By Raphaela Gold ‘21
I recently realized, much to my own dismay, that I had not been to the public library for quite a while, so I decided to go and read for a few hours. When I arrived, expecting to see the plush chairs I remembered from my childhood filled with parents reading to children and librarians discussing their favorite books, I found instead a cold, practically empty room. The only people there were sitting around tables, staring at their various devices. The books lining the shelves sat untouched. No one was talking and the room was silent except for the occasional ping of a text message. Picture a library, full of books, with people gazing avidly at their phones. This frightening image represents the sad reality: people are becoming so attached to their phones that they’ve become oblivious to their surroundings.
Over the past few years, people, particularly teens living in America, have become increasingly attached to their “smart” cell phones. Both adults and teens have come to see these devices as necessities of life, just as important as food, water, and shelter. Many claim that they could not possibly function without their phones, or that their phones help them connect with their friends living elsewhere. Parents argue that their children need cell phones for safety reasons. Meanwhile, young people walk around practically glued to their phones, forgetting to look both ways before they cross the street. Families and friends sit together in restaurants, all staring blankly at their devices rather than engaging with one another.
In a poll taken by Common Sense Media, 50% of teens said that they felt addicted to their smartphones, and almost 60% of parents claimed that their children spent too much time on their various devices. Eighty percent of teens said that they checked their phones hourly and 77% of parents reported feeling that their children get distracted by devices and do not pay attention during conversations. Many argue that phones connect people with each other, allowing them to stay in touch. However, phones are only making it worse for those who want to have real relationships with other people. A relationship over text is hardly a relationship at all, and it often results in miscommunications that destroy friendships. People’s lives have become so centered around phones and social media that it’s become increasingly difficult for them to have intellectually or emotionally deep conversations with the people around them.
Although this may not seem so dire a consequence, it’s just one of the many harmful effects of our generation’s obsession with technology. In addition to social disconnect, smartphones and their currency of social media can affect teens’ mental health and quality of life severely. Researchers have linked a significant increase in teenage depression, self-consciousness, and suicide rates to the uptick in smartphone use, given that both began to ascended sharply in 2012 and have continued to rise since then. Psychologist Jean Twenge’s research found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71% more likely to commit suicide. The rise in social media usage has also contributed to depression in teens. Teenagers are constantly faced with unrealistically attractive pictures of celebrities and are convinced that they are supposed to look the same way, believing that something is terribly wrong with them for not looking like a Hollywood star. This self-denigrating way of thinking can produce many long-lasting psychological effects, such as anxiety and mood disorders, difficulty sleeping, and relationship issues.
It may seem that this problem is too deeply entrenched in society for us to fix it, but there are a number of approaches for dealing with the serious issues regarding teens and their phones. Some say that teens should reduce time spent on phones. Others suggest “graying” the phone’s screen to make it less appealing. The actual solution to this problem is glaringly obvious. The solution is simply for people to stop owning smartphones! Parents often insist that because their children are taking the subway by themselves or otherwise traveling alone, they need a smartphone. This is certainly not the case. As for the alleged measure of safety that a phone provides, a child alone in the city isn’t actually any safer when armed with a phone. It’s understandable that parents who are sending their child out alone for the first time might feel worried, but children do not need smartphones to navigate the world on their own, and they would gain far more by being equipped to learn how and from whom to ask for help if help is needed. People might delude themselves with the idea that cell phones can be lifesavers in dangerous situations in the city, but the fact is that turning to other human beings for help is far more likely to be effective.
I do not deny that smartphones can occasionally be convenient, but it is also important to recognize that they are seriously harming Americans, and people would be more emotionally stable without the dominating presence of smartphones and social media. We must return to a world in which people communicate with each other and talk to each other face to face. People often discuss “the day when robots will take over the world.” With the help of smartphones, we have essentially reached that day and this horrific reality must change.
As someone who does not own a phone, I would argue that people do not need cell phones at all, but at this point, that goal seems unrealistic. The clearest answer is to rid ourselves of smartphones and if it really seems important to have a phone, use basic flip phones instead. Smartphones have taken technology one step too far, and if we are to prosper as a society, we need to acknowledge that the myriad problems caused by smartphones far outweigh their few advantages.