There’s an app for that!

Pier-Paolo Ergueta, Science and Technology Writer

We’ve all heard from parents or peers that cellphones are damaging. Technology is dangerous. Innovation is… bad? 

Not really. Cell phones themselves aren’t inherently harmful. Originally created as more efficient landlines, cell phones were clunky and only useful for making calls. With the introduction of Apple’s iPhone in 2007 came educational possibilities and the chance of digitizing everything. Phones were and still are revolutionary. Instead of big,heavy dictionaries or encyclopedias, we have it all in our back pocket anytime. Instead of letters or memos, fast communication became more and more accessible. So where did phones go wrong? 

Well, it isn’t exactly the phone that one addresses the issues of, but rather the apps that are regularly downloaded by users. Sure, many of you have probably been nodding along knowing about this twist, but many don’t know the real cost of social media through phone apps can have on our society. Social media and its effect on adolescents in the 2000s has worsened dramatically in recent years, making apps like Instagram and Snapchat a pressing yet overlooked issue.

You’ve most likely heard of the household catchphrase: “there’s an app for that!” This phrase, while possibly meant to be sarcasm, is completely true. Whatever work or purpose you may want to be solved by an app, can be. However, human problems and issues cannot be solved by apps, and this problem has become apparent amongst our generation. When “every need” seems to be covered by these apps, complete reliability seeps into the minds of our generation, or the “iGen” as it is called by many now. 

There’s a reason that Tim Cook, the C.E.O of Apple, would not let his nephew join social networks, Bill Gates banned cell phones until his children were teenagers, and Steve Jobs would not let his young children near iPads. Upper School Chemistry teacher Rose Gnade states, “I’m not giving my kid a smartphone until college, she’ll have one to make calls and such but nothing more.” Good luck! Persuasive technology, or persuasive design, is the phrase that comes to mind. It works by deliberately creating digital environments that users feel to fulfill their basic human drives to be social or obtain goals more efficiently than real-world alternatives. 

The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on-screen activities are more likely to be unhappy. Multiple students here at Friends spend that time and more on their phones. Siba Sharaf ’21 reportedly spends 6 hours a day on her phone. Finn Butler ’21 spends 2 hours on weekdays and around 5 hours on weekends. “I like the quotes that I find on insta, and the memes always make my day, however sometimes when I see people’s life on social media I start comparing myself and my life with theirs which makes me so disappointed and even depressed ” comments Sharaf. Research shows that those who spend more time than average on non screen activities are more likely to be happy.

With these two realities in combination, the endurance of our mental health becomes an issue. Social media is dangerous, as it can put a physical number on your “popularity” and social status in your environment. According to Butler, “I believe social media has changed my life for the worse because sometimes it stresses me out like how many likes I get or how many followers.” Yet even those that reach their estimated “like goal” may feel lonely. According to The Atlantic, “Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements ‘A lot of times I feel lonely,’ ‘I often feel left out of things,’ and ‘I often wish I had more good friends.’” Teens’ feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since. 

However, it’s not just loneliness. Depression and eventually suicide can be caused by the combination of the relentlessness of social media’s “call” to adolescents and the forever increasing anxiety in social spaces. Depression and suicide rates have shot up compared to other generations from past decades, and all of this is connected to our reliance on social media and smartphones. 

Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35% more at risk of suicide or making a suicide plan. Just by “living our lives” as many of us would put it, we increase the risk of taking our own lives. That is when phones are considered to be dangerous and harmful to this generation. Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook said: “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.” She also said that she lives by the mantra that the last child in the class to get a phone wins. “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine,” Chavarria said about screens. 

So the next time you pick up your phone for the umpteenth time today, think about the effect your decisions are having on your mental health.