Now that smartphones are everywhere, their use is being termed an addiction, especially among the younger set. An instructor at a New York university decided to let students see just how much they depend on their electronic personal communications devices by volunteering to give them up for one whole week.
Professor Donna Freitas with Adelphi University, located in Garden City on Long Island, issued the challenge to members of her “Life Unplugged” class. The educator got about two dozen takers who turned in their phones, not without some apprehension:
“My hands are shaking right now,” one student joshed.
In the same vein, Melonie Klein shared:
“This is going to test how brave I am.”
Another exclaimed excitedly:
“I bought a watch! Look – so, now I can tell the time without my phone!”
According to Pros. Freitas:
“The apps are designed to addict us and so I’m really interested in my students becoming conscious of their usage and also learning to focus.”
“I’m freaking out, I could probably cry right now. Not being able to text my mom if I need her,” confided student Adrianna Cigliano.
Ashley Castillero admitted that using her wireless internet-capable phone was a constant habit:
“I’m nervous because I have it in my hands all the time every second of the day and have everything at my fingertips all the time.”
Freitas came up with the idea to encourage her pupils to engage with people without a high-tech screen in the way:
“I’m interested in them just experiencing life and conversation and relationships without constantly grabbing for their phones.”
The students were allowed to check their email accounts from a desktop computer and all had made communication plans in case of an emergency.
After fasting from smartphone use for seven days, the students got their personal portable computerized phones back. Prof. Freitas asked:
“Who’s excited about getting their phones back today?”
What’s really interesting about this experiment is how the students reacted to one whole week with no smartphones ringing, beeping, and interrupting daily life. Jacob Dannenberg, who wrote himself physical notes and woke up to an old-fashioned alarm clock, reported:
“Everything is perfect right now. I’m having a lot better relationships…it’s a stress-free environment no pressure about social media.”
Adrianna Cigliano said she her experience was positive:
“I think it’s really refreshing and relaxing…I was able to fall asleep a lot easier. Doing homework was 100 percent easier. I got it done faster and I was in the zone.”
The demonstration confirmed Freitas’ suspicions that cell phone usage was both a blessing and a curse among her charges:
“The fact that no one can focus, that my students can’t sleep…They feel bad about themselves because of social media, the list goes on and on.”
Peer pressure, living up to others’ expectations, and getting support and approval on social media causes students a lot of anxiety, it turns out. After the cell phones were turned on aging, backlogged messages began to stream in, prompting remark such as:
“Oh my God this is so bad!” and “I just want to shut it off now!”
Ashley Castillero indicated that the one-week lesson on cell phone addiction had not been lost on her:
“My screen time is definitely going to go down and I’m going start to appreciate my surroundings more because usually I’m looking at my screen all the time.”
The class members who fasted from mobile phone use for a week said the experience taught them to enjoy living more in the present. Their heads were up more often, paying attention to their surroundings. With notifications off and the “do not disturb” setting switched on, life became less stressful and more fun.
Back in 2015, the College of Arts & Sciences at Adelphi University adopted a policy of “Cell Phone Free Zones” in the classrooms with reminder signs posted upon entry. Department chair Paul Thaler said four years ago:
“Let’s face it, cell phone addiction is rampant, and even the most serious student can find herself drawn in by her screen during class. We would much rather have them interacting with each other and their professor.”
When introduced, students met the ban on classroom phone with mixed emotions Communications major Cathy Rudell explained her dilemma:
“It’s for the best. At the same time, it’s hard to follow.”
Art major Alaina Hemlall confirmed that other people’s phones can break her concentration:
“Like, [in] any class, you get this angst when the phone goes off and it’s distracting.”
Timothy Moore, her friend, agreed:
“It takes you out of the entire feeling of the class no matter how involved. It’s just an annoyance.”
Freshman Andrew Viola gave her nod to the new phone-free zone policy:
“I find it refreshing. No distractions, no emails, just the class itself…it makes information really stick with you.”
Prof. Freitas’ “Life Unplugged” class confirmed Viola’s opinion and gave her students valuable insight into the nature of their own physical and psychological dependencies. This is a lesson any one of us could learn – if we could go seven long days and nights disconnected from our mobile phones.