“Scrolling away”

Matt Harris
 Staff Writer

I’ve always been a little skeptical of all the fuss over my generation. Supposedly, we’re remarkably self-absorbed, endlessly distracted, unwilling to challenge our deeply-held beliefs, unable to make that scary plunge into adulthood, yada yada. I’m not really convinced.

Millennials are easy to pick on – we’re trying to navigate this increasingly complex and bizarre world while straddling ridiculous student debt and trying to cope with the knowledge that the world’s climate is in shambles and we’ll probably have to do something about it by the time we reach middle age. Sorry if we seem a bit… off.

But whenever I see someone around my age nearly walk into traffic while scrolling through Twitter or express ignorance over some basic world issue, I can’t help but wonder if our naysayers may have a point.

And if there is a problem, I am definitely a part of it: since acquiring my first smart phone two years ago, I’ve fulfilled nearly every stereotype the older generation holds about people my age.

I’ve used my phone to make myself look busy when I just wanted to be left alone. I’ve texted in class. I’ve been on my phone when I could have been interacting with the living, breathing people around me who were almost certainly more interesting than whatever was on my screen.

So, to get an idea of how bad I actually am, and what I can maybe do about it, I downloaded an app that keeps track of how much time I spend on my phone. Appropriately enough, the app is called BreakFree.

The app is simple enough. You turn it on, and then just do what you normally do. It keeps track of exactly how much time you spend on your phone each day, how many times you unlock your phone and what apps you use the most.

It also features an animated monk icon that sits at the top of the screen and offers novel  little suggestions – based on your phone usage – that show up underneath the monk. Right now, it’s suggesting that I “Read a good book and go to sleep.”

Throughout the day, the monk has offered me such sagely advice as “Hey you are so beautiful without your mobile!” “You are awesomeness personified,” and “Click this Message to Like me On Facebook.”

On the first full day that I used BreakFree, I apparently logged nearly two hours of phone time. The really bad part? This was a busy day, full of classes and meetings and homework – and yet I still managed to find almost two full hours to be on my cell phone. I unlocked my screen over eighty times. And my most used app? Facebook, far and away.

Ah, Facebook: the least interesting, least useful, most inherently evil of all social networks – and yet at the same time, somehow the most maddeningly addictive.

Before downloading BreakFree, I was aware that I use Facebook to disappear into a mindless digital abyss in which my problems are meaningless, but I didn’t quite realize the full extent of the problem.

Anyone who spends at least an hour per day doing something they absolutely hate should probably think long and hard about their priorities. So I decided to spend two hours of the next day doing something else – anything else – other than looking at my phone.

Really, it’s pathetic to even talk about – the idea that spending two hours away from a glowing screen could be considered a challenge. And it was not hard – but that impulse was there.

Grabbing my phone and scrolling away is just something I do now, without thinking much of it. So as I sat there on my bedroom floor, dead-set on doing something calm and quiet, I started to remember why I’m on my phone so much. In the stillness of my bedroom, on a quiet Friday evening, all the things I didn’t want to think about flooded in.

Assignments, deadlines, expectations. I looked around for something to distract myself with – something easy, something dumb, something fast. And there’s no more concentrated, effective remedy than a cell phone. It takes the endless racing dialogue in your head and puts it in a tangible form that you can control. No wonder over a billion people are on Facebook.

For two hours that evening, I didn’t do much of anything. I sat on my floor and read, listened to music, and wrote down a few thoughts. I enjoyed myself. And I must admit that after it was over, I did walk downstairs and unlock my phone. Awaiting me was a message from the BreakFree monk: “Wow!! That’s the way to do it.”



Categories: Features, Human Interest, Uncategorized

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