Object of Toxicity: Coronavirus and the Cell Phone

By Isabella LiPuma

Has quarantine left you (more obsessed) with your phone (than usual)?

Jakob, 32, confessed to a whopping 18 hours of Screen Time per 24 hour period that left him in a cycle of blue light-induced insomnia. Martina, 22, felt the need for a one-week phone hiatus because she had felt it to be all-consuming. I, myself, was disgusted to realize that I had had 255 “pickups” in my 16 waking hours, meaning that I had been clicking onto my iPhone once every four minutes.

Smartphone Addiction and Depression

It’s no surprise that there is a positive correlation between smartphone addiction and depression, which has undoubtedly been exacerbated by the confines of quarantine. We satiated our social yearnings by attending FaceTime birthday parties and our boredom by spending hours watching videos on TikTok. We waited by our smartphones for the dopamine hits that accompanied Instagram and Facebook notifications. But as quarantine wore on, we became less and less gratified by the stream of *~pings*~ that emanated from our iPhones and Androids. 100 likes on an Instagram photo didn’t seem like enough, 36 unread texts from friends felt like too few. 

Because misery loves company, I polled my followers on Instagram asking whether they felt that quarantine had improved or worsened their relationships with their phones. Of one hundred responses (although even this I deemed too few; I had 300 views but only 100 responses?), 80% said that yes, their unhealthy phone habits had been intensified. When asked if they had made any effort to improve their phone hygiene, 65% said yes and 35% said no. I received a plethora of comments that echoed exactly how I’d been feeling—codependent and overly reliant upon a technology that’s makers themselves let their children use only sparingly

When questioned regarding how exactly their smartphone dependence had worsened during quarantine, friends admitted that their smartphones “had become the sole medium of connection to friends and family.” The word “addicted” was used liberally. “I got obsessed with Tik Tok and spent way more time texting and Facetiming than usual,” said Eleni, 22.

Better Smartphone Habits

When I asked the 65% who had been taking action to remedy their smartphone relationships, many said that they implemented Screen Time and other app restrictive mechanisms. Others reported that they’d taken to sleeping in a different room than their phone. Several deleted Instagram and Tik Tok but “always ended up redownloading.” A select few told me that they’d taken breaks from their smartphones by powering it off completely.

By contrast, several friends explained that quarantine had actually liberated their compulsive smartphone habits. “I’m spending more time doing tangible things in my physical environment,” explained Carinthia, 26, “Cleaning, reading books, doing crafts, and enjoying the outdoors.” Others explained that their wfh schedules had allowed them to spend less time on their phones and more time in nature. Two other friends told me that they’d cut down on their social media usage because the political divisiveness depressed them. “All of the censoring and shaming that accompanied the pandemic became too much,” said Trevor, 28.

So what’s the best way to ameliorate the unhealthy iPhone habits you’ve developed over quarantine? My advice is to go cold turkey. Turn the damn thing off, or as Master Boddington put it more poetically, “Well go on, toss your phone into the sea and pen a note.”

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