The Digital Age is Ruining My Life

Am I the only one?


I was watching an interview with Bo Burnham the other day about teenage obsession with technology and found myself deeply resonating. 

“What a strange choice to have to make at the end of the night, between all the information in the history of the world and the back of your eyelids. Infinity or oblivion. That’s insane,” said Burnham, depicting the teenage experience of laying down at night and being faced with a decision between media consumption and sleep.

“Typical American teenagers spend about half of their waking hours on their smartphones,” noted New York Times author David Leonhardt, in an article concerning teen mental health and phone usage. For context, my waking hours—similar to most of my peers—amount to around 17 every day. I’m no math wiz, but that’s nearly nine hours of my day, unintentionally down the drain. You can see how this time can add up rapidly as days, weeks, months are wasted staring at the technology in my hand.

The realization that I am a social media junkie is intensely suffocating. I feel so trapped. We, as a generation, have been given access to massive amounts of content in a way that gives us no choice but to absorb it. Heavily photoshopped Instagram posts that generate infinitely, one after another. Snapchat streaks to 100 people you don’t really know. Fifteen-second TikTok videos, each one more random than the last and perfectly tailored for the short attention spans we adolescents have developed. Watch, like, scroll and repeat. All in the span of a few seconds. “Doomscrolling,” as some rando on the internet coined it.

It’s addictive and it’s consuming and it’s enthralling, for a while. But the infinity that is social media only offers short-term stimulation. Putting your phone down after spending two hours on TikTok is possibly the emptiest feeling in the world because when you finally look up from the screen, you come to terms with the fact that this is your reality. You start to count up the time wasted scrolling—and it’s nauseating. I look at myself in the mirror and I feel sick. 

And I can’t help but hate myself for being like this. For falling into a media trap, perfectly tailored for me. It’s easy to point fingers and call out others for having a problem, but grasping that I’m also controlled by my phone is incredibly frustrating. I’d like to think I’m smarter than that, more engaged in life, but teenagers today were born into a world where we cannot exist without our technology. Not in normal society, at least. 

My generation has transformed social interaction into an online affair. We’ve been placed into an environment where if you don’t have a phone, or you don’t have Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok or whatever other app is trending at the time… then you’re behind. You’re disconnected from your peers and friends without it. You feel isolated, left out, ignored. We have grown into this insanely toxic cycle that nobody knows how to escape from. 

I pick up my younger brother from school and he has his airpods in while he talks to me. I watch as family vacations are wasted away on cell phones. We attend concerts and plays and watch the whole thing through our cameras. I serve customers at work and their childrens’ eyes are glued to an iPad. The phrases “my phone eats first” and “pictures or it didn’t happen” are treated as gospel. I fall asleep at night with my phone playing the same TikTok on repeat and I wake up in the morning with my phone on my chest.

And I’d love to offer a light at the end of the tunnel, an alternative to help escape the internet, but I’m just as trapped as those seeking advice. I try to unplug, I really do. I turn off my phone early to get more sleep, but wake up in a cold sweat to missed messages and alerts. I attempt to leave my phone in my bag during class, but have found that I don’t focus as well without music playing in my ears. I put my phone face-down on the other side of the kitchen to get homework done, and spend the entire time itching to pick it up again. Spending time with my friends encourages me to disconnect from technology, but I have the constant urge to document everything with photos and videos. Even though I try to distance myself, I still find myself getting sucked in at every available opportunity.

“If my life isn’t viewed, I’m not real. If I’m not seen, I don’t exist,” Burnham said.

So, when you find yourself alone at night, lying in your bed… what do you choose? Infinity? Or oblivion?