Silicon Valley masterminded today's highly connected society. The engineers behind apps like Instagram and Facebook utilize behavioral psychology to enforce social media addiction through the use of bright red "UNREAD" notifications and endless digital scrolls. These psychologists have created habits for us, and our brains are so overwhelmed by these digital distractions, that we do not have the chance to catch up to such impulses. The intentional toxic relationship that we have with our phones confines us to be slaves to technology, rather than driven consumers with the world at our fingertips. Instead of utilizing the endless tools that our phones can provide, so many of us stick to social media and allow it to take over our lives. But how does this habit create a lifestyle for us? And how does this lifestyle affect our relationships in the real world? Mission Mindfulness spoke with 5 teens of different races, genders, sexualities, and identities about their experiences with disconnection in the digital age to understand this phenomenon.
"When I was a sophomore in high school, there was a girl from my school who I would direct message everyday. We shared stories with one another about everything, from how we knew we were in love for the first time to the suffocation we felt in our abusive home situations. We never shared these stories in person, but that was fine because we both appreciated expressing ourselves through written word better. It was more comfortable.
Time progressed and with it, our depression rapidly intensified. We would message each other all the time, yet what we would say is how utterly alone we felt. Sometimes in class we should see each other and share nothing but a glance. Soon enough, we became so isolated in our own worlds that we stopped texting. After that happened, I told myself I needed to stop hiding my anxieties behind a screen, and I began to build real world relationships. This change created huge difference in how loved I felt. I soon learned that a conversation online is not the same as a face to face discussion in which you can read body language and facial expressions. At the end of the day, talking to someone through a phone is really just talking to a phone. I feel like you miss out on genuine connection when you depend on someone through a screen. There is so much more to the human experience when you surround yourself with humans, in real time."
"In the past, when I was with someone who I was not super comfortable around, I would go on my phone to avoid conversation. I did not want to seem awkward. What was I supposed to do? Start asking them random questions about their day? I was absolutely not going to do that. I was an extremely shy person and an attempt to continue a dead conversation was mortifying to me. Thankfully, I always had the comfort of my phone. I would rush to retreat to the safety of my Instagram feed, a place where I could spend forever on without entering any awkward run-ins or conversations at all. Halfway through my senior year of high school, I got really sick of Instagram. I had been using it so much that it started feeling like I was bound to it, like it was a prison instead of a safe haven like before. As a result, I deleted my account. This way I had absolutely no excuse to go on Instagram because my Instagram didn’t exist anymore. I had so much free time on my hands because of this it was unbelievable. I would stop isolating myself my hiding in my bed with my phone and instead went outside or spent time with my family and friends. And again when I was talking to someone who I wasn’t super comfortable with yet, I didn’t have the comfort of my phone so I was forced to ask them random questions about their day and while it was pretty awkward the first few times, I got used to it. I got forced into gaining comfort in social situations because I didn’t have anything to fall back on anymore and I’m grateful for it because in-person interactions are so much more meaningful now."
"Social media distracted me from having to deal with the real world. I would allow myself to procrastinate on school work, isolate myself from my family, and avoid socializing. I think that pressure from social media to look a certain way caused me to become self-centered and overall unhappy. As I matured, I realized how detrimental social media can be to my lifestyle, so I deleted my accounts until I created healthier habits for myself. Now, I can go for a run and read a book without thinking of how many likes I got on my last post. It is important to reflect on the relationship we have with our phones in order to create healthier ones."
How we all wish to be youthful again
To remember what it felt like
Free from the chains
The first decade of my life was filled with
confidence & joy
Then the chains took hold
And I willingly threw away the keys
It was the teasing at school, and the cyber bullying at home
I felt isolated, no longer connected to true friends
Worse off, I felt like an idiot walking the halls alone.
I needed a solution, and fast.
Then I noticed the trend-
How all the other isolated kids protected themselves from being picked on by staring at their phones
They were not doing anything on them-
Many were simply on Settings, but they were seemingly avoiding discomfort and confrontation.
I resented myself for doing it, but it got me through
The rest of middle school
Just have to wait till high school, I told myself
Then I can rewrite my destiny
I was too naive to realize that destiny is out of my control,
And that present is all I truly have a hold on
I was frustrated to feel the pain of my old scars
The paradise I had begged my higher being for was nonexistent. Nothing had changed
I lost hope, and naturally, resorted back to my old
Wrapping myself in the illusion of security
provided by my phone
I was so addicted that I failed to realize the gaping
hole which had developed
My greatest strength eroded and disappeared like dust
I forgot how to confidently communicate with humans
That's impossible, I told myself
But there was no other explanation
I became nervous to speak my thoughts,
Could not make eye contact when talking to someone,
And felt this uncontrollable impulse to look at the
What had I become?
This could not be my life
I would not allow it
I reflected, and by the end of the summer,
Had ditched the mentality
That had contributed to this version of me
The result was simpler than the process
Forcing myself to place fear aside
And to muster the courage to confront those
Was no easy feat
Had it not been for the firm anchor I found in my mother,
There was a chance I would never have embarked on this journey
But I did
I broke free from the chains
My positive outlook on life reemerged
My greatest strength was mine to call once again
My addiction had been defeated
As had my insecurities
There are still remnants of the past left in my system
Occasionally, I fall into a shallow pool of bad habits
But I have managed to stay on higher ground
And I remain eternally grateful for the people,
feelings, and experiences
That have filled my life ever since."
Looking back at most of my teenage life, I admit that the multi- faceted network of communication of social media is like a double edged sword. On one end, social media is an amazing way to share ideas, establish relationships, and maintain them. However, on the other end, social media drags users down a hole of self indulgence and obsession with social media profiles. I feel like after using social media, I began to care more about my online image than the version of myself I would show my family and friends. Often times, I would catch myself waiting on a text or thinking about how to make my friends laugh on a private story, while forgetting to nurture the relationships that really matter to me in real life.
In my past relationship, my partner and I agreed to use our phones only for navigation and calls. We unplugged from our devices and spent quality face to face with one another for the rest of the time. The urge to use social media is strong, but with awareness and self control, it is possible to resist the temptation. I truly believe we can use our phones to our advantage if we want to.