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My cell phone is a major part of my life.

Every day, I carry my phone wherever I go, and if it is not at my side, I begin to panic.

The panics are rooted in my own fears that people are always trying to get in touch with me, I may miss something on social media or I will miss out on a major news event.

As a journalist, a cell phone is like a swiss army knife – you can take pictures and videos, post happenings on social media and check out what the competition is doing. The phone also serves as a communication tool that allows me to text with sources and editors.

So when the idea of dropping something for a week was given as an assignment for one of my classes, doubt immediately flooded my brain – I blame technology giants in Silicon Valley.

Justin Rosenstein is an engineer who worked at Facebook and Google, and was part of the team that created Gchat (Lewis, 2017).

In an article titled, “Our minds can be hijacked…,” that appeared in The Guardian in October 2017, Paul Lewis said Rosenstein leads a new company that

“appears most concerned about the psychological effects on people, who research shows, touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day (Lewis, 2017).”

The key point here is that it is not a group of people that total 2,617 touches on the phone, it is per person; it is also not just adults.

Jean M. Twenge wrote an article titled, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?, that was published in The Atlantic in 2017, and in it she talks about the impact smartphones have had on Millenials and later generations.

The statistics Twenge uses are astonishing, as she has studied generational differences for 25 years (Twenge, 2017).

Individualism has increased in Millenials, according to Twenge, as kids would rather spend time in their bedrooms texting with their friends than socializing at the mall or other hangout spots (Twenge, 2017).

kids would rather spend time in their bedrooms texting with their friends than socializing at the mall or other hangout spots

“The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lies, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health,” Twenge said, adding that she refers to the new generation as the iGen.

“It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

The shocking thing is that kids today would rather text or talk with someone they are interested in and then after some time, go out on a date. As a result, teenage pregnancies are down (Twenge, 2017), and while this can be looked at as positive, it also has a negative side – social skills are in the pits. 

Sharon Jayson wrote an article for NBC news in March 2019 about how Millennials feel lonely.

The trend of being lonely was largely associated with elderly people but is now being seen in the newer generations because of social media, according to one study (Jayson, 2019).

Whether or not the study is accurate, young adults are having trouble socializing in new environments, and experts say they are looking into whether the trend is new or if it was just overlooked in previous generations (Jayson, 2019).

The Experiment:

I wanted to see just how much I could limit the use of my cell phone in my daily life for four days. I also wanted to see if the urges to go on my phone would be reduced.

The period began on Tuesday, September 10, and ran through Friday, September 13.

During that time frame, I only permitted myself to look at my phone for five minutes every four hours – 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.

In order to remind myself to use my phone, I set up alarms for those specific times on my Fitbit watch. I also used the Fitbit to time each session.

I wanted to avoid using applications like Gmail, Messages, Facebook, Simpsons Tapped Out, Word Chums, or any other social media or game application.

There were exceptions to the rules, though; using tools to track food and exercise were allowed, as were utilities. At times, I also allowed myself to use the Messages application to communicate with sources.

To help keep me on track, I turned off all notifications on my phone to reduce the urge to jump every time my phone buzzed or alerted me of an update.

Using a reporter’s notebook, I recorded urges and the magnitude of the urge on a scale of 1 to 10, the latter being the most intense. Along with logging the need to go on the phone, I also logged things like the time, whether the use was personal or for work, allowed or prohibited. I also marked down what I was doing and whether I was bored at that moment.

I found over time, the urges to use my phone reduced significantly – a 4.4 down to a 2.3 – when it came to all applications.

I also found that my use of Facebook dropped considerably after my wife and I went to our favorite dive bar for drinks and tacos on Wednesday night.

Before walking into the bar, I left my phone in the car to avoid using it while out to dinner. My wife, on the other hand, used her phone the entire time to take photos of her food and post numerous status updates to social media. She also played games on her phone.

After dinner, I realized how far I had come and how ridiculous people look when they are on their phone posting every aspect of their life on social media, while they should be enjoying time with the people they are with.

On Thursday morning, I avoided Facebook, and to this day, I have only checked Facebook once since, for about a minute before jumping off.

Although Facebook usage dropped, my use of Messages and Gmail did not.

Both applications are crucial for my job and allow me to communicate with my editors and sources. Over the course of the experiment, I refrained from checking messages and email on my phone fairly well, leaving it to the five minutes every four hours.

But that hurt my ability to do my job to the best of my ability.

Sources were texting me throughout the day, and I would only find out about the text long after it was received. I made efforts to apologize to those sources for not getting back to them right away, while also explaining to them that I was doing a detox from my phone.

On the bright side, avoiding Gmail and Messages in the evening was refreshing, and it allowed me to leave work at work and enjoy my life outside of the job.

Ultimately, the experiment was a success and the habits I began to form have continued.

The day after the experiment was done, I turned notifications on and immediately regretted it, so I only left notifications on for Messages and Uber.

I have also avoided Facebook since the ending of the experiment, which I hope continues.


References

Lewis, P. (2017) ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia | Technology | The Guardian. Retrieved September 03, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/05/smartphone-addiction-silicon-valley-dystopia

Twenge, J. (2019) Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? – The Atlantic. Retrieved September 12, 2019, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/

Jayson, S. 2019) Despite social media, Generation Z, Millennials report feeling lonely. Retrieved September 14, 2019, from https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/despite-social-media-generation-z-millennials-report-feeling-lonely-n980926

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