Speaker cautions local high school students about spending too much screen time on their devices
“The average 18-year-old is on pace to spend 94% of their remaining free time in life consuming online entertainment.”
That was a statement made by Dino Ambrosi, the founder of Project Reboot, who held a three-day seminar this week about screen time at the Mental Wellness Center in Santa Barbara. Meeting with about a dozen local high school students, Mr. Ambrosi sought to encourage them to be more mindful of the amount of time they’re spending on technology — particularly social media platforms — as well as strategies to help them in overall time management skills.
The concept of Project Reboot was born out of a course Mr. Ambrosi started and first taught as a senior at UC Berkeley, which he says has helped students cut down three-and-a-half hours on average of their daily use of technology. The course itself, which is still offered at the university, was inspired by his own struggles with phone addiction while he was a college student.
“I’m on a mission to help as many high school and college students as I possibly can build healthy relationships with tech,” Mr. Ambrosi told the News-Press Wednesday. “I had a really unhealthy relationship with my phone when I went to college. I just didn’t do a good job of handling the discomfort that came with that transition.
“Your phone is a 24/7 source of instant gratification that’s in your pocket at all times. I was just habitually turning to it, and it really messed up my college experience.”
One of the lessons that Mr. Ambrosi seeks to impart to people is that they think critically about the value they get out of using social media.
“The incentives of social media companies are not aligned with your best interests, whatsoever,” Mr. Ambrosi said. “If you don’t think carefully about how you want to interact with these platforms, you’re going to spend way more time on them than they really deserve because they have some of the world’s leading psychologists and access to trillions of points of data on user behavior to figure out how to keep you scrolling.”
“Define why you use the app in one sentence, and set a clear intention for how much of your time the value that app adds is actually worth,” he instructed.
Technology addiction has received increased attention over the years as medical professionals, tech researchers and elected officials try to make sense of how technology’s overuse is affecting people, especially teenagers and young adults.
“Young people themselves describe it in plain words that they know social media not only drains their personal time, but also their energy and that it has a direct impact on their own feelings of mental wellness,” said Mental Wellness Center CEO Annamarie Cameron. “We also hear a lot from parents about their concerns about it. So it’s clear, there’s no debate that it’s an issue that needs to be explored and given strategies.”
Dawson Kelly, a senior at San Marcos High School who will be serving as Associated Student Body president in the upcoming school year, was involved in bringing Project Reboot to Santa Barbara because he saw the impact of overusing social media in himself and among his peers.
“I believe that I have a pretty bad relationship with technology, and I think most of my peers do too,” Dawson told the News-Press. “It’s hard to recognize it when it’s so normalized. I think we’re all practicing bad habits but we’re allowing them to continue because we’re not talking about them — and when we do talk about them, we’re not actually owning up to it affecting our lives as much as it is.”
Dawson was also clear that the issue with social media overuse was much deeper than just the way it drains his and his peers’ time.
“A lot of my friends have negative images of their bodies because of social media,” he explained. “I don’t think that we as humans are meant to see so many people that aren’t in our immediate circle in such a glamorous way. You’re comparing yourself to the top people, and of course, it’s going to affect yourself when that image of what is perfect and what is ideal is constantly being shown to you.”
Reducing screen time is intended to help people effectively use their free time better and avoid the pitfalls of social media. But Mr. Ambrosi also believes that the overuse of technology and social media is preventing people from engaging in what he believes is a critical function for humans: being bored.
“I think people undervalue boredom. There have been a number of studies that show that spending more time alone with your thoughts makes you more creative,” he said. “Our brain changes based on how we use it, and when we cut out an activity like sitting alone with our thoughts, we’re decaying the neural circuits that run when we do that activity.”
“It’s almost like when you avoid thinking and processing emotions,” he explained. “It’s like you have this list of unread emails that’s piling up. And all of sudden your inbox is completely overflowing, and I feel that is at the root of a lot of the anxiety that people are feeling is that they’ve got this huge list of essentially unread messages that they’ve been avoiding by distracting themselves.”
However, Mr. Ambrosi makes clear that he’s not an advocate for completely ridding oneself of technology and social media, only that people engage with them in a healthy way.
“(Smart phones) are the best tools we’ve ever had access to, and thinking that completely getting rid of them is the right way to cope with the fact that they’re really easy to use unintentionally is a huge mistake,” he told the News-Press. “The biggest thing is to really think critically about what it is that you get out of these social media apps.”