Would you dare to digital detox?

Finals are coming. Snapchat feeds are filled with selfies in the library or in study groups. Instagram is flooded with pictures of scattered notes, books, and lots of coffee.

Documenting students’ lives is the new normal, and finals week is no exception. According to Instagram’s analytics, “#finals” has almost three million posts, and “#collegelife” has over four million.

In response to social media addiction, some University of San Diego professors have implemented technology detoxes into their syllabi.

Cellphones have become more than just a device for talking to people faraway. They are daily planners, alarm clocks, cameras, research tools, navigation systems, and even wallets. They tell us when to wake up, when to sleep, and everything in between. Some will even claim our smartphones have become a constant companion, including USD communication studies professor Leeva Chung.  

A single handheld device now seems to replace countless other items that people use on a daily basis. As convenient and helpful as they might be, they can also be very harmful to our overall health and relationships.

Professors like Chung, who specialize in interpersonal communication, think it is important for students to step away from their devices and experience life for their own health.

“[A detox may help] encourage a stronger sense of self, healthy communication [via] face to face interactions, better sleeping, more time spent productively, [thinking] without a device, better eyesight, no distracted driving, [learning] to be still [and] enjoy stillness,” Chung said. “[You] don’t need a device to ignore others or thoughts in your head, [you’ll have] stronger study habits without getting so distracted, and above all: [you can focus on] being in the moment.”

This semester, Chung asked her preceptorial class to voluntarily give up their cellphones for 96 hours. To her surprise, 27 of 28 students volunteered to turn in their phones and fully participate in a digital detox.

Freshman Molly Feeney admitted she experienced anxiety leading up to the week.

“I definitely had some anxiety and cried a little bit,” Feeney said. “I felt like I was losing some control of my life, in the least controlled month of my life, midterms. But once we turned them in, I felt like I could do this.”

The overall reaction the day of the phone rendering was quite calm. Some students sent out their last text and phone calls to parents and close friends, while others simply sat quietly and contemplated what the next 96 hours would be like.

To set her students at ease, Chung also participated in the detox. Her last call was a FaceTime to her niece. She held up her tablet so all her students could wave and set aside their anxieties. Throughout the week, students had to keep a journal documenting their feelings, observations, and anything extra they wanted to share about the experience.

Students, like Danielle Klessel, noticed on the first night that not having her phone made it difficult to meet up with friends.

“The first night, my friend and I were going to a concert,” Klessel said. “I have a really terrible memory, and I could not remember if I told her to meet me at the SLP. We could not find each other for almost an hour. It was frustrating because we had somewhere to be, but we eventually found each other and went to the concert.”

One of the biggest observations came midweek in response to the presidential election results that came in the Tuesday after giving up their phones.

The entire class noted that their moods were much better due to lack of exposure to Election Day  drama, especially in comparison to their friends who had been exposed. They reported feeling less stressed about the results because they did not have access to the widespread negativity on Facebook and other social media sources.

Katie Greene became more aware of her social media usage while studying, and she said that she found the detox helpful for her homework habits.

“I learned that I do not need to use social media as a homework break,” Greene said. “That is how I always used to do it, and, before I knew it, 45 minutes later I had been sucked into scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, or playing a game on my phone. Now, I go talk to friends in my dorm at Maher, then go back to studying.”  

Demitrius Goods said that he learned that talking to people in person was more satisfying than over the phone. He hopes to continue to disconnect more daily.

“I learned time without technology is helpful,” Goods said. “I noticed I have more face-to-face interaction with friends. It was difficult coordinating with friends, but I learned a lot about disconnecting myself and looking at the world around me and being more aware of my surroundings. I found a lot more time to do a variety of things than just sit on my phone. I am trying to disconnect more and go and talk to people. Face-to-face communication is a lot more fun and genuine than talking to someone over the phone.”

According to the Pew Research Center, most young adults use their phones for more than talking. About 90 percent of adults ages 18-29 reported owning a cellphone and using it for social media purposes.

Many researchers argue that cellphones are a distraction from interpersonal communication, while others argue that cellphones are a convenience. In reality, they probably fall into both categories. Students in Chung’s class have experienced both sides of the conversation, and found extra time for themselves during their digital detox. With finals on the horizon, a little time away from cellphones might be all students need to prepare for the busiest time of the year.


Written by: Jennifer Givens, Asst. Feature Editor