THE DANGERS OF EXCESSIVE SCREEN TIME

Hi everyone! On the eve of my AP Psychology exam, I really feel the urge to share something with you guys (yes, I know, timing has never been my strong suit). I feel that the message I will share holds great implications to ALL of us, especially in an age when smartphones and electronic devices play such a huge role in our everyday lives.

I want to caution you guys on the dangers of too much screen time.

Now, we’ve heard it all- too much screen time endangers eyesight; causes you to miss out on the beauties of nature and human-to-human interaction; wastes valuable time; etc.

While I couldn’t agree more with all of the above points, I feel that simply listing out the potential dangers of excessive screen time is not nearly as effective as giving a concrete example of how such an action can hurt quality of life. Allow me to illustrate with a personal story.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been spending WAY too much time on my phone. What brought this on, I cannot say for certain. Perhaps it is the senioritis bug that’s finally bitten me, causing me to loosen my grip on all aspects of life, including my control over screen time (*A tangent- for your entertainment, if you haven’t read my 12/18/15 post, “A Rant on Senioritis”, do check it out. You will see how much my attitude towards senior year has  changed in the past 4.5 months). What I WILL say is, by succumbing to the temptation of the phone, I gave up my self control, and with that, my freedom. A phone is such an interesting little thing, isn’t it? What was originally a convenient means of communicating with others has evolved into what is now a life-line of sorts. Somehow, it seems that many of us- myself included- cannot get through a single day without our precious device. Somehow, man has become victim to machine.

An analogy: drinking in moderation can be a good thing- why not enjoy yourself a little more at Aunt Jane’s annual Thanksgiving dinner if you can? The problems only begin when you lose the self-control over the drink. In AP Psych terms, your “superego” takes over (like I said, my AP Psychology exam is tomorrow, I couldn’t help it!). Worst case scenario is when the habit spirals into alcohol addiction. Scary, sad, and pretty damn difficult to kick. But the same can be said of smartphones and other electronic devices. Used with discretion, a phone is empowering. Abuse that power, and you become a victim of, what is rightly called, screen addiction. The frightening part is, nowadays, smartphones are incredibly accessible to people of all ages- young children, teens, adults, and elderly alike.

Scared is how I felt when I realized how much I depended on the phone to live my life. It is almost compulsive now for me to reach for my phone the first second of free time I get. If my phone is not in sight, I feel uneasy. And I’m sure we can all relate to the feeling of pure terror when we “lose” our phones, only to breathe a HUMONGOUS sigh of relief and shower the little thing with kisses when it magically reappears. It is difficult now for me to go long periods of studying without checking my phone.  When I am at school, I see so many students glaring at their phones, mindlessly scrolling through social media and games, experiencing what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls the “flow” state of mind- complete absorption in a task. This is why all screens, be it phone, tablet, computer, or television, are so addicting- we experience flow, and are thus able to find a momentary “escape” from reality. I used to look at these kids behind their phones and feel proud that I was part of the strong-willed minority. Now, I cannot say the same. I have succumbed. Even when having conversations with friends and family, the little screen seems to beckon for my attention. Phones hinder people from having true, meaningful, sympathetic conversations. But the phone is completely innocent. It is the people holding the phone who is to blame.

So how has my phone- or, more accurately, my lack of self-control over using the phone- impacted my life? I could list a whole host of ways excessive screen time has negatively affected my life. In fact, I have already named a couple- inability to hold meaningful conversations with people I care about; compulsive checking of the screen, making it difficult to focus on a single task.

The best way I can describe my phone’s impact on me, however, is through a single word: FOGGINESS. By allowing my phone to hold power over me, I have not only renounced self-control and freedom, I’ve lost my CLARITY. What exactly do I mean by clarity?

To me, clarity is not only the physical state of being awake, sharp, focused, and alert. It is also the mental state of complete awareness of the present moment, not letting the mind wander to the past or future. Simply being CONTENT with the now. For me, I equate clarity with those rare glimpses of the “bigger picture”, so to speak. Laying down on the beach, gazing at the vast ocean before me, and simply feeling at ease- completely happy with my life. Or sitting at my desk, doing calculus homework, and being stuck on an incredibly annoying integration problem, yet feeling complete sense of calm and gratitude for the opportunity to do calculus homework. I probably sound like a crazy person right now, using “calculus” and “gratitude” in the same sentence. Perhaps a better way to illustrate this idea of clarity is to relate it to mindfulness. “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

By spending a large chunk of my waking hours behind a screen, I’ve deprived myself of fully experiencing the beauty of the present. I go on my phone, spend countless minutes scrolling and scrolling mindlessly through facebook feeds, instagram profiles, youtube videos, you name it. Twenty minutes later, I gather the discipline to finally look up from the screen, and realize the sheer amount of time I had wasted. Time that could have been spent either studying for AP’s, reading a good book, dancing, taking a walk, helping with chores, learning to cook, playing piano, studying for the MCAT, meditating, writing a blog post- the bucket list goes on. I feel physically tired- gazing at a screen for a prolonged period can cause grogginess; mentally drained from all the useless sensory stimuli; COMPLETELY unhappy and angry at myself for succumbing to the temptation of good ol’ Steve’s brainchild. I get back to the task at hand (usually schoolwork) but my mind is somewhere else, still berating myself for wasting twenty valuable minutes doing absolutely nothing productive. I am not content with the present. Heck, I am not even in the present because I’m worrying about future consequences of past actions. I feel a mixture of guilt over my lack of productivity, anger over my inability to resist the temptation of the phone, and anxiety over the amount of power my phone exerts over me. In short, by allowing my phone to take control of me, I have lost my peace.

Well, I am determined to gain back my peace, control, and freedom. I have decided to enlist the help of an outsider- namely, my mother. I know I’m going down a slippery slope, and I won’t even BEGIN to imagine what would happen if I let something like this go on. Good thing for me is that my phone addiction (yes, it hurts to say that, but it’s the truth) was only in the beginning stages of its life. I refuse to let it go any further. I need my clarity back.So, on this night, I’ve given my phone to my mom, who will hide it from me for who knows how long. I simply called her into my room, looked her in the eye, and handed my phone over. She took it from me without saying a word; her eyes indicated she knew it all. And hopefully, in departing with my phone for an indefinite period, I will regain my peace. Actually, in writing this post, I have gained more clarity of my situation (hence, the therapeutic nature of writing).

So let my story be a warning to all on the very real dangers of excessive screen time. I’ve experienced both a life with and without my phone (I didn’t get my iPhone until Christmas of sophomore year in high school). When in control, a phone is incredibly useful and makes life so much easier. But, as you have seen, it is very easy for one to lose that control, as I have. Coming from someone who considers herself disciplined beyond her years, this is saying a lot. Please please please take my story as a cautionary tale- limit your screen time, for life can be SO much richer when you simply choose to glance up.

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