Caitlin Ryan is a sophomore English major.
After Zoom classes end, the first thing many of us do is check social media, and after our feeds finally lose our attention, we might turn on the TV to unwind. Now that school has been virtual for 2.5 semesters, coupled with the seemingly never-ending and addictive content on our phones, tablets, and TVs, it may be harder than ever to unplug.
While it might seem like we’re relaxing and remedying our Zoom fatigue as we gaze into our devices, we’re actually doing the opposite — adding more strain to our eyes and minds. Making the resolution to disconnect and relearn how to unwind intentionally without screen time takes work, but it’s imperative that we do so — and soon.
Social media algorithms, like that of the popular app TikTok, are curated to reflect the user’s interests, which contributes to our inability to regulate time spent on these apps. On top of that, the fact that consumers can scroll without running out of content is terrifying to me. Although I only use a couple of social media apps, like Instagram, the abundance of content I receive makes it difficult to put down my phone each day. The prominence that social media has taken in young people’s lives and social culture should concern us too.
We aren’t an ignorant society — at least when it comes to knowing how too much screen time can negatively impact us. This age of information has heightened awareness around the negative effects of screen time, among them: the potential degradation of our eye health, increased risk of developing depression and anxiety, and the sheer amount of time we waste on screens throughout our lives.
The blue light that screens produce, in particular, is the worst offender. From its known impact on our ability to get a good night’s sleep to how it affects our eyes and cognitive function, watching one more episode of “Friends” or mindlessly scrolling through Depop, especially before bedtime, doesn’t feel as good when we know the science behind it. In addition to blue light glasses, which you can invest in to combat eye damage, there’s also a blue light sunscreen you can buy, as too much exposure to the light emitted from electronics can be aging and damaging to our skin.
As easy as it would be to add blue light-combatting gadgets to our Amazon carts and call it a day, the healthiest long-term solution to blue light’s effects is powering off and finding less screen-heavy ways to spend our time.
I challenge you to set screen time limits on social media and streaming apps — a feature available in the settings app of most smartphones — and to unwind intentionally without screens. Reading, for example, is an underappreciated escape that I’ve always loved. So, if you’re curious as to whether the book is really better than the movie, try it out and let your friends know. Unwinding without a screen while still exploring an imaginative and drama-filled world is as easy as cracking open a good novel.
The addictive nature of screens can cause us to neglect aspects of our well-being as well, for example, by failing to challenge our brains intellectually and creatively through other mediums. We should ask ourselves how intelligible and productive most of the media we’re consuming is (I’m looking at you, mediocre TikTok remakes). From taking a walk, to cooking a meal, to working on a puzzle — there are so many better ways we could be spending our downtime that would actually give us a break. And let’s be real, it’d also give us something wholesome to post about on our stories later.
Trust me, after hours of attentiveness on Zoom, the urge to turn to social media, streaming, or gaming is almost incontestable, but it’s ultimately unproductive in most cases. As a creative person, the most tragic aspect of electronics’ all-encompassing nature is its ability to enthrall users so much that they can become drained of creative inspiration and the motivation to challenge themselves imaginatively.
The fight against technological tyranny is real, and the benefits of disconnecting could be incalculable for our physical and mental well-being. Although there is very real societal pressure to participate on social media and keep up with the latest Netflix shows, I invite you to be brave and think of all of the times you’ve looked up from your device, checked the time, and realized you don’t know where those hours went. Challenge the excessive consumption of screen time that has been normalized during the pandemic, and most importantly, contemplate the importance of making time to remain present in the current moment.