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When Jake Heileman moved from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands to the middle of Ohio for college, he expected technology to play a large role in his life. With his cell phone, Google chats, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter to choose from, he had few obstacles from keeping him in touch with his family.
But with his phone always getting in the way of face-to-face conversations, Heileman, a sophomore at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, says the real trick was getting in touch with his new community.
Heileman’s not alone in his dependence on technology. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, about one in four of 18- to 29-year-olds access the Internet via their cell phones —and it’s more than likely that they are checking a Facebook or Twitter account, considering that 80% of the people in that same demographic use some form of social media.
Although all of this might seem like a great way to keep connected and aware of the news, some evidence shows that the millennial generation’s dependence on technology may be doing more harm than good. According to an article published in Biologist, the journal of the Institute of Biology, one doctor suggests that excessive use of social media may disrupt the immune system, hormone levels, artery function, and mental performance.
When you take time for the “unplugged” you, you have a chance to think about your direction in life, and reflect on the things that are important to you. You can make strong connections with others by spending time with them in-person. You can get in touch with nature and even take time to learn new things. The trick is making a break with technology.
Tech Benefits Can Be Addicting
The trick is finding balance for many millennials, or “digital natives” in the words of Cosette Rae, clinical director of the reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program, based in Fall City, Washington. She says that technology is beneficial and can be rewarding, but it can also become addictive—particularly for people of this generation who have grown up around the Internet and cell phones.
“What I notice primarily is people allow their technology to control them rather than them controlling their technology,” Rae says.
Rae explains that actual technology addiction could cause anxiety, stress, and depression. Beyond physical health problems, electronics often get in the way of other critical skills, such as the ability to interpret nonverbal cues and respond to real-time issues.
Making Time for Real Connections
Tyler McCann, a junior at the University of Florida in Gainesville, says that technology has also driven a wedge between him and some friends.
“Several friendships suffer because these friends don’t understand that it’s annoying to be with them while they are obsessing over whatever is going on on their phone,” McCann says.
Nonetheless, McCann, who describes himself as a former video game enthusiast and moderate recluse, says that technology and life cannot be separated.
“Shunning technology as some do doesn’t make sense to me,” McCann says. “My ideal balance of life and technology then is achieved when I become aware of my choices, how these choices influence others, and that I am using technologies to benefit my life and hopefully to do the same for others.”
Fortunately, college environments are ripe with opportunities for getting out and engaging with people in face-to-face settings, and the benefits of doing so are widespread.
Tips for Increasing Face Time—and Not the iPhone Kind
- Seek out clubs at your school. If you don’t know where to start looking, see if your college has an online listing of campus groups. Or, better yet, walk over to the student union and talk to someone in person. Student representatives and college advisors are usually more than eager to help you find a new activity.
- Coordinate activities with friends. College is busy for just about everyone, yet everyone finds time to eat, work out, or make coffee runs. Next time you’re craving a latte, see if one of your friends wants to come along.
- Leave your phone behind every now and then. By intentionally distancing yourself from technology, you will be more prone to engage in conversations.
A Little Help From Your Friends
Rae says that if it seems difficult to separate from technology, it may help to think about the role that it would ideally play in your life and start setting some boundaries. She also suggests checking in with your circle of influence and enlisting the support of your friends. For example, Rae recommends agreeing with your friends to eat a full dinner without anyone checking his or her phone.
Try giving up Facebook for a month or so—you can get your friends involved and all deactivate your accounts for a while.
If you are still having trouble making this transition, Rae advises seeing if there are any local chapters of Internet and Tech Addiction Anonymous (ITAA). Similar to other addiction recovery programs, this is a 12-step fellowship that is designed to help reduce excessive use of technology. If a chapter does not currently exist in your community, it can be started for free, and Rae says it would be beneficial for college campuses. To find out more about ITAA, CLICK HERE.
Rae also encourages students who are struggling to reach out to Internet addiction counselors, such as herself. She says that if she doesn’t think reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery is an appropriate fit, she gladly directs people to other resources.
Ultimately, Jake Heileman figured out how to find balance with technology. He says he enjoys putting his phone away while he is reading and reflecting and has also noticed a difference in improving his friendships and performance in classes.
“I definitely think technology is necessary in some cases and useful,” Heileman says. “But I always prefer face-to-face.”
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