OPINION: Cell phones are more toxic than the California wildfires

As I write this, there is a 77,758-acre fire burning about an hour and a half from my house. The Kincade fire in Sonoma County has displaced almost 200,000 people and left 960,000 homes and businesses without power. My family lost power for three days, and it felt like the apocalypse. 

My family and friends described our hometown as quiet, spooky and dark. The store quickly ran out of food, the gas stations ran out of gas, no one was out and about, the hospitals were overflowing and there was no cell service to be found. That last detail is an important one. 

After driving around for hours looking for cell service, my mom finally got a hold of me and updated me on the family. She told me about the increasing worry that my aunt would run out of oxygen if the power remained off, and that my 96-year-old grandpa had moved into our house (and my bed) to be taken care of. Yet as all this drama ensued, one of the first things she said to me was how nice it was to be away from her phone and social media.

Now maybe my mom was just trying to find some upside, some good news to share with a sad, worried, scared, far-from-home college first-year, but I took what she said to heart and it got me thinking. The next day I talked to two of my friends still at home, one attending community college and one still in high school. 

They had gone into San Francisco for the day to go to Starbucks and get homework done. The city still had power and cell service so it was easy for me to get in touch with them. 

Unprompted, they both said it was refreshing to have a day or two locked inside with their families playing games and reading. I’d be lying if I said they had no complaints about the situation — one friend told me his mom made him paint the baseboards in the house, which is something I can fully picture my dad making me do if I had been home. 

They said it was nice to “finally get some sleep” and have time to think and be with themselves. So, you might think this is a stretch, but what I got from talking to my mom and friends is that their cell phones are more toxic than the absurd fires threatening our home. And I couldn’t agree more.

I hate my cell phone, and I hate everyone else’s cell phones. You can argue that they save lives and are a natural part of a developing society, but we all know that’s not the primary purpose of cell phones. 

Cell phones have become the most addictive vice in many people’s lives. They control our moods, sleep schedules, friendships and cultures — things that were never supposed to be controlled by man-made material objects. Cell phones are toxic.

They degrade human relationships and behaviors. They have created a vicious cycle of hatred and unhappiness. We would be so much better off without cell phones. The stupid things have no real upside, and that’s all too apparent when people are happy to be away from their phones due to a massively destructive fire. 

Putting down your cell phone won’t make even the slightest difference at all in the world, but it will make a huge difference in your life. Free yourself from the most destructive part of society — you won’t miss out on anything. If your cell phone is an extension of your body, and it probably is, you are unable to engage with the world around you. 

I challenge you to keep your cell phone in your pocket next time you’re waiting in line for food at the dining hall. Just stand there and feel awkward. Next time all your friends pull their phones out, don’t join them. And even if they don’t realize you’re not on yours, don’t join them. Just sit there and feel awkward. Engage with your world by cutting off an extension of yourself. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s absolutely necessary. 

The fire is now 86 percent contained. My hometown has power again. My aunt didn’t run out of oxygen, my grandpa is out of my bed, there’s cell service again and life has resumed. But let this serve as a very important lesson for us all: If your screen time creates a bigger source of dread than natural disasters, something is seriously wrong with our society. Figure out a way to save yourself from your phone so you can focus on what really matters. 

Georgia Scott PZ ’23 lives in Marin County, California. She recommends you read Maureen Dowd’s “Requiem for White Men,” an opinion piece written for The New York Times.

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