We are delighted to share with you our new report, “There are no #PhoneZombies: Thinking for ourselves about mobile phones and mental health”, which we’ve written together with thirty-four 14, 15 and 16 year olds from North London.
Showcasing young people’s own experiences and analysis, the report explores issues around mobile phones and mental health in the context of moral panic. From Socrates’ concerns about reading and writing to the 16th Century objections to the printing press, major new communication technologies have often been accompanied by concerns for young people’s wellbeing. Whilst such anxieties might look strange looking back from the present day, a moral panic alerts us to the fact that we facing a fork in the road – a time when technology is precipitating a major shift in culture and power.We find that, far from being “zombified” and brain-dead, young people are making active choices on their phones almost constantly. On a platform like Instagram, they can identify making a conscious decision roughly every 7 seconds, or around 500 conscious decisions each hour. These choices are framed by norms and values, by fear of boredom, support for coping with feelings and – above all – a desire to connect with others. Young people are highly reflective about the extent to which they are in control whilst on their phones, versus the extent to which their devices are sucking them in.Young people have a clear vision for the future, where they can be safe, free and connected both in their digital and their offline lives. It doesn’t make sense to look at mental health through the prism of social media and online activities alone – there are many other issues that matter for young people. Across their lives, young people are seeking greater respect, less judgement, more financial security, safety and freedom.We argue that the relationship between mobile phones and mental health is not yet determined but will depend on the choices we make as individuals, in our relationships and as a society. Young people are making these choices already: They not passive victims, floating helplessly in a predetermined direction unless they are ‘saved’ by adults. Decisions about technology need to be made together with young people, in the context of a broader set of choices about how we want to live as a society.There are no Phone Zombies. We’re alive, we’re awake, we’re thinking for ourselves and together we can decide where we go with this technology next.You can download the report here.
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.