When you glance at my iPhone 8 Plus, it looks pretty normal. No apparent cracks or scratches. Just a sleek, slightly bigger than average screen in a Georgetown-themed case protector.
But when you look at it more closely, you’ll see it is slightly warped, curved so that it can’t sit evenly on a flat surface. You’ll notice several cracks and scratches and the back of the phone that are otherwise hidden by the case.
I’m not exactly sure when these distortions in my iPhone occurred. It more than likely happened after shutting a car door on it this past summer. Considering it’s almost two years old, maybe it just became distorted, as Apple products tend to do, over time. Regardless, I noticed similar types of distortion on the human level while teaching at an all-boys school in Boston.
Over the past couple of years, I witnessed my students consumed by their digital devices—watching memes, playing Fortnite, and sending Snap stories to each other in place of reading books, completing homework, and engaging in routine conversation. This is more my own fault for practicing poor classroom management. However, even more than my students, I noticed similar addictive tendencies and finally admitted to them in myself.
My own Screen Time, a metric available on any iPhone after a somewhat recent iOS update, was regularly up to five hours per day. I could not limit my tendency to reach for my phone and check up on Instagram. Or scroll through an articles on Facebook. Or watch sports highlights on YouTube.
Sometimes I used my phone for the purpose of utility, checking in with my calendar, making calls to distant friends and relatives, scheduling fitness classes, and making doctor appointments. The problem was not the utility of my phone, but rather my lack of autonomy in controlling my amount of time and energy I put into my device.
My reason for entering into Georgetown’s CCT (Communication, Culture & Technology) program was to begin to understand how social media and digital platforms operate today both intrapersonally and interpersonally. For my 505 introductory class “getting uncomfortable” assignment, I opted to entirely disconnect from social media, particularly from Instagram and Facebook. With this goal in mind, I deleted these apps from my phone and determined to avoid a cloud button with a downward-facing arrow for an indefinite time moving forward.
In total, I only lasted for two weeks before redownloading Instagram and Facebook (which definitely confirmed my behavioral addiction to these platforms). Those two weeks were deeply uncomfortable and lonely being barely acclimated to Washington D.C. and the Georgetown community. Even more difficult was the absence of automatic and accessible outlets; to retreat to my Instagram or Facebook feeds in times of boredom or uncomfortable social situations.
After two weeks away from social media, I realized I needed the platforms for basic practical uses, such as linking account information to my Facebook profile, or using LinkedIn to connect with CCT alumni. That being said, I eventually revised my original intention to limit my engagement with social media for more than an hour per day. My resolution was not to completely avoid social media, but become more mindful and intention in my use of it. Overall, I think I succeeded in that goal.
In all, I believe technologies, intentionality understood and practiced, can serve as a tool for more good than harm. In pushing further into my studies in CCT, I aim to more deeply understand the ways digital platforms operate beneficially and detrimentally in people’s lives, especially my own.
With newfound knowledge and intentional practice, perhaps my iPhone can be less a distortion of my day-to-day reality and more a tool for mediated connection. Although if not, I’ll just try to get a new one for Christmas.