Please put your phone away and talk to me

The battle against cell phone reliance proves difficult, but there are ways to combat the allure of that blue light



This photo shows application icons from left, Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Messenger Kids on an iPhone.(Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

Accepting that you have a problem is the first step to solving said problem. I’ll be at a party, having fun and conversing. Then, all of a sudden, I’ll lose my friend in the crowd of 20-somethings that look exactly like her and me. To combat my anxiety of looking alone into a sea of people, I immediately check my phone. There’s no new messages or calls, because why would there be? It’s midnight on a Saturday. I open Instagram and begin to scroll, losing my surroundings in the pictures of sorority girls from my high school I’ve never talked to, clothes I can’t afford and models I will never look like. “I’m not alone,” I think as I glance at the person next to me, “because they’re ignoring conversation with me too because of the allure of the scroll.” The irony sets in as I stare at my phone screen, and I realize my cell phone has hindered my comfort in social situations.

Young people and cell phone reliance aren’t a new thing. Since Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007, eyes have been glued to the bright, blue light and clean finish of a cell phone. Life now takes place on screen; numbers, photos and memories are easily accessible without much brain power. Maybe brain power should be saved for more pressing and intellectual things, like history and literature. A cell phone is, in theory, an extension of our brains, giving us more time to focus on our hobbies and lessening the time we spend on memorizing phone numbers and developing photos.

But we all know this isn’t true in the case of the cell phone generation.

The director of the DePaul Education and Counseling Center, Martha Mason, says young people have become dependent on the instant gratification of social media apps.

“In a strange way, you can stay connected without being connected,” said Mason. “We’re locked in our bedrooms, and the interaction is very quick and easy, even if you’re shy with directly communicating with others. It’s an easier way of getting that social interaction fast without doing any of the work.”

We post a picture and instantly receive “likes” on it that give us the validation that previously stemmed from face-to-face conversations. A quick refresh and there’s even more likes, as we give into the powerful pull of an app’s instant gratification.

Another problem Mason highlights is the difference in downtime from decades ago compared to now.

“The boredom lead to us communicating more,” said Mason. “When you have downtime, you need that for exploration and creativity and learning to be reflective and learning who you are. The time that’s spent on a phone was time spent figuring out what you were going to do with yourself.”

Scrolling through your timeline may seem like downtime, but people now more than ever are missing out on actual relaxation due to cell phone use. Instead of reading, relaxing or conversing with family, downtime is scrolling through Instagram, looking at lives you wish to live and places you wish to go. The problem isn’t that people have aspirations to improve their lives when they see what others are doing. Rather, it’s the comparison of “me versus them” that creates deeper emotional and psychological issues, especially in children and teenagers.

Studies show that prolonged cell phone use can lead to anxiety, depression and health complications. The term “Text neck” is used to describe the aching pain in your neck and shoulders after looking at a cell phone for too long, and “nomophobia” refers to the anxiety one feels when they’re separated from their cell phone. Constant comparisons to other profiles, whether it’s about the number of likes they get or how they look, can cause young people to become obsessed and depressed over their own life because they believe it doesn’t live up to others. From a study in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, studies show that teenagers who spend more time on social media were more likely to suffer from mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, than those who spend less time on their phones.

On top of the anxieties surrounding self-image issues, social media allows us to feel comfortable with saying nothing at all. Like clockwork, when there’s a lull in conversation, I notice friends—even my closest friends—immediately pulling out their phone to fill the space. Though we are still together physically, the emotional connection is lost as they give into the temptation of their never-ending timelines.

(Victoria Williamson | The DePaulia)

“The false promise of connective proximity actually encourages the opposite of real proximity,” said philosophy professor H. Peter Steeves. “It makes us think that ‘tucking in the kids at night by phone’ is actually tucking them in.  It makes us think that we are safe because we can always text or, god forbid, call someone if in danger. It makes us think that we are part of someone’s life when day-to-day life is lived in the physical world and we have no physical interaction with that person at all.”

In addition to the mental and physical health issues cell phones contribute to, they also make face-to-face communication much more difficult. So many people, myself included, resort to scrolling through Instagram or Twitter when we’re in socially uncomfortable situations. Sometimes this can inhibit us from succeeding in social interactions.

“I look at my phone so much as a fear of missing out, but it’s making me miss out on what’s going on around me,” said Ramsey Bell, a DePaul sophomore.

The reliance on cell phones isn’t something that young people are ignorant to. Admitting the potentiality of addiction is harder for some to swallow. I can stop using these apps whenever I want, my phone doesn’t own me, I have control over my scrolling. Steeves argues that the allure of cell phones is so engraved into young people that there might not be a cure, setting it apart from addiction.

“It looks like the students can’t help it, so some might wish to call this an addiction,” said Steeves. “But I don’t find this a particularly helpful way of looking at it because it makes you think that there could be a ‘treatment’ and it makes you think that this is all just about individuals having their individual choice infringed on by an addictive activity.”

To combat phone reliance, there’s a few things you can start doing right away. Mason recommends recognizing that the presence of your phone often acts as a cushion, and the absence of it can genuinely make you uncomfortable. With a commitment to using your phone less—like leaving it at home when going for a walk or keeping it in your bag and reading a book on your commute—this discomfort will start to subside.

One way in which I try to limit my phone use is by adjusting the color settings in my phone’s menu settings. Currently, I go back and forth between making my phone screen appear in black and white and in color. When my phone looks like Kansas and the real world looks like Oz, the allure of my phone almost entirely disappears. “Almost” is the keyword, however— from time to time, I still find myself scrolling through apps to distract myself from homework.

The first step is still realizing you have a problem. Begin by limiting time spent on your phone in social situations. Soon, the sight of others on their phone when they could be interacting with friends will begin to make your skin crawl. Delete your social media apps from your phone and only use the web page versions to experience the incapabilities of the Safari version and slowly wean off of them.

Remember: the phone does not have to be an extension of you. Existing apart from your phone is essential for healthy self-development and awareness. Once you separate yourself from the enticement of memes, models and more distance from people, leaving your phone at home while out for a walk or turning it off at a party doesn’t sound so unbearable.

“The discomfort of not having your phone on you will be there,” said Mason. “The longer amount of time you can go without using your phone, (you) know it will be okay (…) the discomfort is okay; it gives you time to learn a hobby, do homework, read a book.”