Haley Keizur is a sophomore media studies major.
It’s difficult to walk around campus without seeing noses buried in phones, earbuds in, fingers swiping aimlessly at a bright screen as the human holding it looks half-attentively at the sidewalk in front of them. In fact, according to a Pew Research Center national study, 95% of young adults have access to a smartphone, and 45% of those say they are almost always on the internet while they’re awake. I’m not blaming them — I am equally guilty. But I wonder: What would life be like if we all took a break? Even just for an hour, a day, a week?
Interestingly enough, according to the same study, 54% of teenagers say they spend too much time on their phones, yet only half of those surveyed said they have cut back on screen time as a result. One of Apple’s newer features, Screen Time, tracks a user’s phone usage and sends them a weekly report, which includes how long they’ve spent using certain apps. Last week, I spent almost 10 hours on Twitter and 8.5 on Instagram. I know I use my phone a lot, but I do feel like I do a decent job of getting outside, socializing, and seeing friends, so those numbers kind of shocked me. Like many of my peers, this leaves me with a sense of guilt and wondering what else I could have been doing. Yet the next week, I make no intentional improvements to my screen activity. Why?
The short answer: We’re addicted. We have impulse-control problems that can easily be gratified with just the touch of a button. Just like with drugs or alcohol, the usage of smartphones releases dopamine, which alters our mood. Over time, we build up a tolerance, so it takes more and more screen time to satisfy our needs. College students who participated in a survey at Ohio University spent an average of four hours and 25 minutes on their phone each day, which is 50 minutes higher than the national average.
College students who participated in a survey at Ohio University spent an average of four hours and 25 minutes on their phone each day.
While social media and phone usage hasn’t been explicitly linked to increased rates of depression and anxiety in young adults, there is definitely a correlation — we live in a world where we spend hours a day looking at other people’s lives, which are usually curated to look a certain way. Those who spend a lot of time on social media have been found to be more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression. The constant comparison and pressure has also led to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Researchers have found that the mere presence of a smartphone makes people feel more anxious and likely to perform worse on a task.
Another negative result of increased phone usage is the amplification of stress and risk of burnout. Maybe it’s because of my personality, but I feel a constant pressure to respond to emails, keep up my social media accounts, reply to texts, and sort through notifications. It’s a ridiculous responsibility that seems to plague the minds of young adults, and so far, I have not found a solution for it.
This summer, I spent a month volunteering at a summer camp without cellular reception or Wi-Fi. I had my phone, but since its only purpose was to take photos, I usually left it in the cabin. It was honestly a freeing experience — I loved just waking up and getting ready in the quiet morning, then taking the time to read and drink coffee before breakfast. My only communication with the outside world was a scratchy five-minute phone conversation with my mom one week in, during which she updated me on her week, and a letter from one of my best friends letting me know what Taylor Swift was up to.
The world could’ve been on fire, and I would have been blissfully unaware.
Granted, it was summer, I had no school work to attend to, my friends and family knew I was gone, and I was either working or spending time with new friends, so it was simpler to be without a phone, but I miss that experience.
The morning I got back home, I woke up and the first thing I did was check my email and my Instagram. I actually threw my phone across the room because I was so frustrated with how quickly I fell into my old routine. It’s insane how much these habits have grown into us, inhabiting everyday part of our being, making them nearly impossible to break. However, for the rest of the summer, I was overly conscious of how I was spending my time, particularly on my phone. It was a comforting awareness that made me feel more obliged to make my phone time more meaningful, or just use it less overall.
I plan to be more cautious about my screen time from now on and set goals for when I can use social media, as well as find time to turn my phone off completely. I recommend deleting apps, curbing your fear of missing out, finding more positive accounts to follow that uplift you rather than bring you down, and getting off your devices to participate in more productive activities. You’d be amazed by what just a few extra hours can add to your day.