It’s amazing how human innovation has dramatically changed technology within the last 30 years. When you look at calculators, for example — a staple for many students and professionals alike — they’ve dramatically changed how people live and learn by becoming more compact and accessible for more people.
Cell phones are another example of technology that has dramatically changed the human experience. Now, I can keep in contact with relatives who live far away and otherwise wouldn’t talk to. I also have access to practical and straightforward applications, like the camera function or The New York Times. I can view my bank account balance at the click of a button. It’s insane how technology has improved many minor, yet necessary functions of lives. But, cell phones also exasperate me.
If you walk around campus in between classes, you’ll notice something: almost everyone is on their phone in some capacity. Many people are listening to music or looking at something on their phone (which makes them walk absurdly and infuriatingly slow). Once you get to class, you’ll notice many are scrolling through their social media and not interacting with their peers. It’s hard to start a conversation on campus when fewer people seem to want to engage. It’s also common for people to scroll on their phones during lectures, even so much that professors have to explicitly prohibit cell phone usage.
Being with others constantly on their phone is an unpleasant way to spend time with people. Why would I bother going out with others if they ignore me and text their boyfriend or their other friend instead? We need to learn how to disconnect from our cell phones.
I once had a teacher reflectively note that young people don’t get to leave school at school. We bring home all our friends and all our worries at night with our cell phones. Why am I in contact with people all the time? It shouldn’t be like this.
Most of Gen Z grew up around the time of the creation of the iPhone. Many young people don’t remember or didn’t live in a time without a smartphone. Yet, it’s odd not to have a cell phone nowadays. I think this explains the cell phone addiction in America, especially for young people, where around 16% of people under 30 rely too heavily on their phones.
One of the worst apps that encourage phone addiction is Snapchat, and “streaks.” On Snapchat, you can have a “streak,” which means you have to send “snaps” for a prolonged amount of time. It’s the norm to be in constant contact with your peers, even at the expense of your own in-person interactions, and some even base their self-worth off of their “streak” length. For some young people, these are ways to stay in contact with each other. A study from Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement (YHM) found Snapchat and Instagram are the worst social media platforms for young people (between the ages of 14 and 24) and their mental health. It’s not healthy for young people to be in constant contact with their peers.
While there is direct causal evidence that phones are bad on young brains, some studies have shown that excessive time on cell phones “had a premature thinning of the cortex.”
“The Cortex is the outermost layer of the brain that is involved in processing different types of information from all five senses,” according to MedicineNet. “Cortical thinning at a young age thus indicates that children are maturing earlier from the use of cell phones.”
Because Gen Z is one of the first generations that grew up with technology and cell phones, dependency on smartphones has increased. Around 55% of Gen Z spends five hours or more on their cell phones a day, and 31% feel uncomfortable when they’re without their phone for 30 or more minutes. The more time spent on our phones, the less likely we are to shape connections with others around us.
The COVID-19 pandemic exasperated and dramatically shifted how we communicate with others. Real-life meetings turned into Zoom calls, and keeping in touch with your peers meant liking their Instagram posts. Another study found that adolescent phone use during the pandemic increased the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts.
As the pandemic made people a lot more anxious and more likely to renege on plans, having a cell phone to hide behind was something of a coping mechanism for many to stay in touch with people they care about. This effect still lingers today and is incredibly annoying to be around.
I’m not innocent when I write about this — I do it too. However, cell phone addiction is something that needs to be addressed and fixed. I’m not completely advocating that we abandon cell phones, but people need to stop relying on them.
One of the first things you can do is this: be present when you’re with others. I stress this the most. Nobody likes being ignored, especially in person. If you care about the person right in front of you, get off your cell phone.
Like most things, start simple. You’ll end up more engaged with the world around you.