The Tiger Tribune News by the Students of Lee Vining High School

Rosalie Burch: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

By Rosalie Burch
Jan 31, 2018

Image credit: Mateusz Dach

Imagine a classroom full of high schoolers on a Friday afternoon before they are released for the weekend. All their school work is done, and they simply are waiting for the clock to strike the right time so that they can leave. According to Jacqueline Detwiler in a Popular Mechanics article, “The American Tradition in this situation- end of school, little work to do, teacher preoccupied- the students would be passing notes, flirting, gossiping, roughhousing. Needing to be shushed” (Detwiler). Yet the reality is that this is no longer the classroom of America. Today this classroom would look very different. Instead students would be sitting at their desks quietly gazing at their glowing smartphone screens. Perhaps one would be watching Youtube, while another plays Candy Crush, but none of these students are forced to interact with each other out of boredom, because instead each experiences the individual world of his choice on his cell phone screens.

It is easy to look around today and see that not just classrooms but all aspects of our society have been revolutionized by the smartphone. So the question is: should we look at the digital age as a time of opportunity and embrace smartphone use, or should we rip smartphones away from young people to protect them from a device that many claim can bring on depression and addiction. In a recent Atlantic magazine article Jean Twenge portrays smartphone use as the main cause to the destruction of a generation. But the reality is that smartphones aren’t destroying a generation, they are simply changing one, just like every generation changes as time goes on. More importantly it would be impossible to recede back to a time when smartphones didn’t exist because human innovation and technology never go backwards, thus the only solution is to move forward. Before we restrict and condemn young people’s smartphone use completely, the better option is to change the way that we think and act about the part that this technology plays in our lives. For some people, this may mean setting some boundaries for themselves when they use their phones, and for others it may be time to explore new ways that technology can enrich their lives, because the truth is that life is about balance.

One of the greatest complaints against the smartphone generation is that young people no longer do things such as: read books, draw, build things, go outside, or ultimately use any of their free time to be creatively stimulating. Instead it almost appears as if adolescents are zombies glued to their screens. In his recent Ted Talk, Adam Alter showed that all human beings need space and time to express themselves because, “That’s where we do things that make us individuals. That’s where hobbies happen, where we have close relationships, where we really think about our lives, where we get creative, where we zoom back and try to work out whether our lives are meaningful” (Alter). I can understand how parents have developed a growing concern that their children are paying the price for smartphones, with their own individuality and creativity, but I also believe that this fear stems largely from misconception of what kids are actually doing on their phones.

What many people that do not understand the smartphone generation fail to see is that smartphones and the internet can be a place where individuality doesn’t die, but rather flourishes. The internet gives unlimited resources for people to follow any passion they wish, and connect with people with similar interests, creating a new type of freedom of expression that older generations did not possess. Whether this be posting makeup tutorial vlogs on Youtube, creating friendships over Facebook, browsing Pinterest for pasta recipes, blogging about social injustice, creating GIFs for a cd xx One Direction fandom on tumblr, or simply writing a funny Instagram caption, the internet gives all people a path to express themselves in a way that kids in real life might not be able to.

The real problem that the millennial generation is facing is not that smart phones are hindering creativity, but that virtual reality has begun leaking into or even becoming a substitute for our real world interactions. This takes place when people not only use their smartphones during their own personal time, but also during social moments. This is the reason why many young people and teenagers today report often feeling lonelier, than previous generations. In his National Review article, Max Bloom shows how smartphones cannot duplicate the happiness people get from social interaction with each other. He states, Imagine that you had been planning to go out with friends but the plans fell through and you ended up texting with each other, idly sending Facebook messages, or most likely, doing whatever you do to kill time when you’re bored and on your phone. This would probably be somewhat disappointing (Bloom). The question is: if the smartphones makes people feel less socially happy than real life interactions, then why do people often refuse to put their phones down in social settings, such as when they are having a conversation with a family member or a close friend? The answer to this question is that the fear of being left out on the internet for many people has become an addiction.

The cause of this addiction that many people experience stems largely from the fact that smartphones lack stopping cues. In his Ted Talk Adam Alter states, “A stopping cue is basically a signal that it’s time to move on, to do something new, to do something. Think about newspapers; eventually you get to the end, you fold the newspaper away, you put it aside. But the way we consume media today is such that there are no stopping cues. The news feed just rolls on, and everything is bottomless: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, text messaging, the news.“(Alter) This is where a healthy relationship with one’s smartphone that allows for creative growth can suddenly turn addictive, and this is the truly scary aspect of young people’s growing dependence on their phones. People are beginning to forget that the real world should always take precedence over the virtual world.

In a Popular Mechanics article, I found a quote in which a student describes his peers in the modern day classroom. He states, “The earbuds are more common than full-sized headphones… because you can listen to music and still hear the teacher talk- one bud in one bud out” (Detwiler). To me this appears to be a metaphor to describe the scary future of my generation. It is as if the students described are stuck in limbo, between the real world in the classroom and the world on their cell phone screens. But the truth is that they are not really experiencing either of these worlds. It is time that we acknowledge that a problem is developing and in turn create new social norms to match it. I believe that it is up to older generations to teach those who will grow up with smartphones in their hands that there is a time and a place for smartphones, and how truly worthwhile it is to put them down and experience real life.

The solution is not to go backwards and rip smartphones away from future generations, but instead teach them how to use these tools wisely. The reality is that even for heavy smartphone users, there is still room to live a rich and stimulating life, by finding balance and knowing when to put our devices down is the key. As a society there are steps that we can take in order to help future generations find this balance. We need to teach individuals to create their own stopping cues, and create new social norms and etiquette for times when it is simply polite to put our devices down and pay attention the the world. This is not just a problem of one generation, but something that we all need to pay attention to, because smartphones can connect us to a world of opportunity and creativity, but the connections that we build and create in real life are what truly matter.