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OPINION: Dear USF students, put your phones away

The very technology designed to connect people is instead contributing to a sense of isolation across college campuses. ORACLE PHOTOS/DELANEY TORRES & ORACLE GRAPHIC/JEISLIAN QUILES-SIERRA

Almost everywhere I look on campus, I have observed a tragic trend: Heads down, conversations to a minimum, earbuds in. Students are connected yet disconnected.

Both students and adults appear to be missing out on life happening around them because they are constantly on their phones. These devices have turned into security blankets that few can live without. 

A 2022 study performed by the National Library of Medicine proved that mobile device usage causes more isolation than connectivity in educational settings – namely, college campuses.

This is a disappointing issue that too often goes ignored, but do you know who else gets ignored? 

Human beings do. Every. Single. Day.

I’m talking about blatant disregard for social etiquette shown by people who are consumed in their own virtual playgrounds rather than paying attention to the person right in front of them.

“The devices and apps that we use are designed to grab your attention whether you want your attention grabbed or not,” said Paul Atchley, a USF psychology professor who specializes in technology addiction and distracted driving, in an interview with The Oracle. “They get you to not pay attention to what’s happening around you and to pay more attention to what’s happening on your phone.”

This reminded me of a new word I learned recently when editing a friend’s psychology paper: “phubbing.”  

Phubbing is a contraction of the words “phone” and “snubbing” and is defined as the act of ignoring someone you are with and giving attention to your cell phone instead.

This habit is becoming more rampant as each generation gains access to technological devices, and not only is this concerning from a health standpoint, but it is just outright rude. 

How do you feel when someone ignores you for their phone when you are speaking to them?

At USF and surrounding areas, I see people on the daily in restaurants, parks and in cars. In my casual observations, they all have one thing in common: A cell phone is glued to their hand and they are seemingly disinterested in the world around them. 

The dining halls – the very places that are supposed to bring students together and encourage socialization – are devoid of conversation. Instead, ambient noise from dishes clattering echoes throughout the room.

Outside at beautiful spots on campus, there is limited chatter. The silence is too overpowering. Few smile or wave. Most are absorbed in their own happenings on their devices, both blind and deaf to the external world. 

From earbuds and headphones to laptops splayed open on tables, there is no shortage of technological preoccupation. 

It seems as though people can’t live without their devices since they are repeatedly staring at a screen instead of interacting with others in a face-to-face environment.

“It’s not what the human brain was designed to do,” Atchley said. “We’re designed to be social, which is why social media can be so effective in grabbing people, but it’s not social in the way that brings us together.”

Feel free to isolate when you are alone in your studious privacy, but when you are with others, make the effort to engage.

Related: USF students, add headphones to your back-to-school list

It’s sickening to see the human race gradually turn into robots. The saddest part is that it is our own doing

Whether we realize it or not, we as humans are alienating ourselves and becoming less social by continuing to give in to the appeals of modern technology.

“While it may seem like you’re connected to something, you’re not connected to the things, people, nature and world that’s around you and that really has some negative implications for health, safety and mental wellness,” Atchley said. “The phones are designed to get you to constantly pay attention to them, and there’s a cost for that.”

Related: Why I prioritize slow mornings and why you should too

Perhaps the grips of addiction are too strong. But perhaps there’s still time left to eradicate the iPad kid-generation patterns once and for all.

We all need to slow down, unplug and return to the authenticity and vibrance of living in the moment with our non-virtual friends.

Do not isolate.