November 29, 2018

BARAN | Flip to a Flip-Phone?

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When my mom dropped me off at Cornell two weekends ago after a family funeral, I had to screenshot directions to get back home and send them to her. Her tiny phone made the pictures grainy and hard to read. Still, she persevered and managed to get back to Maryland safely. She probably squinted and looked down at the phone more often than was safe, but she did it. And she went through this whole ordeal with a smile, for the alternative was to her much worse than some occasional inconvenience.

As is probably obvious by now, my mother bought a clunky, archaic flip-phone last month, in a fit of exasperation at the superfluities of modern technology. She hasn’t thought about going back.

I gotta say, I agree my mom and respect her decision. I’ve had similar thoughts in the past few years. I wish I could do the same thing, but I just don’t think I have the willpower. Every time I find myself scrolling, dead-eyed, through the Instagram Discover page, having just wasted 20 minutes of my life staring at my phone, I’m disgusted with myself. In those moments, an urge comes over me to just chuck my mobile device into the woods. And that’s just one time-waster. I don’t even want to know how much of my time has been tossed down the drain on other distractions like Snapchat, YouTube and Netflix. Mobile devices and their concomitant time-sucking apps are a waste of brainpower and time. The question is: are you willing to put the phone down for the greater good?

I’ve been hearing my mom’s complaints about technology since I was a little kid. She used to tell me that T.V. and cell phones rotted your brain. Her motto was (and still is): “Facebook? How ‘bout you put your face in a book?”

I’m a first child, so my parents were strictest about limiting technology with me. I didn’t have a T.V. in the house growing up, which a lot of kids at school thought was really weird. I didn’t get a phone until I was 12, and even that was a flip phone that my mom used to constantly take away. It was such a piece of junk that I was able to take out the battery every time my mom reached for it. I didn’t want her to read my texts. When I finally got a smartphone at age 14, I wasn’t very interested in it. I had grown accustomed to reading for entertainment instead of staring at screens.

I can remember reading for entire days during the summer, reading in the car right up until my mom dropped me off for school, reading in homeroom before the bell rang, reading everywhere. I don’t remember this, but my mom says in elementary school I read standing up on the sidewalk while I waited for her to pick me up. I was addicted, and that was fine with me.

As I entered middle school, I began to think reading wasn’t “cool.” I noticed that none of my friends were reading as much as I was, and scoffed at the reading assignments teachers gave us. So I put the books away in public. They became a private pleasure, and remained as such until late in high school. That’s when I finally gained the maturity to realize that my love of reading was good for me, enjoyable and an intrinsic part of my personality. So why would I stop?

A study performed by a group of Stanford neurobiologists several years ago found that reading, both for leisure and critical analysis, increased blood flow to areas of the brain associated with intensive problem-solving. Of course, it’s not like any of us needed proof that reading is good for our brains. Intuitively, we all know the benefits of reading. Whether we choose to reap those benefits or not is a personal decision.

On the other hand, a recent Wall Street Journal article drew from several scientific studies in recognizing that smartphones have a powerful hold on our attention and a detrimental bearing on our cognitive abilities. Again, this is intuitive. Most of us recognize that excessive time on our smartphones is bad for our brains and our well-being.

Another study by scientists at the Eulji University in South Korea found that people addicted to their smartphones had significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression, and other disorders than those not addicted. Thing is, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, 46 percent of Americans say they couldn’t live without their phones. I’d say that qualifies as addiction. That’s a bad sign for our society, and a call to action to get off our phones.

I’m not suggesting I’m better than anyone for reading so much. In fact, I’ve found that since entering college, I’ve been reading significantly less. I’ve been stuck on the same book for about a month. I just don’t feel like I have the time for pleasure reading. And when I do have time, I’m usually so drained that all I want to do is turn off my brain and watch some YouTube.

It’s not easy to tear ourselves away from the screens, especially as college students. We are an incredibly social age group and feel the need to be constantly connected with our friends. We spend hours each day doing work, much of which involves staring at our laptops. With that comes the nagging urge to procrastinate by checking Facebook or Reddit. After a long day of work, it’s nice to unwind by watching an episode of our favorite T.V. show or scrolling through our Instagram feed. So it might be a little much to ask college students to give up their smartphones completely and switch to a flip-phone. But maybe, we can try to pick up a book one evening. Maybe, we’ll do it the next day. Maybe, it’ll turn into a habit. Maybe.

Christian Baran is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. Honestly runs every other Friday this semester. He can be reached at cbaran@cornellsun.com.