It’s Friday night and you have successfully made it through another busy week of textbook readings, midterms and assignments. You’re excited to finally have a night out. Surrounded by good music and your close friends, you pull out your phone to capture some moments of your night. Amidst all the selfie-taking, the attention of the group shifts to one particular person as they laugh and cheer him on. As you get closer, you realize it’s one of your closest friends dancing up a storm in the middle of the room. You quickly open Snapchat to take a video of him because truthfully, who wouldn’t want to see Dylan breakdancing? In the middle of your video, your screen turns black and your phone dies. For a brief moment, you’re upset but in the corner of your eye, you see a phone charger in the next room. At that moment, you feel extremely relieved that you can plug in your phone and get back to your cyber family.
In late 2012, the number of people who owned a smartphone surpassed the 50 percent threshold and in 2015, 73 percent of teens had access to a smartphone. Although smartphones have been an advantageous discovery that connects people and captures special moments, recent generations have been shaped and defined by it. Many individuals are constantly “plugged in” to technology including their phones, iPads and computers to stay connected. In fact, they are on their phones more often than they are with people. It was discovered that the number of teens who normally get together with their friends nearly every day dropped more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015, arguably due to their cell phones replacing social interactions. Interestingly, rates of teen depression and suicide have drastically increased since 2011. It is known that smartphones and depression have a very strong correlation and although there may be many other factors at play, it’s important to consider how being constantly “plugged in” can affect our behaviours and emotional states.
Being on your smartphone is analogous to being in your own little world; when you’re on your phone, nothing else around you matters. But a problem arises when in-person social interactions, physical activity, and sleep come second to your smartphone. Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities, such as social media, are more likely to be unhappy compared to those who spend more time than average on non-screen activities. What’s more, the longer that teens spend on looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.
So how can smartphones and technology lead to psychological distress? For one thing, adolescence is a key time for developing social skills. By constantly relying on communication through our cell phones, how can we receive the full human experience of compassion, personal connection and love? In addition, documenting your activities on social media can result in other people feeling left out and insignificant. Lastly, a meta-analysis of studies on the use of electronic devices among children found that those who use a device right before bed are more likely to sleep less than they should, more likely to sleep poorly, and more than twice as likely to be sleepy during the day. Being sleep deprived can affect daily activities such as social interaction, mood and can lead to susceptibility of illness.
With all this in mind, before plugging in your dead phone at a party, stop to think about what’s important in life. Enjoy what’s going on around you and embrace your most special moments without feeling as though you have to document it on social media.
One great way to unplug with your peers is during SWELL Unplugged, a drop-in program offered by the Student Wellness Centre in the SWELL Main Lounge (MUSC B118) every Wednesday from 3:30-5:00 pm. At these sessions, individuals are encouraged to unplug from electronics and recharge with a walk in nature, arts and crafts or acoustic music.