Connection: More Than Wi-Fi
Featured Author: Megan Pontin
According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, 24% of teens surveyed report that their use of the Internet is “almost constant.” This finding seems to match up with what we see on a daily basis, with a large portion of adolescents looking as if their cell phones are glued to their hands. Today, it often feels as if cell phone use is ubiquitous– people on their phones at restaurants, at school, and on public transportation. Fingers typing, cameras flashing, thumbs scrolling. Where does it end? And what are they all doing?
As a teen, I can attest to the fact that the allure of social media can often be difficult to resist. Cell phones seem to serve many a purpose. In addition to the rather obvious use for communication with parents and friends, cell phone usage has evolved to have two more prominent purposes. On one hand, cell phone time has become a type of reward. We give ourselves ten minutes of screen time after we finish a tough assignment, complete a workout, or perform another challenging task. We have begun to substitute screen time for more natural, organic rewards, such as time with friends or relaxation outdoors. Secondly, cell phones seem to have become a type of default defense mechanism. When met with an intimidating or unfamiliar social situation, we may be tempted to turn to our phones. In other words, we choose to scroll through our social media feeds or play repetitive games instead of engaging with others. Perhaps our large number of online relationships has caused us to shy away from real-life ones; our verbal communication skills may be slowly dulling as our fingers learn to type, scroll, and navigate more quickly.
When I see large groups of teens on their cell phones, I often find myself wondering what is on their screens. While checking social media and email, catching up on correspondence, and playing the occasional game may be satisfying enough for some teens, others seem to spend extensive amounts of time on their phones. The dangers of getting carried away on social media are especially notable; we click from one profile to another until we feel lost in a sea of photos and captions. In addition, some social networking apps contain pages that allow users to find and explore content similar to what they “like” or view frequently. I sure do love watching those funny dog videos, but I do my best to be aware of when I have watched too many and when I should go play with my real-life dog instead.
“Rapid response,” or the feeling that one must respond to texts, emails, or video messages the second they are received, can also lead to colossal amounts of screen time. Before we know it, we have sent dozens of photo messages and spent an hour online. Unless in high-stakes situations, it is important to remember that most of those Snapchats are not urgent – they can wait.
In trying to understand this facet of human behavior, I believe that much of our rising cell phone usage comes from convenience. We keep our cell phones on us all the time – in our pockets, in our backpacks, at our fingertips. While I understand that the ability to communicate in case of emergency is a large reason for this constant attachment, this does not mean that we need to be using our phones whenever they are with us. If we can train ourselves to keep the phones in our back pockets and resist the urge to start scrolling through our social media feeds, we may just be happier because of it. The strength of true connection comes from real-life interaction, and the excessive technology usage that is so common today is a major barrier to this goal.