If you’ve ever watched a superhero origin story movie, you’ll know that there’s always an obligatory scene from the protagonist’s early life when he or she is involved in some kind of accident which they only survive because of their secret powers, and which makes them realise they’re not normal. The inverse of that happened to me the other day: Instead of having a near-death experience, I slipped on North Haugh, and instead of realising I had superpowers, I was made aware of a weakness.
Let me explain. I wasn’t hurt when I fell, but I cracked the screen of my phone. No big deal, you might think. It’s certainly what I thought at the time. Sure, getting it replaced will be annoying, but the library provides IT repairs for much cheaper than you’d get anywhere else, and in any case, no normal, well-adjusted person would be that put out by not having a phone for twenty four hours.
It turns out that I am not a normal, well-adjusted person. I didn’t just miss my phone; I practically pined for it. Didn’t stop thinking about it for almost the whole day I spent shorn of the delights of 24 access to Tinder and Twitter. At the time I remember considering writing a satirical Shakespearean sonnet about my lost social media access (for more on these proclivities of mine, see my article on being a virgin).
But I realise now that that would have been inaccurate. It wasn’t pain over a lost love I was feeling. It was something nastier, more desperate. I was sitting in a lecture when I saw someone on Facebook in front of me. And for some reason, I couldn’t stop watching them. I was so captivated by the screen that I preferred watching someone I didn’t know making a Facebook event to organise pres, to listening to a lecture that I was actually finding interesting. I’m not entirely sure what the precise definition of cold turkey is, but I’m reasonably sure that comes close.
So there it is. My name is Jamie, and I’m a smartphone addict.
Now, maybe I should be ashamed to be admitting what I just admitted. While I’m not exactly proud of it, I’d be lying if I said it was a difficult confession. Because I would be willing to bet all of my Yakarma that I’m not the only person in St Andrew who feels this way. According to some studies, millennials spend almost a third of their time on their phones. There’s been a lot of ink spilled trying to explain this, but I wonder if there’s special about the student experience that pushes us into the warm embrace of apps and social media connections.
St Andreans, like all students, live in a world of uncertainty. Most of us have no idea what we’re going to end up doing after university; if our relationships with the people we call our best friends will last; if we’re going to look back on the four years spend here as time wasted, or well spent. We’re citizens of nowhere, alienated from St Andrews locals just as much as we are from our friends at home. In this climate, maybe it makes sense to be glued to smartphones and social media. When nothing can be trusted or relied upon, maybe it makes sense to look for solidity and tangibility in Facebook likes and Tinder matches. Because these things can provide reassurance, no matter how ephemeral and superficial, that we must be doing something right.
Or maybe we just need to get out more.