top of page

Dialing Into Danger: The Next Teenage Pandemic

By Maryam Iqbal

Image by Maryam Iqbal

What enables a type, a text, a talk?” You might ask.

Easy. Within a matter of seconds, three teenagers interviewed on their perspectives regarding cell phones, Sumayah Raza, Katie Chen, and Rafay Irfan, excitedly exclaim, “cell phones!” As primary communication devices, cell phones hold vast power in the impact of language and socialization. After all, with an entire world of technology accessible right at your fingertips, everything seems to fade in the background. Say you have a question regarding coordination complexes, no problem, Google’s got your back! Oh, and that challenging Calculus assignment problem you are worried about, the PhotoMath app can give you the solution with just a click! Yet, researchers and many concerned individuals note that this advanced technology rarely leaves our sides. Even more frighteningly so is the impact of the digital device when it is absent for a brief moment, specifically individuals’ thoughts lingering behind on the Snapchat streaks left to send, notifications to check, and FaceBook Messenger chats to catch up on. Therefore, many research publications and the answers provided by Sumayah, Katie, and Rafay reinforce the idea that it is not what makes up a phone but rather the mere presence of a phone that hinders modern communication skills.

Reliance on cell phones can lead to changes in neural pathways which causes individuals to reduce their cognitive capacity toward their tasks and maintaining their attention. These changes have been studied by researchers as forming what is known as the “brain drain” hypothesis. The “brain drain” hypothesis is founded on how research participants in a study conducted by economics researchers are conflicted when “avoiding the temptation to check their phones” which proves that cell phones themselves can be attributed to a loss in cognition and attention. Similarly, Sumayah Raza, one of the field research interviewees, admits that because she uses her cell phone a lot, ‘the “Do Not Disturb” feature on iPhones that are supposed to silence notifications does not work for her. In consequence, she ponders the stream of messages her friends and families may send while her phone may be turned off or silenced. In turn, this limits her cognitive capacity for focusing at the task she might be working on or completing a conversation that she is in the midst of with a friend. On the flip side, Katie Chen, another interviewee, is a societal oddball of sorts - in fact, rather than spending hours scrolling mindlessly through social media, she is happy to lock her phone for half or three-quarters of each day to complete her work and studies. “By locking my phone for large chunks of the day, I have grown used to seeing my phone and recognizing that my notifications can wait so then I focus well,” she proudly states. In other words, Katie has become accustomed to making the conscious decision to barely use her cell phone which facilitates her strong communication skills and work ethic. 

Like the “brain drain” hypothesis, Gentzkow, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy, has concluded from his research study results “that digital addiction is real…there’s a tendency for people to build up a habit” to their cell phones. This digital addiction translates to teenagers checking their cell phones around 50 times a day, averaging 2.5 hours a day on social media, and using up the majority of their time to utilize phone apps. Building off this conclusion of digital addiction, Gentzkow’s study’s results reveal the shocking nature of habit formation, an economics theory that something consumed in heavy demand today will increase in demand tomorrow, among future generations. Subsequently, cell phone addiction could lead to barriers in socialization where individuals might replace friends with cell phones in the near future. Corresponding with this idea, Rafay, another interviewee, commented that cell phones makes in-person communication increasingly difficult because “being a good listener, paying attention to the conversation, and being attentive to the speaker’s facial expressions” can conflict with a person’s desire to check the new notification appearing on their phone screen. Thus, society becoming hooked to their cell phones is a real possibility that must be recognized in order to develop healthy habits of self-control for screen time and cell phone usage.

Sadly, many individuals may recall times when they enthusiastically recounted a tale to a friend only to feel disappointed in catching their friend glancing at their phone screen repeatedly. This is an incident that is becoming increasingly common nowadays. Often, individuals consider substances such as food, medicine, and beverages to be items that they can form an addiction to. Nevertheless, they neglect monitoring their screen time on their devices. So, the next epidemic of substance addiction is (surprise, surprise) cell phone addiction among young adults constituting current and future generations. Thankfully, the cure of this cancerous, pathogenic cell phone virus has already been discovered! Making the effort to get up (yes, away from your phone), walk outside, breathe in the crisp Spring air, and start a conversation with the person next to you can help cure your cell phoneitius. Give it a try, and you won’t be disappointed!

2 views0 comments


bottom of page