November 5, 2023

SENZON | Put the Phone Down?

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It feels surreal to live in an age where everyone has access to the internet, allowing us to create a narrative of who we are, and what we stand for from the touch of our phone screens. The technological advancements in the past century have created unspoken interconnectedness, resulting in people giving their two cents where unneeded.

Or perhaps, people have become more out of touch than ever before. There is growing concern that we are living in a world where empathy is not prioritized, and people’s devices have become extensions of themselves. As someone who has grown up always having had access to the internet, it feels like second nature to pick up my phone upon the next buzz or ding. While it isn’t news that my generation has become increasingly reliant on technology to complete schoolwork, network and search for jobs, I feel this disconnect all the more in recent weeks. 

I’ve noticed my attachment to my phone as my brain searches for the next moment of instant gratification when receiving a new text or email. I want to get better at living my life in the moment and putting the phone down. In an episode of one of my favorite podcasts hosted by Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher, they emphasized the prevalence of technology and its permanent integration into the lives of Generation Alpha and beyond. 

On a smaller scale, I think of my attachment to my phone and my habits of mindlessly opening social media apps such as TikTok or Instagram to look for the next notification. In the moment, this is exciting — the chance to potentially exchange a message with a friend always brings me joy — to my dismay, though, the brief moments of satisfaction upon opening a notification are rather short-lived. I almost always find myself disappointed once I realize that I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and cannot put my phone down. Without realizing it, I’ve wasted thirty minutes at a time, which is more than problematic for a college student with a busy schedule. 

It doesn’t help when I need to scratch this itch during lectures, when I’m supposed to be locked in and focusing on the professor. The question stands: What is the root cause of society’s collective reliance on and excessive use of technology? Is it to communicate with others, important reminders and dates on our digital calendars or possibly mindless forms of entertainment that act as a tool to destress? Could it be a combination of all of these things?

Surely much of this growing issue can be accredited to changes in society, given the emerging breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. Increased use of technology creates a disconnect between people living their lives in the present moment and people living their lives vicariously through others via social media and mindless entertainment. Adjacent are surfacing themes of increased laziness due to technology; with easier access to the things we need in the palm of our hands comes a decreased inclination to get up and check items off of our to-do lists. When we give into these habits of mindless scrolling, we remove the habit loops of working for a reward. We get the same good feeling from using our phones that we get when accomplishing a hard task, or when putting our foot down and telling ourselves that we haven’t been very productive and should probably try and get some work done.

As people become lazier and less apt to set and achieve their goals, what will the future look like? Do we really have anything to worry about if it’s supposedly in our human nature to live with ambition and aspirations? Will there always be an equilibrium maintained between those who are willing to work hard and those who aren’t?

Emma Chamberlain explores this further in a recent podcast episode titled “Am I Burnt Out or Lazy” in describing her day-to-day battles of excessive phone usage as a reflection of her mental state. She discusses the prospect that we tend to use our phones more when we’re feeling stressed or when experiencing burnout — it’s an easy alternative to relying on healthy coping mechanisms like going for a run or prioritizing yourself. In listening to Emma speak on the correlation between neglecting our mental health and letting technology get the best of us, I found myself feeling validated. I thought to myself that technology as a collective has introduced avenues of opportunity that have never been seen before. For instance, the ability to join a Zoom call and network without actually speaking face-to-face with someone. 

As long as we are able to stay aware of our pleasure-seeking tendencies, technology may continue to act as an apparatus of innovation for Generation Alpha and beyond.

Adam Senzon is a second-year student in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. His fortnightly column My Two-Sents covers a plethora of topics ranging from advice on navigating life challenges to more complex topics of injustice within the law, labor and sustainability. He can be reached at [email protected].

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