementing these habits, albeit they’re simple, the hours spent on monotonous phone usage can then be used for productivity.
There are endless things we could do with the time spent on our phones. Think of how many people we could meet, how many meaningful conversations we could have, how much we can explore, how many neighbors we could help, how much time we could put into self-care, how much more human we’d be. I think we’d thank ourselves for getting off our phones for once. I think our eyes would thank us, too.
Patricia Foronda is a first-year at the University of Portland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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