Creative Commons/ Flickr user 123456
Creative Commons/ Flickr user 123456
Creative mmemmons/ Flickr user 123456

Stepping onto a crowded bus today is similar to walking into a library. It’s eerily quiet. No one is talking to each other. Everyone is looking down at phones in their hands,  or listening to music through earphones.

Whereas a passenger once might have struck up a conversation with the person in thenextseat, now everyone seems to be in his or her own world.

As technology changes at a rapid pace, we are becoming a generation of people constantly attached to our phones, tablets and computers.

Today’s teenagers have grown up with smart phones and easy access to the Internet.   Information- and a circle of virtualfriends-are literally at our fingertips.

According to the 2013 Teens and Technology Report by Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 78 percent of teens have a cell phone and 47 percent a smart phone. Phones are no longer just for calling, or even texting, but a way to stay connected to a bigger social world.    

Ninety-five percent of teens use their phones to connect to the Internet.   Nearly the same proportion has Facebook accounts.

Technology is changing the way we live and communicate, and the changes are not all for the better. But the digital divide- the longtime gap between technology usage by whites and blacks or Latinos-appears to be narrowing.
Lorena Garcia, a 36-year-old Boyle Heights mother of two teens, finds herself amazed at how technology and its usage have evolved since her own teenage years.


Good or Bad?

“I never had a cell phone growing up. Having a cell phone when I was growing up was like a miracle,” Garcia says, “Now I see that my kids can’t even live without their cell phones. I honestly don’t know whether to feel good or bad for them.”

Just a few years ago, Latinos lagged behind others in technology use, but this is rapidly changing. Today, the number of people in Latino communities who own cell phones is equal to or higher than that of whites and blacks.

According to a 2013 Pew Research Hispanic Trends Report, 86 percent of Latinos say they own a cell phone, similar to whites’ ownership, at 84 percent and blacks’ at 90 percent. And the percentage of Latino and white 18-29-year-olds who own smart phones is the same- 66 percent. Latinos are more likely than whites to go online using mobile devices (76 percent versus 60 percent).

But with this change, Latinos are also experiencing the same benefits and the same benefits and consequences of being constantly connected.

Like most teenagers, Jose Rosas, a 17-year-old senior at Media Arts High School in East Los Angeles is never without his phone and can’t stop himself from checking it frequently.

He says, “The only time I stop using it is either to go to sleep or when I’m taking a shower, but even when I’m taking a shower, I still check my phone.”

Even though students are not permitted to use their phones during school, Rosas says he checks it under the table when teachers aren’t looking.

Obsessive Checking

According to a 2012 study by TextPlus, a Marina Del Rey company that offers a free app for texting, half of the 600 teens polled said they “couldn’t live without their mobile devices for a week, while 36 percent said they weren’t able to go 10 minutes without checking their phones.”

Larry Rosen is the author of three books on technology use, the latest titled “Disorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us.” Professor of psychology at Cal State Dominguez Hills, he says this kind of behavior is now typical among teens.

Rosen recently conducted a study in which researchers went into people’s homes and watched high school students study.   He says he was shocked at their lack of ability to focus. “It’s pretty mind boggling,” he says, “to realize that a typical student is able to focus about three to five minutes before being distracted.”

This type of behavior also has implications for family life. “I hate that even when we’re eating, the kids are on their cell phones,” says García, “It is basically the only time of the day we spend together as a family, and they’re on their cell phone. They can’t even eat without their phones in their hands.”

For many young people, cell phones have become an extension of themselves, and they become extremely anxious when without them. Cecilia Galván, 17, says she can’t imagine being without her phone. “I feel like it’s something that’s a part of me and I have to have it with me,” she says.

Fear of Missing Out  

This new “fear of missing out” or FOMO is what many kids experience when they go without their phones or social media for any length of time. This type of behavior is affecting more than just the way teens socialize.

Rosen says that with increased use of technology, “We are spending less time thinking through anything in depth and more time being distracted and switching attention from one task to the next, back and forth.”

“Teens and adults who spend more time on social media, Facebook in particular, show more signs of psychiatric disorders, but those who have more friends on Facebook actually show fewer signs of depression.”

While the majority of teens use social media, some are choosing not to because of their negative experiences. Sixteen-year-old Katherine Cortez, a Boyle Heights resident and junior at Montebello High School, says she doesn’t regret deactivating her Facebook account last year.

“I see my friends on it most of the time and see them stressing and complaining about their grades,” Cortez says. “I think it’s because Facebook is the distraction.”

Alejandra Valdez

Alejandra Valdez is a senior at Media Arts and Entertainment Design High School. She enjoys being involved on campus and in her community. In her free time, she likes hanging out with friends and family...

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