By Jorja Butt, Writer
Life in the 21st century means being able to access information from anywhere at any time. Whether that information is a question you’ve been pondering, a quick text message to check on your family or a look on social media for updates on your friends, it’s easy to get lost in the virtual world. As cell phone technology continues to develop and become increasingly accessible, the age at which children are introduced to them becomes younger, making the addiction to screen time an even harder habit to break.
The invention of cellphones provided an effortless way to communicate, but it may have caused more harm than good. Along with the cellphone came the invention of social media and the immediate access to entertainment that has caused screen time in younger generations to skyrocket. Natalie Eysoldt, a 20-year-old college student, found the addiction to be interrupting important events in her life. Eysoldt started using social media around the age of 12 and just recently deleted apps such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat off of her phone.
“I used to be on social media for five or six hours a day,” Eysoldt says. “I would have so much homework due for my classes that I would end up not doing because I would scroll through social media instead.”
It became clear that social media took priority over her schoolwork, so she deleted the apps altogether. Before making her decision, she found herself wondering what she would miss out on from the people that she followed. Social media provided an insight into others’ lives that she wouldn’t have access to if she deleted the apps. She feared missing out on what friends or even strangers were doing in their free time because it had become second nature to observe people through her phone.
“It turned out to be better than I expected. I was comparing myself to other people that I had barely met but just followed them on Instagram; it felt really toxic, and I didn’t realize that until after I deleted everything,” Eysoldt says.
While it may have been easy for Eysoldt to make her decision, social media and cell phone addiction have become so mainstream that almost every young adult can attest to it. Most cellphone users don’t even notice their addictions, but what more users aren’t aware of is the reason behind the addiction.
The Netflix original documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” gathered a number of former social media and search engine professionals who were very blunt about the reasoning for addiction. The creators and former presidents of platforms such as Google and Facebook have become worried about the unintended consequences that these apps have on the 2 billion people who use them. What started as a way to connect friends and gain new information turned into companies competing against one another for users’ attention.
Justin Rosenstein, a former engineer at Facebook and Google, explained that because most major platforms are free, the product of these companies is its users, not the apps themselves. Advertisers pay the social networks for time to have users’ attention and to use algorithms to make sure that the users are engaged. These algorithms are made to track its users’ every move on the Internet and find more content that they believe will keep their attention spans for as long as possible. The addiction is manufactured by companies marketing its content for that exact reason. In fact, cellphones have taken such a priority in people’s lives that 35% of people think of their cellphones when they wake up while only 10% of people think of their significant others according to PsychGuides.com, an American addiction center resource.
Dr. Lisa Beeler, a professor at Ohio University, believes that screen time is not where the addiction lies. Dr. Beeler is an expert in marketing sales through the use of artificial intelligence and technology and believes that there is a difference between using screen time for work and pleasure.
“I think the real problem lies not in the addiction to screen time, but the addiction that’s being created with things like social media applications or YouTube,” Dr. Beeler says. “I think people need to parse out the idea of just being on your phone versus what you are doing on your phone.”
After social media platforms were launched, the benefits for marketing professionals skyrocketed, but the consequences it had on young minds were unexpected. In today’s society, it is vital to stay connected because most activities in a day-to-day routine require a cellphone.
“Just like any new technology, [social media] can be used as a tool. You can use it for good and you can use it for bad,” Dr. Beeler says. “I think the issue is that you don’t plan on playing on your phone for four hours; someone will text you and then you’ve opened Pandora’s box because now you see all of the notifications and it starts this rabbit hole.”
Dr. Beeler points out that it is important to set boundaries when it comes to living in the digital world because it’s easy to get lost. Not all activities that rack up screen time are harmful, but it is important to recognize the difference between necessary and harmful online interaction.
Smartphones connect people to new ideas and old friends but have condemned this generation to an addiction that no creator could have ever imagined. Making information and social media accessible through a handheld device has caused a toxic environment that younger generations have a hard time escaping. Will the next generation be able to break the habit, or will they fall victim to the same habits?