It's no secret that an overwhelming number of Millennials are addicted to their phones. In fact, I'd venture to guess that you're reading this on your phone right now. Am I right?
I'm not judging you. I mean, I'm typing this on a computer, but my phone is lying right next to it and I check it approximately every 5-7 seconds. Either that, or I leave my phone in another room for 7 hours and my entire family thinks I'm dead.
Regardless, it's clear that these devices have become our primary source of communication. And while it's easy to laugh off our addiction to them, it might be worth it to pause for a moment and think about just why it is that we can't live without our phones, and the impact that might be having on us.
At least, that's how Joni Siani thinks.
Siani, professor at The New England Institute of Art, author, and former radio and television personality, has made it her mission to bring awareness to the dangers of modern technology.
Her book and accompanying documentary Celling Your Soul: No App for Life, which screened this year at the New York City Independent Film Festival, urge us to take a step back and think about the impact that technology has on our mental and emotional health.
The film documents a group of college students who partake in a "digital cleanse" and reflect on how it affected their view on the role of technology in their lives.
I had the chance to sit down with Siani at the festival to discuss her project and mission.
Immediately, it's evident to me that Siani is incredibly passionate, intelligent, and driven.She greets me warmly and has no problem diving right into our conversation, stressing that she wants to learn from me as well, given that I'm part of the demographic she's trying to reach.
Siani's project was primarily born out of some of the issues she observed among her students, which seemed to stem from a reliance on technology.
"Millennials are consuming up to 18 hours of media per day," she says. "It's not a linear thing. It's not 'I'm watching one thing for two hours', it's 'I'm watching a movie, I'm on Facebook, etc."
Siani feels that this constant stimulation and multitasking is taking a serious toll on the younger generations. We simply don't know how to be alone with our thoughts anymore. We always need to be connected in one way or the other, often at the same time, or we feel like we're losing our minds.
This really resonated with me. I mean, I'm physically incapable of going to sleep without Netflix, but I obviously wasn't always that way. What does that mean exactly? What has this exposure to and subsequent reliance on technology done to my brain over the years?
It's a little scary to think about. Of course, then there's the rise of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat - they completely dominate Millennial culture, something that we couldn't possibly avoid even if we wanted to.
"There was a great study showing that a majority of people who put stuff on Facebook are doing it to make people jealous. I mean, we know it. Everyone knows it. Do we say it? No. We're not being honest." Siani says.
She's right. Any social media user it all too familiar with the over-sharers and eye roll-inducing posts that clog our newsfeeds on a daily basis.
And while these people certainly have the freedom to post whatever or whenever they want, the issue goes beyond what we as a reader deem in line with social media etiquette.
There are simply some thoughts that are meant to remain private; not in order to spare your Twitter followers of a mild annoyance, but in to maintain a healthy relationship with ourselves and our own thoughts.
"We cannot thrive without a balance of public and private. The contemplative moments that we need for our sanity are being stolen," says Siani.
Social media users are taking to their apps to seek validation rather than taking that time to process their thoughts internally, which Siani feels is detrimental to our emotional health.
"You're never going to get the shared enthusiasm, but that's what people are looking for. You're never going to care about my kid as much as I want you to, nor should you. And I probably won't be as emotionally invested in your breakup. It's sort of this weird mind game where we're thinking everyone should be and it's like, 'why?'"
The effects of these mind games are already being felt. It's not surprising that Millennials have often been labeled "the anxiety generation", and are notorious for their intimacy issues (hello, hookup culture).
Technology is being used by our generation as an escape. We no longer have to have actual interactions with people, because the internet has given us so many other options. I know I'm definitely not the only one orders from Seamless so that a) I don't have to put on pants and b) I don't have to talk to people.
Seems like a win-win, right?
But, we're not just using technology to avoid a conversation with the deli guy; we're also using it to circumvent personal communication with people in our own lives.
Texting has largely replaced phone calls with our relatives and friends alike, Skype seems like a fine alternative to an in-person meeting, and we rarely see our friends faces on the internet without a Snapchat filter.
New York City is even doing away with phone booths, which seem like ancient relics to most of us, aiming to slowly transform them into wifi stations.
"We don't even have a place to even sit quietly and have a phone call," Siani says. "We're texting more because we don't even have an option for privacy."
When Siani first brought her concerns to the attention of her students, she found that the majority of them agreed with her, but simply didn't have the wherewithal to go about remedying the issue.
It's not lost on Siani that the problem at hand is largely due to the actions of previous generations (you know, the ones that put these devices in the hands of Millennials and then proceeded to criticize them for being 'tech-obsessed'?).
"As adults, as grown ups, we should be ashamed of ourselves for this finger-wagging condemnation of a younger generation," she says.
She's made it her mission to step up on behalf of Millennials, and turn the situation around before it has a chance to do any more damage.
Siani tells her students, "Listen, I'm going to be dead. This is your future. I'm trying to change it for you... It's not about me at all.
This is going to be your life. What do you want the human experience to be for you, for your kids?"
Siani's goal is no easy feat.
"This is a ridiculously hard fight. It doesn't make me very popular. No one wants to hear that the thing that brings you pleasure is not good for you," she says.
But she's hoping that over time, her mission will become widely accepted, starting in schools. Siani's goal is to continue bringing the film into schools across U.S. and push for mandatory media literacy education.
Siani also stresses that she is not against technology or attempting to purge it completely; she simply strives to implement a more mindful use of it.
For example, this month, Siani is taking the project to a middle school, and will add her findings to the documentary. 1,000 students will be participating in Siani's "No App For Life" challenge, in which they will remove all apps off phone for a week, only having access to phone calls.
The challenge is not about seeing if students can survive without their phones, though. The program will teach students about mindfulness, empathetic listening, and other social skills that technology has come to replace in younger generations.
Her goal is simply to take back what technology and social media have robbed us of.
"If I need intimacy, I need nothing. There is no app for that. I don't care how cool it is, it will never be able to do what a human can do."[Feature Image Courtesy Coca-cola.com]