“This is my daughter Julia, she’s madly in love with her phone.”
This is how my parents have introduced me ever since Christmas of 2014, when I first made my acquaintance with the iPhone 5C — and it’s really getting old [Lynn says: I’ve only introduced her like this once, to the editor of this article to convince her we were the right people to write it. Clearly it worked, but I won’t ever introduce her this way again.]
When my mom approached me with the idea for this article, I decided I couldn’t stomach another story berating the Youth of Today for their extensive smartphone usage. Instead, I’m going to use this platform as a pro-phone crusade, offering hope and inspiration to the millions, like myself, who know that there is more to the story. I am by no means addicted to my phone. I don’t have a mobile game of choice, I seldom text or use Instagram, and I pride myself on always having my schoolwork done, using the G Suite in my free time. However, Snapchat is my Achilles heel. According to Screen Time [Lynn says: Screen Time, a new feature of iOS 12 that we tested, measures total screen time, time spent on specific applications, and time spent on categories of applications such as games, social networking, and something called “productivity.” It also counts how many times you pick up your phone during the day and how many notifications (from apps, texts, calls, and reminders) you receive.], I spent 4.3 hours over the past three days on Snapchat, which makes up 62% of the total time I used my phone [Lynn says: That’s seven hours of screen time in three days, which sounded horrifying until I learned that my own baseline was six hours. I was certain, however, that my usage of the phone would be found to be much more cerebral and productive.]
Because of this, when my mom and I decided to experiment by enabling the Downtime feature of iOS 12, where your phone is shut off except for the Phone app from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm for two days, I was extremely apprehensive. I felt sure the withdrawal symptoms would turn me into a shell of a person, begging for a glimpse of someone’s Story. But I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was it far less challenging than I had anticipated, but I turned my phone back on at 8:01 pm Friday night feeling vindicated: My phone obsession is justified!
My first challenge came bright and early Thursday morning, just after I had turned Downtime on. As I walked into chemistry, I was greeted with the phrase familiar to high schoolers everywhere: “Everyone, take out your phones to access the online textbook.” Chagrined, I slunk over to the one girl out of thirty-five that indulges in the archaic practice of lugging the textbook around with her. “Hey, I’m sorry, but could I look at your textbook? I don’t have my phone for the day.” With a look of pity, she acquiesced, and a very uncomfortable period was spent squinting over her shoulder. [Lynn says: My first challenge came on my way to work, when I wanted to text my husband with a burning question about last night’s episode of Better Call Saul, but couldn’t.] The same thing happened twice more that day. [Lynn says: Also on my way to work, I twice couldn’t use Sound Hound to find out the name of a song on the radio. It wasn’t even 9 am and I already had missed out on several pieces of valuable information!]
Similarly, I was supposed to get out of school 30 minutes early on Friday for my first football game as a new cheerleader. Without the cheer team group chat, I was completely unaware of the personnel struggle that was going down that ultimately resulted in us not being able to cheer that day. Had I not stopped a teammate in the hall to clarify what time we were leaving, I would have missed class without an excuse. [Lynn says: Once I got to work, I had to go to two long meetings in a row with no phone to play Words with Friends on. This resulted in my actually having to pay attention to the agenda and was the first of several times that day I honestly considered bailing on this experiment.]
As if the logistical concerns were not enough, this Downtime also had serious social ramifications. I go to a large school, one where it’s possible to not know a single person in any of your classes. Most of my closest friends are people I don’t see at all throughout the day and because of this, we Snap. A lot. Not being able to know what’s going on with your friends throughout the day is, among other things, a lonely feeling. I felt estranged. [Lynn says: I also had some social challenges. At lunch with some coworkers, we were discussing whether there were any good bakeries in the neighborhood. I grabbed my phone to Yelp the answer but then had to resort to my memory–which was not nearly as helpful to my coworkers.]
Personally, my favorite phone application, aside from Snapchat, is its use as a social buffer. Whenever I am waiting for someone who is taking a long time, whenever I have found myself in a group in which I am not comfortable, whenever I am waiting for the bus in a sketchy area and I don’t want to be talked to, I pull out my trusty iPhone. To be without that crutch proved challenging. Often during these two days I pulled out my phone and made swiping motions on a black screen to alleviate tension and pretend that I was otherwise engaged. [Lynn says: I also suffered. Without being able to pick up the phone and ask Siri to remind me to do something, I had to write things down. This was the most common situation in which I wanted my phone – to create reminders. If you think texting while driving is dangerous, try writing on a notepad!]
Between unplanned fire alarms when I couldn’t check on my friends to see if they were okay, and the litany of uncomfortable social interactions that my phone couldn’t ease, I was more anxious than usual. With regards to productivity, the inability to take phone breaks when I felt mentally “full” while doing schoolwork led to the feeling of being cognitively overloaded. [Lynn says: I, too, use the phone to help with cognitive overload, but in the way a 50-year old needs it: to look up information that I can’t access using my own brain anymore, and to remind myself of things I need to do resulting from the constant stream of conversation in my head.] I wound up getting the same amount of work done–and, yes, it did take less time to finish. But it felt like the choice between sprinting a mile in six minutes, or walking it in twenty. When presented with those options, I will always choose to walk.
All things considered, this experiment didn’t show me anything I didn’t already know but I hope it can paint teenagers in a different light for some people. Not all of us are narcissists, constantly posting selfies of our every move throughout the day. While we all use phones for entertainment, some of us also rely our phones to get through the day: to do schoolwork, to be informed, to protect us from social situations that cause stress, and to maintain basic human connection. [Lynn says: I’ll admit I was surprised that the results of this experiment didn’t show my phone use to be less frivolous than my daughter’s. We both felt a palpable sense of relief when we could turn our phones back on, but for very different reasons. I was grateful to have access to all the world’s information again and also be able to swat away some of the nonsense in my stream of consciousness by sending it out to others or writing it down. She was happy to be able to connect with friends she doesn’t see all day. For both of us, the phone alleviates boredom, but I didn’t realize how much of her social anxiety is assuaged with her phone as a resource. I’m using it to send funny screenshots, while she is using it to help navigate the cesspool of adolescent emotions and relationships known as high school.]