These days, it’s difficult to get college students to part with their phones for more than a few minutes. We need our phones—how else can we keep in touch with our parents, find out when the next Newton bus arrives, or make plans to get lunch with our friends? While these reasons are legitimate, such habits create an unhealthy attachment to our phones. Because of this, I have to wonder: are they doing us more harm than good?
When it was first introduced, the purpose of social media was to bring people together, be that across campus or across the globe. Its influence has since grown so that instead of fostering true connections, it now stands in the way of just that. The average American spends 24 hours a week online, time that could be spent face-to-face with friends. I’m no exception; the weekly notification I receive from Apple about how many hours I spend on my phone always leaves me feeling sick. Frankly, most of that time is spent idly scrolling and instinctively refreshing apps, waiting to see a new post or message.
Not only does technology occupy huge amounts of our time that could otherwise be spent with friends and family, but also distracts us from spending time with ourselves. We often use our phones as a crutch to occupy ourselves during awkward periods of silence or waiting. When you’re in between classes, standing in the Steak and Cheese line, or riding the T into Boston, it can be incredibly beneficial to just sit with your own thoughts, take in your surroundings, and let your mind wander. Maybe you’ll see a friend or pass by a new store or restaurant that you never noticed before. Usually, we’re just mindlessly scrolling past pictures we’ve already seen and random accounts we don’t really care about, but this causes us to miss out on observations and conversations that could actually enhance our life. People are so focused on the social media drama of the past and the constant correspondence and scheduling for the future that they forget to be in the present.
Even though we live on a campus that emphasizes thoughtful reflection and contemplation, actually implementing these values into our daily lives can be difficult. Retreats provide an opportunity to unplug that many participants often deride at first but appreciate by the end of the experience. On Kairos, for example, students are asked to put their phones away for the entire weekend in order to focus on themselves and those around them. I’ll admit—when I was on the retreat, even with such a meaningful purpose for unplugging, my addiction to my phone won out. I still found myself cheating by sneaking a look at my phone and quickly scrolling through Instagram before bed.
Whether it’s a retreat or a lunch date with a friend, most people agree that time spent in the moment, intentionally focused on what we’re doing, is more fulfilling, productive, and sincere. When we come away from these experiences where we can relax, reflect, and connect with people, we realize how good it is to step away from social media and technology and just be with ourselves, our friends, and our surroundings. And yet we return to the same habits of not only using technology but often abusing it.
Calling these habits an addiction may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s true; constant notifications provide instant gratification that releases dopamine in our brains, which then creates a cycle of seeking and anticipating this kind of satisfaction by obsessively refreshing apps. Excessive social media use has been linked to psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD. And yet, the habits we form are hard to break. We don’t want to feel disconnected from our friends or from the world, but if we don’t limit ourselves, there may be serious consequences.
Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” With the ability to edit and curate our lives to perfection, social media often portrays an unrealistic version of people’s lives. That’s why cutting off your exposure to these unattainable standards can do wonders for your self-esteem. Constantly comparing your Friday night in to someone else’s night of Mod-hopping or your semester at BC to someone else’s semester abroad can cause feelings of FOMO, jealous, and loneliness. The grass always seems greener on the other side, but perpetuating the idea of a picture-perfect life through social media is unhealthy and unnecessary.
Just think of how much more time you’ll have in your day for other things if you cut down on your screen time. I often find myself telling friends that I’m too busy to hang out, and although I do have a lot of work, I usually spend countless hours procrastinating on Twitter and Instagram. With the time I spend liking my friends’ pictures and maintaining Snapchat streaks as an artificial validation of connection, I could be hanging out with those people instead. Our generation often emphasizes the number of followers we have or the length of our Snapchat streaks as a measure of how strong our friendships are, rather than maintaining those friendships face to face. Completely unplugging may not be possible, but cutting back would undoubtedly be good for all of us.