Digital Meth

By Julia Decker.

Up until the tenth grade, I had been using social media nearly every day.

This all changed when my English teacher gave the class an article about how much time American teenagers were spending on their phones, and how it correlated with common issues such as mental illness. I noticed that a few of the habits demonstrated by the people in the article applied to me, so, when one of my best friends spontaneously deleted her social media account (a large portion of the time I spent on there was to communicate with her and a few other people) and then expressed her happiness in doing so in the days that followed, I took action. I deleted the apps I considered most distracting off of my phone, and the time I had on my hands grew exponentially.

I found it to be surprisingly difficult the first few days. Social media apps are designed to catch your attention and keep you interested; they use what scientists refer to as “intermittent variable rewards,” which is the same type of reward system that a slot machine uses (Tristan 5). I noticed myself aimlessly scrolling to where my apps used to be, only to realize they weren’t there, and I would have to find something more important to occupy my time. However, as I adjusted, I realized how much time I now had on my hands to do numbers of things that I had previously dismissed because I was “too busy.”

This phenomenon is becoming more and more prevalent, and scientists are now taking it upon themselves to learn about how phones affect the human mind. For example, The Wall Street Journal put out an article in October of 2017 about how smartphones “hijack our minds,” and did so while simultaneously referencing multiple phone-use studies. The results of each one? People with their smartphones completely “out of sight and out of mind” performed considerably better on every examination (Carr 14). One experiment described a company of students given two standardized tests. The only difference between the groups is where they had their phones: on their desks, in their bags, or in another room. The experiment concluded that the farther away the device was, the better the students performed. Interestingly enough, most of the students with their phones on their desks said it hadn’t even been a distraction, even though the very presence of their mobile devices had subconsciously cluttered their thinking.

One of the articles that interested me at the time was a blog post written by Marina Diamandis, a music artist better known by her stage name Marina and the Diamonds. She describes Instagram as “digital meth” (Diamandis 4), because when you get a like or a comment, dopamine is released into your brain, which makes you feel great…until the level drops, and you get the opposite effect. Diamandis talks about her experiences with social media, and how she finds that even though she deletes the apps for long periods of time, she really hasn’t missed anything. One defining factor that brings the public to overuse their phones is FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out. Many people use their phones to keep up with others who they can’t see often, and it is hard to bypass the need to be in-the-know about everyone all the time, even if those things aren’t actually crucial bits of information.

Marina also recommends using an app called Moment, which tracks your screen time and can tell you what apps you’re using the most. I use it as well, and it has helped me become self-aware as to how much I use my phone. According to the app, most people underestimate how much time they’re spending on their phones by 100% — double the amount of time you think you spend. Additionally, if you take the amount of time you spend on social media daily, multiply it by 365, and then divide by 60, you can find out how many hours you spend on it in a year. Once you start to see those big numbers, the significance of all of that wasted time starts to sink in.

As society becomes increasingly technological, it is important to develop healthy habits and recognize when enough screen time is enough. Our generation is already known as the “iGen,” due to the fact that we are growing up with technology ingrained in our culture. While there are benefits to this, they need to be practiced responsibly. Unless we want our generation and the ones following to become screen addicts, our habits and attitudes toward these devices need to change now.

 

Works Cited

Carr, Nicholas. “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 6 Oct. 2017, http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811.

Diamandis, Marina. “Instagram Is A Tiny Speck In The Ginormous Oil…” Marinabook, 24 Sept. 2017, marinabook.co.uk/post/165694737742/instagram-is-a-tiny-speck-in-the-ginormous-oil.

Harris, Tristan. “Smartphone Addiction: The Slot Machine in Your Pocket – SPIEGEL ONLINE – International.” SPIEGEL ONLINE, SPIEGEL ONLINE, 27 July 2016, http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/smartphone-addiction-is-part-of-the-design-a-1104237.html.

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