MY ANGLE: So here’s the problem—you’re just being plain rude

You do it literally everywhere.

You do it when you wake up. You do it when you eat your breakfast. You do it when you’re in the car going to school (hopefully you’re not driving, but perhaps that doesn’t stop you). You do it when class is so boring—you think to yourself, “I’ll just make it quick.”

Heck, you probably do it when you’re sitting on the toilet.

You do it so often and subconsciously that doing it has become a reflex, an addiction.

Ladies and gentlemen, this thing is none other than the new cultural phenomenon: constantly checking your phone.

In this digital age, I’ll acknowledge that it’s hard living without technology simply because the world around you requires it, whether for school, work or personal use. A phone, in particular, is one high-tech device that everyone should own.

But when it comes to choosing a phone, there’s a plethora of choices, and most of us choose a smartphone, a mobile, powerful device that greatly surpasses the function of a phone.

A smartphone allows you to do so many things: you can download and play games; you can get instant directions to a place you’ve never been before; and you can surf the Internet almost wherever you go, whenever you want. The smartphone is a nifty invention that has revolutionized our world.

But, unfortunately, it has probably also forever changed the way people, in particular those my age, interact with each other. Instead of spending time talking to each other, we’re constantly looking down at the screen, enveloped in our own bubbles in a virtual world created by these smartphones.

I was on my way to history class the other day behind two students who were walking while looking down at their phones. A teacher walked by us in the opposite direction and said hello, and I was the only one who replied. The others just continued on without acknowledging the teacher’s presence.

To be clear, I’m not arguing for social etiquette, nor am I expecting everyone to say hello. But that they didn’t even  look up is discouraging.

Interacting with phone addicts is also a frustrating task. There are instances in which I dutifully explain things—like the second fundamental theorem of calculus—to a friend only to find that he isn’t listening at all. He’s too busy browsing through Instagram.

(Cartoon by Jacob Sands)
(Cartoon by Jacob Sands)

“Did you hear what I just said?”

“Wait, sorry, what? Can you say that again?”

Sure—after I snatch that phone out of your hand and throw it against the wall. Would I have your attention then?

One of my friends recently went to dinner with her friends before Winter Ball. Although it was a nice Italian restaurant, the dinner was awkward because out of a party of five, four constantly checked their phones. She said there was next to zero conversation that night; they might as well have been complete strangers who happened to sit at the same table.

Now I’m not saying checking is bad. Maybe you’re interested in news alerts from NBC—great. Maybe you’re checking the time—wonderful (though I’d say wear a watch). Maybe you want to see what’s new on Instagram—fine. I’ll even acknowledge that pretending to phone-check can be a convenient way to avoid attention in awkward situations.

But the problem with my generation is that we’re constantly checking without limits. You don’t need to check during orchestra practice or English class.

Perhaps the problem lies in the lack of attention span caused by the distractions of technology. We’re so used to  fast-paced information that we can’t help but check to be sure we’re not missing out.

Or maybe it’s just the norm. In a recent Octagon poll, 26 percent of SCDS high-school students said they check their phones more than 50 times daily. Maybe that’s not too bad compared to 110 times—an average from a 2013 study done by Locket, an Android app that tracks how many times its users unlock their phones daily.

People are also checking their phones as a way to fidget. Reaching for the phone is progressively becoming natural for my friends. One asked for a teacher’s opinion on a college and proceeded to take out his phone while she was answering. Though my friend claimed he didn’t unlock the screen and was just “touching” and “fiddling around” with it, his act shows how habitual the act of “reaching for the phone” is.

It’s also interesting to see teachers caring less and less about phone usage in class. Students now openly place phones on their desks during class (although some are courteous enough to flip them over). Of course, not all are waiting for a chance to check it, but I often hear buzzes or ringtones going off, telling the whole class that so and so just got a text. And when that happens, the person almost always checks it. Teachers might say something, but most of the time they only shoot the person a dirty look and carry on.

(Graphic by Maxwell Shukuya)
(Graphic by Maxwell Shukuya)

I don’t want teachers to be more strict—I think it’s awesome that our school is so relaxed, and I know our students usually don’t abuse this “privilege.” It’s simply further evidence that people checking their phones is very common.

But I still find it annoying, and I hate walking into the library to find my friends looking down at their phones.

I’m proud to be among the 12 percent of polled students who say they check fewer than 10 times a day. (I don’t participate in Twitter, Instagram or other social media.) Nonetheless, I just don’t see the reason to be on my phone when I can be talking to a real person or doing something productive.

So what can we do about phone-checkers? Take away their phones? That’d be ridiculous. Our school culture is not that. But people do need to realize life isn’t about checking phones, and they should consider its negative consequences.

For starters, the obvious arguments against constantly checking your phone include eye damage and distractions from what you’re supposed to be doing.

But on a more serious note, phones are creating a subtle social barrier.

I’ve been to coffee shops where businessmen barely glanced up when ordering a latte. I’ve seen students on their phones when they should be watching the soccer game, looking at the World Cultures Day performance or paying attention at morning meetings.

Try being without a phone for once. I’ve done it (not exactly hard for me) with my friends (very hard for them) on the Ashland trip. We sat down at a Thai restaurant to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and we placed all our phones in the middle. Whoever attempted to reach for them was to pay for everyone’s dinner. And guess what? That night I had one of the best dinner experiences I’ve had. It was filled with chatter and fun.

Try it. Reduce your excess phone use. The world of social media will survive without your constant presence.

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