Tethering tech: Film raises questions for digital natives in Morris School District

Morris District Supt. Mackey Pendergrast introduces 'Like,' a documentary about technology addictions, April 30, 2019. Photo by Marion Filler.
Morris District Supt. Mackey Pendergrast introduces 'Like,' a documentary about technology addictions, April 30, 2019. Photo by Marion Filler.
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By Marion Filler:

What really happens when you turn on your smartphone? If you knew, would you turn it off?

More than 300 people registered to see Like, a cautionary documentary about the impact of social media on our lives, presented Tuesday at the Frelinghuysen Middle School in Morris Township by the Morris School District and the Morris Educational Foundation.

Introducing the film, District Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast revealed his “Wait Till 8” approach to cellphones with his two boys, a 9th grader and a senior.

“Both of my sons did not receive cellphones until springtime of 8th grade,” even though the conversation started in 6th grade, Pendergrast said.

Acknowledging social pressure to conform, Pendergast told one of his boys to “blame your father around your friends. They know I’m the superintendent, tell them your Dad’s a little crazy.”

The son’s reply: “Don’t worry Dad, I’ve been telling them that for years.”

During the 47 minutes that followed, the film skillfully defined the source, scope and possible solution of the dilemma.

Talking tech: Students from Morristown High and Frelinghuysen Middle School share views after screening “Like,’ April 30, 2019. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:

“More than two billion people have smart phones today and we are tracking them on average about 150 times every day,” the documentary begins.

The narrators were psychologists and tech insiders who, in one case, had designed the very systems used for “tricking kids to going online more.” Now, they say, you are the product being sold.

The trends are disturbing. Self-worth is being validated by the number of “likes” a person receives. The need for repeated approval affects the frontal lobe of the brain and may lead to addiction.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder, an obsession with perceived flaws, is found in people who are constantly posting their images online. Social media have taken over how we engage and interact in the physical world; breakups and hookups are so much easier in absentia, the film asserts. Heavy users of social media tend to have higher rates of depression, according to Like.

Can we avoid the pitfalls? Here are some suggestions to avoid addiction:

  • Log out of social media apps, to add another step when you go back in.
  • Disable notifications from apps.
  • Don’t charge your phone in the bedroom.
  • Set specific times to check updates.
  • Limit your home screen to basics and move the rest to the next page.
  • Go grayscale through Settings. It helps many people check their phones less.
  • Don’t keep you phone on your desk during class or at work.

Hardest of all, go cold turkey. Remove social media apps from your phone and use them on only your computer.

After watching Like, seven students from Morristown High and Frelinghuysen Middle School were asked what would they change about themselves

FMS students Molly McPhearson and Brenda Madrid Licona at screening of 'Like,' April 30, 2019. Photo by Marion Filler.
FMS students Molly McPhearson and Brenda Madrid Licona at screening of ‘Like,’ April 30, 2019. Photo by Marion Filler.

Several said they had not realized mean how much social media approval has influenced their lives. Some resented the excessive use of computers in school, preferring traditional pencil and paper. Others expressed the desire to spend more time face-to-face with friends.

Participants from MHS were Luna Aguilar, Joel Torres, Sophia Prochilo, Grace Moroses and Julieta Quinteros; and from FMS, Molly McPhearson and Brenda Madrid Licon.

They were joined by Erica Hartman, director of technology integration in the Morris School District; Dr. Michael Osit, psychologist, author and expert on the psychological effects of technology on youth; and Mathew Krayton, adjunct professor at Centenary University’s Social Media Center of Expertise.

Video: Trailer for ‘Like’:

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