Should We Get Offline From Time to Time?

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Editor’s note: In this Future View, students discuss taking themselves offline. Next week we’ll ask, “Pascal once suggested we all have a god-shaped hole—an emptiness that can only be filled by God. In a time of increased secularization, are young Americans missing a part of themselves by turning away from religion?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before Dec. 21. The best responses will be published that night.

I refrain from using my cell phone for 24 hours every week. While I do it as a religious imperative, the experience is freeing—the lifting of a burden.

Without the religious requirement, it would be difficult to turn off my phone for even a few hours. My generation has a strong feeling of missing out when we’re not online. But we lose sight of the benefits we might gain. When we are engaged with our surroundings, looking up from our phones, we see other human beings, and we feel more alive.

Going phoneless makes for more quality time with family, friends and community. I don’t discount the gift of modern technology, but the emotional benefits of unplugging have the ability to transform our lives.

—Elan Koshner, Yeshiva University, finance

How We Connect Now

We’ve all heard the clichés about people who scroll through social media during dinner and the complaints about how smartphones are killing human interaction. But there’s a reason that 80.63% of the world’s people own a smartphone. Smartphones make communication easier, allowing us to reach people with one quick text, call or email. Social media provides a platform to reconnect with friends and family. Dating apps match people based on their interests. Today, human connections are built on smartphones and social media. If we take ourselves offline, we risk being disconnected and isolated.

Smartphones are an addiction but also an evolution—people have become reliant, we shouldn’t forget, on cars, electricity, air conditioning and modern refrigeration. Smartphones and social media are not destroying our generation. They are signs of the times. Our step forward from the Industrial Age into the Digital Age.

—Shawn Tran, University of California, Berkeley, public health

The Middle Road

Rather than attempting to disengage from the internet, let’s pay attention to how we engage with it. Turning off your screens isn’t always possible, especially for younger people. But we can and we must be more deliberate in how we use our screen time.

The internet encompasses a massive spectrum of content. Hours wasted scrolling through TikTok and Instagram have made me realize that I gained nothing from my time on those platforms. Plus, the shallow content has negative effects on young people, particularly young girls. Rather than either ignoring the effects of the internet or shutting it off completely, we should take a middle road: being intentional in, and conscious of, the ways in which we engage with it.

—Benjamin de Chazal, University of Michigan, chemical engineering

Restrict the Internet

Overuse of smartphones and social media can be likened to overuse of alcohol, tobacco, gambling or any other highly addictive stimulant. Investigation into the dangers of social media is still in its early stages, but a growing body of research is revealing the failures of self-control and addictive patterns, especially among adolescents.

The government places age restrictions and warnings on many other stimulants. It is time the same was true for social media. We need a robust education campaign about the health risks of social-media platforms. Governments, private companies and social institutions have an obligation to educate people about the consequences of digital overindulgence.

—Linford Fritz, Arizona State University, political science

Slowing Down

Have you ever noticed a feeling of unease or anxiety after being on your phone for too long, reading endless texts? Cellphones and social media prevent us from appreciating the present moment. They keep us continually available to others and never free for mindfulness.

By constantly using technology, we learn to relate to others in an impersonal way, to compare our lives with those we see in Instagram pictures and to give up on anything that seems to be taking too long. We don’t learn how to connect with others, find inner solitude, and live a patient life. The more time we spend online, the less we have to cherish the people and things we truly value.

Going offline allows us to reconnect with the world, forcing the body and brain to slow down and appreciate the present moment. The world is becoming more and more digitized, which means that it’s now more important than ever to put in a conscious effort to take a break.

—Sosha Stecher, Hamilton College, psychology and Hispanic studies

What We All Want

Smartphones are a valuable tool to enhance efficiency and productivity in our everyday practices, professionally and privately. These devices, especially in combination with social media, are the essence of what we all want: They allow us to express ourselves to others, gain a greater awareness of the world around us, and keep relationships alive across distances.

Still, a healthy balance requires us to monitor when we are overusing our smartphones and social media. We need a deliberate plan to take ourselves off smartphones. The positive benefits from such a simple shift in behavior has the potential to enhance our self-esteem and cognitive functions. Isn’t that what everyone wants?

—Mikhail Iankovski, Pace University, international business management

Reality Check

Smartphones and online platforms have transformed the way we connect with one another. We can share photos of significant life events with friends and family members in seconds. We can connect with those who share our interests and cultivate new relationships with people no matter where they are.

But these online platforms also present a significant threat to our well-being. Social media allows us to distance ourselves from reality. We have a newly enhanced ability to create a romanticized version of ourselves and our daily lives—fooling others, and often ourselves, into thinking we live the perfect life.

It has been proved that overusing smartphones and social media has adverse effects on physical and emotional health. Yet even when we leave school or the office, we are chained to our desks by these devices. The benefits of cutting ourselves off and fasting from social media should be obvious. A deliberate plan to take a break from the constant hyperstimulation of social media can give the brain a rest, allowing it to recalibrate. We all need opportunities to refresh our minds and remember the beauty of everyday living. This recalibration can provide the reality check of which many of us are in dire need.

—Hayden Crawford, Texas Tech University, agricultural and applied economics

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Wonder Land (08/04/21): With social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, we have democratized neurosis. Images: Getty Images/Walt Disney via Everett Collection Composite: Mark Kelly

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