- Mary Rogelstad
- June 24, 2022
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It’s hard to believe that smartphones and social media only took off in the early 2000s. In less than twenty years, society has been transformed by their presence. That has meant young adults and today’s youth are the first generation to grow up with a proliferation of today’s current technology.
That has led to a growing realization that there is a greater need to find ways to disconnect. The president and CEO of the American Camp Association Tom Rosenberg says demand for camps for children has been strong this summer because of the desire for disconnection.
“Parents are desperate for their kids to be out in nature with their peers and away from tech devices after two years of social distancing,” Rosenberg told CNN.
Traveling through nature is one of the best ways to disconnect. And it’s easier in destinations where wifi is iffy, making it possible to resist the temptation to check a phone. Still a little motivation to unplug may be needed, so here are some known benefits of less screen time.
1. Lessens Loneliness & Promotes Better Social Skills
It’s ironic that we need to disconnect to increase connection. However, online chatter certainly does not replace in-person interactions. Studies have found that Generation Z is the loneliest generation, while older adults who have more in-person connections are the least likely to be lonely.
Putting down the phone ensures we don’t miss important parts of social interactions, such as body language and facial expressions. Since 55% of communication is nonverbal this is a key to connection.
It’s also a key to developing better social skills. Being able to have real life conversations is essential for everything from college and job interviews to efforts to make new friends.
2. Fosters Empathy
Research is mixed on how technology affects empathy. Dr. Sara Konrath from Indiana University says there are cases when social media has helped with empathy. This includes cases when people raise funds online for people in need or when posters promote animal adoptions through social media pleas.
On the flip side, Dr. Konrath has noted a steep decline in empathy overall, particularly among young people. At the same time there has been a large increase in narcissism. Her research found compassionate people spend less time on social media than people who are more self-centered and narcissistic.
It’s known that technology makes it easier to dehumanize others and anonymously post whatever comes to mind. The rise in these keyboard warriors is hard on everyone. To encourage empathy, it’s important to take time to get off the phone to meet people from all different walks of life. That helps develop the important ability to relate to others.
3. Improves Focus
Too often a phone can be used to keep us from doing work that needs to be done. A number of studies have shown how we’re going in the wrong direction when it comes to focus, suggesting procrastination has as much as quadrupled in recent times. Despite what people think, multi-tasking is pretty much a fallacy. People can switch tasks but you really can’t read text messages and school work at the same time.
4. Encourages Better Sleep & Overall Better Health
Cellphones have made it harder for teens to get enough sleep since they’re often up late texting or on social media. In addition a two year study by researchers from John Hopkins University found social media usage was negatively associated with well-being.
People who increasingly liked content, clicked links and gave status updates saw a decrease in their self-reported mental health. This suggests an increase in cellphone use is associated with declining mental health. Therefore, better health is linked to a more balanced use of technology.
5. Enables a More Rewarding Travel Experience
Disconnecting from technology gives students a better travel experience, as well. If you need proof of that, here are statements from just a few students who enjoyed unplugging while traveling.
“Through my Rustic Pathways trip I was able to disconnect from my devices and technology for two weeks and it felt amazing. I made so many new friends.”
-Piper Brooks, Marine Life and Coastal Restoration, Dominican Republic 2017
“On each trip, there is often limited or no access to Wi-Fi, an entirely new group of people to get to know, and a brand-new environment to get accustomed to. From my own personal experience, when the usual crutch of a phone, Internet, or the safety of familiar surroundings is taken away, the real magic starts to happen -the real growth, and also, the real fun.”
”That night under the stars, not a single cell phone, computer, or device in sight. I remember looking up at the stars and being amazed, I could see every single star in the sky, a perk of being several hours from any major city.”
-Emily Mae, Souqs and Service, Morocco 2018
“Here I found myself paired with a Fijian family who welcomed me with open arms into their home for the next few days. Until this weekend, I underestimated the potential of human connection even when presented with a major language barrier. We sat on the floor of their living room and got to know each other better through our own form of language. My host mom also taught me how she makes her own tea and showed me how she prepares some of her special dishes. While making our way back to our base house, which felt more like home after just a few days, my friends and I were filled with gratitude… There is something so special about disconnecting from your own life and fully immersing yourself into someone else’s.”
These stories may prompt questions about Rustic Pathways’ cellphone policies. During programs, students are asked to limit cellphone usage as much as possible. This is particularly important during group discussions and activities and service projects. To read more about Rustic’s stance on cellphones, please read our open letters to parents and students.