Mobile phones and social media are amazing communication tools, but, with all their power to connect, they often leave us feeling isolated.
From first grade to college, young people are feeling the negative effects of smart tech and social media. While both tools create and connect; however, each also has a distancing side effect, bathing us in anxiety and loneliness we didn’t anticipate in the electric glow of promised increased interpersonal connectivity.
Contrary to marketing campaign promises, research and media reports are beginning to show a different side to the use of smart phones and social media, especially by young people.
Words like addiction, abuse and detox are used to describe smart tech and social media’s influence in our lives. Both resemble any other drug in that they cause car accidents, break up relationships and wreak havoc on our health and well-being.
An October 4 Guardian article cites that 71% of grammar and high school age students claim to enjoy social media fasting and most school age children claim they sleep better when they take social media breaks.
Frank Bruni’s September 2 editorial in The New York Times, The Real Campus Scrouge, further supports this growing trend. It cites a survey of 28,000 college students where 61% claim to have felt “very lonely” in the past 12 months. Parents of a teenagers know that all teens want to do is be with other teens. It is ironic—and quite eye-opening—that college teens surrounded by and living with thousands of other teens would feel “very lonely.”
The experts tie these psycho-social trends right back to smart technology and social media’s doorstep. Not only are students anxious and “very lonely,” but some have created a pseudo-persona—fun-loving versions of themselves while actually being “alone” in their beds or dorm rooms. Some colleges are even redesigning dorms to counter act the college “alone together” trend.
Business Insider’s Chris Weller’s October 23 article highlights a new book “Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber.” “Screen Schooled” points out that the “Fathers of Tech” very well understood its addictive qualities. Gates and Jobs each admitted strictly limiting screen time when their children were young. So too, not ten years ago, I vividly remember my brother-in-law, a retired C-Suite software executive, strictly limiting screen time for his two young sons. The Greeks had it right when they inscribed “Know Thyself” and “Everything in Moderation” on Apollo’s temple at Delphi.
As I write this on my iPhone, I recognize that smart phones and social media have their places in our lives. But let me encourage you to strike the balance that the Greeks espoused—use smart phones and social media in moderation. When you do use them, challenge yourself to break your norms—try using traditional or video calling instead of texting. I think you’ll find that hearing the richness of the spoken word or seeing each other’s reactions will tamp down negative emotions and deepen your relationships. Siri could take a tip or two from the pre-cell phone era jingle from Bell System, “Reach out, reach out and touch someone.”