Quiet Desperation

Hey kids, life is nice without that device


I was standing at the crossroads a few years ago. Along came a fellow with a guitar.

Said his name was Robert Johnson and that he had something to sell, but not to me.

I told him, “Me too.”

He gave me a smile and then he played a tune. I found out later it was a song called “Dust My Broom,” which makes no sense grammatically, but it sure sounded good.

After he was through playing, he said, “What are you asking for in exchange?”

I told him I had a strange request.

I said I wanted resistance.

“Resistance to what?”

“Excessive social media usage.”

He said, “Man, what are you talking about?’

I told him I wanted mental health.

He said, “You know what that means, don’t you? You’ll have to give up your phone.”

I told him, “I can do it.”

New research shows that “phones raise student anxiety,” according to an Associated Press article written by Carolyn Thompson.

She cites a National Education Association newsletter that labeled the anxiety a “mental health tsunami.”

She said, “Research now points to smartphone-driven social media as one of the biggest drivers of (student) stress.”

She referred to a South Carolina high school teacher’s classroom experiment that had each student document every smartphone notification they received for one hour.

“One girl got close to 150 Snapchat notifications,” the teacher reported.

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State, said, “What a lot of teens told me is that social media and their phones feel mandatory.”

An editorial in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal stated, “Aberrant and/or excessive social media usage” could contribute to teenage “feelings of isolation, depressive symptoms, and anxiety.”

I have not seen a teenager in public in the past 20 years who wasn’t on the phone, holding a phone, kissing a phone or dancing with a phone.

A school in Maine, Belfast Area High, tried an experiment of its own that failed miserably.

No cellphones for a single day.

Guess what percentage took part? (Answer at the end.)

I got what I wanted at the crossroads. My mental health seems fine. (Maybe not everyone would agree with that.)

All I know is I don’t have a speck of anxiety when I realize I have left home without my phone.

And I don’t have an iota of anxiety when I haven’t checked my messages for 10 minutes.

It might help to be enormously unpopular in the first place.

I do email all over the place, respond to every column comment I receive, and appreciate all of the offers from wealthy potentates and lonely Russian women.

However, I am smartphone free.

If there is a teenager within the sound of this column who does not let a smartphone control your life, I’d like to hear about it. Just don’t call me.

How do you do it, when all of those around you are transfixed and absorbed?

We didn’t even have cordless phones when I was a kid. The ages were darker than that: We didn’t have rap music.

Imagine that: We didn’t have cellphones or salacious, rhyming chants that all sounded alike.

Sometimes I don’t know how I made it without them.

Less than 20 percent of the students and staff at Belfast Area High School took part in the experiment.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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