“Cell phones are so convenient that they're an inconvenience.”
April 3, 2017
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how distractions and temptations get in the way of our long-term goals. For too many people, one marshmallow now just tastes better than having to wait for two later. As teens and adults, however, there is another distraction far more tempting than even the fattest, freshest, toastiest marshmallow – the Internet. Checking email, news feeds and Instagram has become a compulsion for too many people. As Nicholas Carr explained in his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. “The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.”
What makes the Internet so fascinating is the ability to surf so quickly, effortlessly and mindlessly through so many different places. Never in history have people had the power to see so much so easily. Sites like Wikipedia, the United States Archives and the New York Public Library put more information at everyone’s fingertips than any single person had access to two decades ago. However, the reality is that this is not what we generally use the Internet for. We are much more likely to spend hours bouncing between social media sites and YouTube videos. I totally get it. Every night I have to check my three news sources, email and maybe check out a short video before I go to sleep, often later than I had wanted. I don’t usually take the time to read the longer articles but instead skim through the headlines feeling like I’m engaged with the world.
But I’m not. If I really want to be engaged, I have to put in the effort to get off the surfboard and dive deep. Read the actual New York Times, actually talk to friends and get out and see real performances. Between text messages, email and social media, people may read as many words as ever, but it is all on the surface. A fully engaged life, meaningful friendships and real learning require effort. Most of LoMA’s students are currently reading Shakespeare, and I know it isn’t always easy to tell what he is saying. It requires multiple readings, discussion and a dictionary. But all that effort opens up new worlds of the imagination to inspire us with the ideal of love or scare us with the tragedy of selfishness. Novels, full-length movies and books can change our lives in a way that make the wittiest memes seem inane.
If I know this, why do I still obsessively check email and the latest in the New York Times? Tony Schwartz wrote about this an article called “Addicted to Distraction.” (in the Times). He defined addiction as “the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life.” He then points out that, “By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet.” He says the Internet is so compulsive because it feeds the brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification thereby creating a “compulsion loop.” This need is compounded by our fear of missing out on something important. Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect. Of course, the first defense of any addiction is denial, so an easy test of this is to simply quit using the Internet in any form for a week and see what happens.
As with all compulsions, they key to controlling it is to put structures in place that can control our desires. Charging the phone outside of the bedroom overnight helps control staying up too late surfing. Deleting time-wasting apps and leaving my phone turned off in my book bag during the school day are other ways to free my time for more worthwhile pursuits.
This week’s Shaka entries are from a Junior and Sophomore, respectively, who have both been working on their phone addictions.
Now I know none of you want to be reading this and much rather be on your phone. Well, guess what! That’s what this is about. I also know that none of you want to be told to stop using your phone so much because it ruins your life. Well I’m gonna tell you anyway, because I know from experience. I recently was in a fight because of something I said in a group chat with friends. It was meant to be a joke, but my friend didn’t see it that way which caused her to stop talking to me for a while. I almost ruined a friendship because of something online, where people can’t tell the tone you use. I also overhear people in my class when they talk, and usually it’s about problems that start on Social Media.
Now I also know that none of you think that you pay more attention to your phone than your friends, but how many of you have every single social media? I only have two of them, so do my friends, and you know what? Since deleting the others, we spend our time hanging out outside, playing games, or listening to music TOGETHER.
I’ve also noticed the number of times that I hear my teachers tell my classmates to put their phone away during class. Now, I’ll admit that I’m one of them—I used to be on my phone all the time in class and that led to me having bad grades. Not only did I have bad participation grade, but I was also lost in class and would never hear what we had for homework. Now I’m not on my phone as much, and I notice that the number of times teachers say, “Put your phone away” is crazy. It’s gotten to the point where even I get annoyed hearing it, and when I look at my classmates, they are still on their phones! Honestly, what could possibly be so important on your phone that it can’t wait until after class?! Because I guarantee that if you do (as I learned), you’ll find out that some of the work is actually pretty interesting. All I’m saying is to take a break from being on your phone and focus on what is actually important, Instead of caring about how many likes you get, or followers on insta, or how many people have you on snap, or your streaks, maybe care about how many people are actually there for you. Like, in person! Then, take it further. How many people are you actually there for?
Now, you don’t have to listen to me, but look at what being obsessed with our phones has come to—a President who is on Twitter all the time instead of being a president. Even with our families, my own parents are on their phones a lot, and they complain about me. It’s gotten to the point where adults are no better. We need to spend more time with the people we care about and not with our phones.
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As you know many teens today are always on their phone. I would say the phone is a very addictive technology because you can do so much on it: games, websites, banking, text, call, etc. Some teens I talk to (even me) have a problem with putting it away; then when a teacher asks to read aloud or pay attention in class, we don't respond as fast as we should ‘cause we are so caught up in our phones, and most of the time we don't even hear people talking to us while we're lost in our phones. So for a fact, technology has taken control of our teen society, and I do agree that it needs to be handled. One thing that technology can overpower is friendship, if you're at lunch with your friends, you expect to talk about what’s happening and how things are going. Let's say three out of four are on their phones. How is that fair to that one person that's waiting for someone to look up and talk to them? So like I said before this technology it’s so powerful it can ruin friendship and grades.
Look around once in a while,