BY ELLAH FOSTER
When CHS junior Natalia Miller found out through her settings that she had spent 38 hours on her phone in the past 10 days, she expressed nothing but shock for that excessive screen time. However, she’s not alone in her time-consuming technology use.
American teenagers spend an average of nine hours online every day, roughly three hours more than adults daily, according to a study released by Common Sense Media. As the first generation to grow up with technology at their fingertips, the mesmerizing pull of the screen might possibly be too difficult to ignore.
This supposed “addiction” began with the creation of the first iPhone in 2007, following the craze of flip phones from the decade prior. Within the span of a few short years, the global use of tablets, cell phones and iPods exploded. By 2014-2015, Pew Research Center reported that 95 percent of teens had access to a smartphone.
Along with personal devices, students in Carmel Unified School District receive Chromebook laptops in sixth grade for academic reasons, although many game and entertainment websites are not blocked.
In an average day at Carmel High, students use their computers in almost every class. That alone adds up to five or six hours of screen time solely for educational purposes. Lunch, passing periods and time after school are free for students to spend on their cell phones, mostly unrestricted by other activities. The nightly amount of time spent on homework can take anywhere from an hour to four times that, meaning even more hours can be spent online.
Time spent on homework, videos, messaging and everything else the internet encompasses quickly adds up in a day. And what about social media? Platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are large components of the problem, with software designed to keep users online for as long and as frequently as possible. The “infinite scroll” algorithm, used on almost all social media apps, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, was created by technology engineer Aza Raskin. The algorithm loads content continuously, causing the user to scroll further down the page rather than select posts manually or visit various pages.
Raskin explains that the infinite scroll allows the reader to continue through the app without giving their brain sufficient time to catch up with their impulses, according to an interview with BBC. The technology engineer also remarks that he feels guilty for creating the algorithm, since his intention was not to addict the users. He gives reasoning to those furthering these addictive algorithms, saying that many designers get caught up in creating these features for the companies that employ them.
“In order to get the next round of funding, in order to get your stock price up, the amount of time that people spend on your app has to go up,” Raskin says.
This feeling of remorse is paralleled with former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, who left the company in 2015 to further pursue spreading the awareness of online addiction, according to Wired.
After leaving Google, Harris cofounded Time Well Spent, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reversing the effects of the social media and smartphone addiction caused by big technology companies. On their official website, the organization points out that social media apps are not neutral in their design, with features such as Snapchat “streaks” where the app counts the consecutive days in contact with another user or YouTube auto-playing the next video within seconds of finishing the first.
With the latest iOS 12.0.1 update to Apple products, a feature was added to monitor time spent on different applications. Users can set how much time they want to spend on each app in a day and have the app close when they’ve exceeded that limit. When this happens, the app’s logo appears darker, and the user must press the “ignore limit” option when they enter the application.
With social media’s manipulative techniques and features, it is likely for students to develop some sort of addiction. In contrast, students without social media, such as Carmel High sophomore Carissa Mendoza, often don’t find their technology to be as distracting.
“I got my phone for my sixteenth birthday because my parents didn’t want me to get addicted and didn’t think I needed it when I was younger,” Mendoza tells.
To combat poor online habits, Tularcitos Elementary School Principal Ryan Peterson says that he tries to stress the importance of parents monitoring children’s time spent online from a young age. At school, Tularcitos students start using technology as young as kindergarten in their regular classes for roughly 30 minutes every day and occasional free time for computer games.
“In third grade, students get their own Chromebooks,” Peterson explains. “That is the grade where students get into writing and keyboarding more.”
Twice a year, Tularcitos holds a “no-screens” week, where Peterson sends out informational emails regarding the effects of long-term internet use on the young brain to the kindergarten through fifth-grade parents, as well challenges students to spend a week without their technology. This event doesn’t restrict the time students spend in class on their online lesson, which increases once students reach third grade.
“I think a gradual release of responsibility to students to use social media is needed,” Peterson adds. “I worry when social media becomes something close to an addiction.”
Despite being the ones to design and produce the world’s technology, many engineers such as Bill Gates, Tim Cook and Steve Jobs have raised their children in “tech-free” environments, paralleling points made by Peterson. Gates didn’t allow his children to get cell phones until the age of 14, four years later than the national average, according to Business Insider. Similarly, Jobs kept his iPad out of his daughter’s hands.
Many parents in the Silicon Valley have opted for their children to be enrolled in Waldorf Schools, considerably lower tech than most other schools, either public and private. In these schools, students learn with pencils and chalkboards about social skills and creativity.
With various strategies and apps to combat technology addiction, it is ultimately up to the users themselves or their parents to deal with the consequences that come along with every new gadget and tablet.