The Smartphone Bribe
The potential benefits of taking a break from your smartphone

by Minda Zetlin / © 2019, Mansueto Ventures, LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


How would you feel if you had to give up your smartphone for nine days? This might be a thought experiment for you, but for students of philosophy professor and writer Ron Srigley, it was a very real proposition. In 2014, and again in 2018, Srigley offered extra credit to those who would give him custody of their phones for nine days and write about the experience.

  For [12 students in the 2014 class], “What they wrote was remarkable, and remarkably consistent,” Srigley wrote. At first, all the students felt disoriented and frustrated. But after a few days without smartphones, they began to notice other things too.


They paid more attention to the people around them

  For one thing, they observed, for the first time, how much other people were using their phones, for example in the middle of a face-to-face conversation.

  “This action is very rude and unacceptable, but yet again, I find myself guilty of this sometimes because it is the norm,” one student wrote. Another noted that as she walked by other people, they tended to pull out their phones “right before I could gain eye contact with them.”


They had better face-to-face conversations with family

  Two of the students were accustomed to using their phones to constantly message with their family members throughout the day, and they felt deprived of this contact. But when the students spent in-person time with their parents, the parents were mostly pleased because they suddenly had their children’s undivided attention.


They were more afraid

  Some of the students reported that they were fearful of having no phones, wondering what they would do if they were kidnapped or attacked or had to call an ambulance for some reason.

  Srigley noted, “What’s revealing is that [these] student[s] perceived the world to be a very dangerous place. Cellphones were seen as necessary to combat that danger. The city in which these students lived has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and almost no violent crime of any kind, yet they experienced a pervasive, undefined fear.”



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