Getting Uncomfortable, Getting Reconnected
By Nick Genovese
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. However, when you look at it more closely, you will see it is slightly warped, curved so that it cannot sit evenly on a flat surface. If you look at the back of the phone, you will notice several cracks and scratches that are otherwise hidden by the case. I am not exactly sure when this distortion occurred. It more than likely happened after I shut a car door on it this past summer. Considering it is almost two years old, perhaps it just became distorted, as Apple products tend to do, over time.
I noticed a similar type of distortion at the human level a few months ago in my previous job as a high school teacher at an all-boys school in Boston. Teaching theology to sophomores, I witnessed my students consumed by their phones, 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 than partially my 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 readily available on any iPhone with a quick iOS update, was regularly at five hours per day. I could not limit my tendency to reach for my phone and check up on Instagram. Or scroll through 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 the amount of time and energy I put into my device.
My reason for entering into the CCT program was to begin to understand how social media and digital platforms are operating at both personal and interpersonal levels. For my 505 introductory class “getting uncomfortable” project, I opted to entirely disconnect from social media, particularly from Instagram and Facebook. With this goal in mind, I deleted these applications from my phone and determined to avoid a cloud button with an 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 new acclimated to Washington D.C. and the Georgetown community. Even more difficult during this time was the absence of automatic and accessible outlets; to retreat to my Instagram or Facebook feeds in times of boredom or uncomfortable social situations. However, I somehow felt rejuvenated after this social media break and confident that I didn’t need to delete social media entirely from my life.
After my 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. I revised my original goal throughout the next two months to became 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. Overall, I think I succeeded in that goal.
I believe technology, intentionality used in daily life, can serve as a tool for more personal and social good than harm. In pushing further into my studies in CCT, I’m hoping to further understand the ways a phone can distort my everyday realities. With intentional practice and determined effort, perhaps my iPhone can be less a distortion of reality and more a tool of connection. Otherwise, I’ll probably just ask for a new one for Christmas.