Step Away From the Screen

Photo by Bailey Hayek
Photo by Bailey Hayek

By Alexi Worley

Sitting in McKeldin library attempting to study, sophomore government and politics and communications major Kathleen Kelly is awash in the glow of electronic screens. To the right she has her smart phone, buzzing with texts and notifications. To the left she has her laptop, with her email and Facebook poised and ready for incoming and outgoing messages. In the middle of it all is a desktop computer displaying multiple word documents and web pages.

“I feel like I’m always looking at screens,” Kelly said. “No matter what work you’re doing or if you’re just hanging out, it always seems to involve technology.”

Kelly’s story is hardly unusual. An anonymous online poll of students (conducted for research for this article) revealed that 78.95% of students at this university reported that they have felt overwhelmed by the amount of technology in their lives and 63.16% said that they have some kind of device on them at all times.

The unpleasant effects that University of Maryland students reported feeling aren’t just in their heads.

Frequent technology use has been linked to higher obesity rates, lower GPAs, and greater anxiety in college students, according to varied studies by university research teams and nonprofit think tanks.

For every 10 percent increase in what the country spends on technology, there is a 1 percent increase in obesity, according to the Milken Institute.

Yes, it’s true, ladies and gentlemen. Your cell phone could be making you fat.

A study of college students conducted by a team of researchers at Kent State University found that down time that had originally been used for physical activity was instead being replaced with cell phone use.

“In comparison to low frequency users, high frequency users are more likely to forgo opportunities for physically active pursuits in order to use their cell phones for more sedentary activities,” the Kent State University researchers concluded.

“Technology doesn’t encourage people to get out and be active,” Kelly said.

Students who have trouble unplugging also have lower GPAs and higher levels of anxiety than their less-wired counterparts, according to the Kent State University study.

The researchers cited the feeling of obligation to be constantly connected as a possible cause of subsequently increased anxiety.

Not to mention that the more time students are plugged in, the less time they are participating in activities that help to relieve stress, such as exercising, spending time with friends, and sleeping, one of the researchers noted.

No direct cause-and-effect relationship was found, however the researchers theorized that the drop in GPA was a result of both the increased stress of constant connectivity and the lost time spent using technology.

University students’ use of technology isn’t limited to leisure time. 92.11% of students at the University of Maryland (polled for this article) said that technology is a necessary part of academics in college.

“Technology offers a wide array of benefits in college, the most beneficial being the ability to recover tons of information on a subject at the touch of a button. Research technology is necessary for students to compete in today’s academic society,” said freshman public health major Alison Gaynor. “However, it can impede the formation of critical thinking skills, such as the ability to analyze and filter information for yourself.”

University of Maryland students’ assignments often involve using the online interface ELMS, to access assignment sheets, participate in online discussions for classes, or submit papers.

Students receive regular notifications from ELMS about class work, deadlines and grades, which can be stressful, Kelly said.

Her method for coping with the relentless tech-time?

“I get sick of it after a couple hours,” she said, pushing her chair away from the library desk. “So I step away from the screen.”


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