Ruby Strommen and Mary Hoyt
Communication and our constant connection
March 22, 2016
Technology: whether you’re addicted to it or could go without it for a day, we all rely on it. From our phones to our laptops to our desktop computers, not to mention earpieces, mapping systems, tablets, and much more, we’re constantly tethered to an electronic world that is inseparable from our own. From the time we get up to the time we go to bed, our phones ping away as our Twitter feeds refresh, our message count grows, and our Snapchats wink into existence for ten whole seconds.
At least we get 8 hours a night away from it all, right? Unfortunately, no. For some, the consistent connection doesn’t end when getting into bed. Late night messaging, Netflix-watching, and feed-refreshing are epidemics infecting our virtual world, creating health risks (the loss of precious REM sleep) and safety risks (spoiler: phones that overheat can start fires in your bed) in real life.
Personally, I wouldn’t refer to myself as a person who is really connected to my phone. Unlike some, I’m able to go hours on end without using it, and I avoid developing separation anxiety. So, as a journalistic experiment, I decided to spend a full day without using my phone or computer for non-essential reasons. These included watching Netflix, checking Instagram, and sending Snapchats, to name a few. Though I had to come to terms with losing my streaks, I was confident in my abilities to wish my electronics goodbye for 24 hours. In order to get the full experience, I decided that I would use my computer during and after school, for schoolwork purposes only, and wouldn’t use my phone at all.
My experience with this disconnection was both positive and negative. I was tempted constantly to take some ridiculous quiz on Buzzfeed, or scroll mindlessly through Facebook and Instagram, just so I wouldn’t have to engage in real-life conversation. I didn’t want to acknowledge the lonesome, awkward silence. That day I just so happened to go to Target, and got stuck for fifteen minutes in line at checkout behind a “Coupon Queen,” who was trying to save twenty cents on fruit snacks. Normally, I would have taken out my phone and avoided eye contact at all costs, but instead I talked to the people around me. It wasn’t so bad. I even learned a little about couponing.
To some people, going a day without social media or texting may not seem undoable. I shared this expectation, until this experiment forced me to realize how disturbingly dependent I (and others my age) am on my constant connection. “People who aren’t on social media a lot miss out socially. They’re at a disadvantage. They don’t really know what’s going on, and they won’t get invited to as many events,” junior Brooke Ferrer said.
A recent study by Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein of the University Essex described how even the presence of a phone during a conversation can hurt the relationship between the two people by lowering the feeling of trust and closeness. This study, along with others, concludes one thing: people often use technology as a shield to keep from building relationships. Some people would rather experience virtual connection than personal connection because the latter takes more effort. Ferrer admits to struggling with this balance in her everyday conversation. “When I’m talking to someone, I catch myself looking down a lot [at my phone], and multitasking. Then I realize that the person I’m actually talking to isn’t on their phone too, so then I feel bad,” Ferrer said.
Many supporters of social media and technology believe that platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have the ability to create stronger interpersonal connections. “You can stay connected and talk about things, even if you’re not hanging out with the person at the time. You’re not next to the person, but you still get to know them better when you’re texting,” Ferrer said.
Senior Isaac Welsch agrees with Ferrer. “Everyone is able communicate. In the past you had no ability to make such last minute plans, or contact friends easily. People know each other better. We have more friends and stay connected all the time,” Welsch said.
However, the technology use also has the ability to hurt real, face-to-face communication. “When you’re texting, what you actually mean can get lost in translation. If you have a real conversation, you can see a person’s expressions and tell what they’re feeling. Emojis can help a little, but you can’t use them excessively. Besides, for some people, especially adults, not paying attention can be offensive. Think about it; in the real world you wouldn’t go into a job interview and be on your phone while someone is asking you questions. There should be a level of respect,” said senior Nia Garrett.
The greatest technology problem I have is my dependency on Netflix as a method to relax and settle down after a long day. I can spend hours laying in my bed staring at my computer or phone screen before going to sleep. I am not alone in these habits. According to a 2011 Sleep in America® poll, around 95% of Americans use electronics regularly less than an hour before sleeping.
This technology use after turning out the lights has a substantial effect on sleeping habits, due to the artificial light emitted from the computer or television screen. According to research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, some of the harmful effects from screen time before sleep include: taking longer to fall asleep, feeling less sleepy at night but being more tired the following day, and having shorter REM sleep cycles, when compared to people who read before bed.
Less than ten years ago, it would be unusual to walk into a restaurant and see groups of young people sitting at a table in silence. Today, it’s not uncommon. This indicates a frightening future: one day, having lunch with “friends” may be completely virtual. Luckily, this phenomenon of face-to-screen conversations is unique to younger generations. According to a Pew Research Center study, 50% of adults aged 18 to 29 believe it is okay to use a cell phone at a restaurant, while only 33% of adults aged 50 to 64 approve of such use.
Other studies, that have examined the impact of technology use on productivity while at work, conclude that our constant connection does very little to assist us. The official U.S. Productivity levels record that from 1995 to 2004, when computers and Internet were first coming onto the scene, productivity numbers were rising by 3% each year.
Because of this trend, it was assumed that computers and technology would continually increase productivity. However, recent reports show that annual productivity growth since 2004 is about 1.5% these recent numbers are below the long term average of 2.25%.
Our technology use can easily decrease productivity by distracting us from our primary responsibilities (especially during March Madness). “Sometimes [my phone] is a distraction when I really need to study for a test, and I can’t put it down because I’m Snapchatting people,” said senior Paige McLeod.
As senior Elly Amighi discovered, just putting down the electronics to experience real life can be more rewarding. “I went on a trip to my great grandparents’ house in Michigan. There was no phone service or internet; there was no texting, nothing, so my cousins and I had to entertain ourselves. The TV barely worked, so we didn’t use it, but we had so much fun. We were always outside, in the lake… it was the summer, we were swimming and making up games. I can barely put down my phone, normally. For once, my phone wasn’t such a huge part of my life, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had with my cousins. I think it would be good for society to not use phones so often,” said Amighi.