Nails tapping away on a silver screen. Tick-tack-tick. Every character typed out is armed, every second a message is left open is an ethereal bullet. In public, we feel the need to constantly document and expose each moment of our lives, each trip out, each encounter with someone else, but only if it’s something positive. Online, there’s the sense that we have to look happy all the time and if cracks start to show and we aren’t feeling good, we’re accused of over-sharing. Our generation is steered by Snapchat, by Instagram, by large global companies such as Apple capitalizing on our need for the newest, fastest, most in-vogue phone. Has it occurred to us that there might be more to life than mobile phones?
In today’s age, it’s hardly surprising that in 2017, 96% of 16-24 year olds in the U.K. had smartphones and it can hardly be said that phones don’t have their advantages, in terms of safety, staying in contact with people and having more access to news and information, for example. Nonetheless, mobile phones shouldn’t dictate our behavior or have the ability to change the way our brains work. Researchers have discovered that the blue light emitted from mobile phones has the power to disrupt melatonin production, thus affecting our sleep and altering our brains to an extent, whilst the presence of a phone can be a key influencer in how we act in social situations (we all know that one person who’s completely different when someone’s filming them for a Snapchat story). Truthfully, it can get a bit too much sometimes and the presence of tech is weighing heavily on teenage mental health.
A growing number of people have reported experiencing nomophobia, where they feel anxious at the thought of not having their phones and our increasing digital connectivity is all-consuming. We know not to text and drive, but 59% of 18-33 year olds have reported doing so. We don’t owe our phones anything, but we feel we have to reply instantly, keep talking all the time and don’t give ourselves any freedom from this addiction. Recently, I’d come to send streak messages and apologize for not being able to answer right away, leaving messages unopened, posts unliked, snap stories unseen because it was too tiring to read them. Life is stressful enough and it got to the point where I realized being on my phone isn’t my job and shouldn’t be something I feel I have to do. Everything seems to slow down when you aren’t glued to a screen and pressing pause is necessary sometimes.
Between 2010 and 2016, the number of teens who had one major depressive episode in the U.S. leapt astoundingly by 60% and the one big change that’s happened since then is the growth in technology in our daily lives. Phones are undoubtedly a factor in the stress we feel as a generation, but people are beginning to understand that we need change. At the start of the year, Jana Partners and Californian State Teachers’ Retirement System (who collectively hold $2 billion worth of Apple stock) called on Apple to develop software that limits how long children can use smartphones, because of the extensive damage it can cause to teen mental health. The letter signed by both the investment groups appealing for more digital locks and controls is representative of one thing: an unread message or an extra 10 minutes in front of a screen isn’t as important as your mental health.
Initiatives have also been developed as a means of rewarding teens for reducing their smartphone usage, such as the Norwegian app “Hold” that gives points to students who increase their time offline, which can then be exchanged for cinema tickets and snacks. Their aim is to make the time spent away from smartphones “fun and rewarding,” not only in terms of the incentives offered, but ultimately by helping users refresh their minds and relieve stress without a device and although only available in parts of Scandinavia, it’s definitely something worth thinking about.
The reality is that if we want change, we need to do something now. Technology is a new double-edged sword, both positive and negative, but for people our age in particular it adds a whole new level of complicated to the already demanding challenges of growing up and living while we’re young. Certainly, it’s better to see things in your own eyes than through a glass lens attached to a silver translucent screen, better to be alive without constantly having a blue light blinding your self-esteem.