Confessions of a Screen Addict

Tongue River

Tongue River

I have this bad habit of leaving my smartphone on top of a pile of laundry. I did this the other day, and, well, you guessed it…it slid off, screen first, on to the hard tile floor. I said a silent prayer as I picked it up and turned it over…please don’t be cracked; please don’t be cracked.

The screen looked intact. I sighed in relief and then clicked on the button to turn it on. Nothing happened. I tried other buttons, and still, nothing happened. At the right angle, I saw a slight crack in the LCD screen. The glass was fine, but the LCD screen would not display any content. This would be an expensive repair.

That was a week ago, and while waiting for the parts to arrive, I’m forced to go sans phone. I hadn’t realized how much I used my phone, and being without it has me thinking about screen addiction and the outdoors.

When spending time camping or fishing, I don’t seem to miss my cell phone much unless I want to take pictures. And that’s Bassfishing22015all I use it for. I don’t even listen to music or books. I prefer to hear the wind in the trees, the birds singing, or the water lapping at the shore. When walking around town, I will listen to a book or music. This helps block out the street noises. Either way, when I’m outdoors, I don’t want to be bothered by technology.

The only time that this isn’t true is when I’m trying to organize a camping location with my husband or friends.

During the summer months, I have the flexibility of camping early in the week, unlike my family and friends who have to work 9-5 jobs 12 months out of the year. I’ll head up to the mountains a day or two early to beat the crowds and to scope out a secluded spot where my friends can meet me when they can leave work. This is a great plan until I’m in the mountains and suddenly find that I have no way of letting my camping partners know where to find me.

It seems that no matter what kind of plans we make ahead of time, there is always some confusion about where to find each other, and we’ll spend hours wandering roads and camping sites looking for each other, especially since we tend to avoid designated campgrounds.

Earlier this summer, I realized that not everyone understands that cell service is nearly impossible in the mountains. At a workshop within the Wyoming Writer’s Conference, I submitted a section of my novel about a woman stranded in the mountains. Several attendees (non-Wyomingites) asked, “Where is her cell phone? Why can’t she just call for help? Or even use a GPS to find out her location?” It seems that they had never been in the Wyoming mountains where there is no cell service or satellite access for GPS. I realized then that 1) I would have to explain this in my novel or show that her electronic devices were stolen; 2) there are few wild places left in this world where technology cannot interfere, and 3) I’m glad to be in Wyoming where I can access these wild places.

Moonrise2015I can say with certainty that I miss my phone. I miss checking Facebook when I wake up and reading my magazine apps before going to bed. But I am somewhat grateful for this forced break from that tiny screen. Although I don’t think I’m exactly addicted, it does provide the opportunity to set up more non-screen time and to spend it outdoors: just don’t expect any pictures.

~ Keri


Two semesters ago I was surreptitiously photographed in my classroom. I was lecturing about something riveting like the Oxford comma or in-text citations when a student in the back row (they’re always in the back row) held up his phone and snapped a photo. I noticed because he didn’t bother to silence his phone, so I heard that crazy digital shutter sound. Seconds later, he lowered the phone and started typing. I kept talking, but asked midsentence if he’d just “Snapchatted” me. Every other student in the room turned and gapped at the photographer. He didn’t notice; he was too busy thumbing away on his little keyboard. IMG_3454

I would never have known about the then newish app if I hadn’t noticed one of my student employees taking a photo of his shoes (propped up on my desk). He explained that he and his girlfriend swapped digital photos all day long. They snapped pictures of inconsequential stuff, attached clever one-liners, and sent the disappearing photos through the ether.
“Wait,” I said. “They disappear?”
“Yep.” He gave a sly smile. I knew then that some of his pictures were more consequential than others.

Even now, Snapchat is the world’s fastest-growing social media app. Over 200 million smartphone owners use Snapchat and by some estimates, half of the world’s daily photos are taken with the app. It has been called a “safe-sexting” platform, though a University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University study shows that less than 10% of consumers use it this way. The newest millennials report using the app to capture “silly” less-than-perfect moments; they like that their ‘snaps’ don’t take up valuable storage space on their phones and that they won’t have to be forever embarrassed by their goofy poses.

So when my class was interrupted by clandestine photography, I assumed the disappearing photo included an inappropriate tagline. I was furious. Not only were my students disrupting class, but they were invading my privacy, doing who knows what with my tiny portrait. I hated Snapchat. I am happy to report that eventually the offending student noticed that class had stopped. We had a productive conversation about privacy and boundaries and taking notes. Most of my students at least feigned horror at the interruption. A week later another student took my picture. I threw him out of class.

It turns out I was wrong…mostly. Actually, I’m still not sure. U.S. law says that we have no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place. I teach in a publicly funded community college. My classroom is open only to registered students, but the campus is public; it’s part of our community. Do I have an expectation of privacy? Is my image, considering the nature of my job, always available for public scrutiny and consumption? The courts have indicated that usually we have an expectation of privacy in our cars and in our “business offices.” Does my classroom count?
My husband and I have debated about this for hours. Even now, the mere mention of Snapchat sends him into eye-rolling convulsions. He, like many experts, says we should assume that we are always on camera. After all, most of us have video cameras in our pockets. He says my lectures aren’t private.

Still, I can’t wrap my mind around the compulsion to photograph and share everything. Especially your boring composition instructor. But I encourage students to share what they’ve learned in class, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when they also share their (often misguided) impressions of their instructor. Maybe Snapchat is merely the latest version of writing on the bathroom wall.

I still hate being photographed on the sly. But I do share this story with my students. It serves as a great starting point for conversations about social media and privacy. This is a discussion they are sick of having – they’ve been warned away from the internet their entire lives. They seem to understand how to navigate the world of not-so-temporary-images and most have set their own boundaries around what is acceptable. They expect to be photographed at any given moment. They expect to be able to retrieve memories and classroom notes. As usual they are way ahead of me.