Guest Post by
A Different Kind of ConnectedI’d like to think I’m not overly attached to my cellphone. I leave the house without it sometimes if I know I won’t need to get in touch with anyone, and I spend just as much of my free time reading as I do looking at screens. So when my sophomore year philosophy class began by studying the first few chapters of a book on the ways cell phones are damaging our ability to connect face to face with each other, I didn’t think the points that were brought up applied to me that much. According to the research that went into this book, the average American checks their phone once every three minutes. That sounded insane to me; I was certain that however many times a day I checked my phone had to be well below the national average. But it’s not just about how much time per day you spend on your phone, my professor told us. Even if you don’t actually look at it much, just having your phone there, as a constant distraction, a constant option as a source of information and attention, makes it harder for you to be in the world around you, and to think of a connect with other people.
To drive home the point, he gave us an assignment: give up our phones for 24 hours, and write a reflection paper about it afterward. For one full day no calls, no texting, no using our mobile devices to check email, social media, surf the internet, or anything else. When we were given the assignment, I didn’t think I’d miss my phone much. One day isn’t that long, after all.
Our 24 hour period stared immediately after leaving philosophy class, so I switched my phone off, buried it deep in my backpack, and headed to the next thing on my schedule, chapel. I took my seat to wait the five minutes for chapel to start, a time I usually use to check my email and maybe post a few tweets. Instead, I look around for someone to chat with. Chapel attendance is required for the entire school, so there was no shortage of people milling about and finding their seats, but I didn’t have much luck finding a conversational partner because everyone else was on their phones. I was starting to see what my professor meant when he said that phones make it hard to connect with the people you’re actually surrounded by.
As the day wore on, I was struck by how many times I automatically reached into my pocket for my phone, only to remember I couldn’t use it. Almost every time I had a spare few minutes, when I wasn’t busy with a task or someone I knew wasn’t immediately in front of me to engage with, I had the urge to check my phone. Until then I had never realized how accustomed I was to being constantly connected. Even if I wasn’t on my phone for more than a minute at a time, the number of times per day I would choose to spend that minute on my phone was way higher than I thought. Additionally, I found I rely on Google to find information to a degree that had never occurred to me before. I remember my parents telling me about having to look up facts in encyclopedias when they were in college, while I’ve gotten so used to having a wealth of information at my fingertips in just a few seconds. To be honest, that was probably the thing that inconvenienced me the most for the day I went phoneless. Whenever I think of a random question, I want to know the answer right away, and thanks to my phone, I usually can.
As I thought at the beginning, my phone doesn’t usually distract me from obligations that take up a large part of my day, like classes, friends, hobbies, or sleep. But all those little moments in between the big things, that’s when my eyes are usually attached to my phone. I wonder, what else I could I be doing with all those in between moments? Meeting new people? Getting more done? Or just being in the world for a moment, without feeling the need to do anything? What kinds of things do I miss every day because of all the short periods I spend staring at a pocket-sized screen?
In a lot of ways, cell phones are great. I like being about to get an answer to a question from wherever I am whenever I feel like it. I like being able to call my parents to say a quick hello while walking to class. I like being able to tweet something interesting or funny whenever it occurs to me, and I like sending my friends links to songs they might like or articles they might want to read. Cellphones have revolutionized the way we communicate. But at what cost? How many minutes or hours per day do you spend with your eyes on your screen instead of your surroundings? I’m not saying you should get rid of your phone and sign off of the internet forever. (That would be pretty ironic considering this is a blog post, and not in a cool way.) But if you really want to see what kind of influence your phone has in your life, try doing what I did. Give it up for a day and see how much it affects your routine. When something has become an accepted part of your life, you often don’t notice just how much you rely on it until it isn’t there. If your cellphone makes your life and the things you make a priority easier, great. But if your cellphone makes your life interesting, fills up your time, or distracts you from everything else, it may be time to rethink things.