STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Op Franciscan University of Steubenville you will find a group of hardworking students. They have the usual stuff — laptops, textbooks, notebooks, and pens — but there’s one difference between those students and millions of others around the world: those students don’t have smartphones.
What you need to know
- For many people, technology now occupies their lives
- Research shows that more and more people are becoming addicted to their phones
- A unique scholarship is trying to tackle the crisis of smartphone addiction
- For $5,000, a pilot group of students will trade in their smartphones for a ‘dumbphone’
The group of 30 students has applied to be part of a trial grant called the “Unplugged Fair‘, where they trade in their smartphones for so-called ‘dumbphones’, which lack advanced software features such as email, social media or the Internet.
In a society where people have 24/7 access to technology and children born today have never known a world without it, the idea of the scholarship is to help students reconnect with the real world and interact with the artificial limit world.
“My generation was the first generation to grow up with smartphones and iPads and social media, so we’re kind of guinea pigs, aren’t we?” said Columban Homan, a freshman at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. “And I think 30, 40, 50 years from now, we’ll look back at social media and cell phone use to the extent that it’s reached by 2023, like how we look back now at cigarettes or lead paint.”
Heidi Bentrup, a junior at Steubenville Franciscan University with Hollieann Geike, a sophomore holding up their “dumbphones,” Taylor Bruck/Spectrum News 1
For some, like Heidi Bentrup, a junior at Steubenville Franciscan University, it was hard at first, but she says it’s the best challenge she’s ever taken on. She said she’s relieved she doesn’t have so many notifications anymore, constantly fighting for her attention.
“When I first started, I went through four of the five stages of grief,” she said. “There are hidden costs that nobody really talks about with technology. And that’s because with the increase in productivity, and the availability and the connectivity, all of which are really great, but there are always so many distractions and notifications that are always tugging at your serotonin levels, your dopamine. They always want to pull you in deeper and always take you away from the things you set out to do.
For others, like David Cappello, a senior at the university, the change wasn’t as drastic.
“It hasn’t been that hard for me,” he said. “I think I have a lifestyle in a way where I’m generally hard to connect with people.”
Cappello said not having a smartphone was liberating. He has more time to be creative and find new ways to entertain himself.
“Just the fullness of life that you get from just living it the way it’s meant to be, and physically with the people around you, is just really unique,” Cappello said.
The scholarship was started by Franciscan University alumni Justin Schneir and Hope (Batchhelder) Schneir. Bob Lesnefsky, the university’s director of evangelism, said the faculty was shocked by the positive response from students. He said another 50 students voluntarily joined the movement.
“I think in many ways this shows that students are actually looking for more analog, tangible, tangible moments in their lives,” Lesnefsky said. “They’re not looking to be more virtual. They don’t, their desire is actually to be seen, to be loved and to see and love other people. And this facilitates that.”
David Cappello, a senior at Steubenville Franciscan University with Columban Homan, a freshman holding up their “dumbphones,” Taylor Bruck/Spectrum News 1
The students said that the fact that they no longer have a smartphone has allowed them to pay more attention to their studies, friendships and spirituality.
“I’ve got an hour now to go and pray. I can just, you know, walk around the student center and mess around, play sports, talk to people,” Cappello said. “You stand in line to get food and normally you just don’t really want to talk to people, so you just put a screen in between, you know, and so, if you kind of remove the screen in between, you just invite the relationship from.
They said they now fill their time with activities that benefit them, such as reading, longboarding and socializing.
“A minute is so powerful, an hour is so powerful, a day is so powerful and when I had a smartphone I spent so much of that time on my phone, and now I feel like I’m planning my life am, and I live my life much fuller,” Homan said. “You need to have time where your subconscious can talk to yourself. So you’re not always consuming, consuming, consuming.”
They said they feel they are more productive and efficient in their school work, have more mental clarity and are less anxious.
“I’m becoming less afraid of just going up and talking to people,” says Hollieann Geike, a sophomore at Steubenville Franciscan University. “Gen Z has a hard time being, getting really nervous about ordering food. And so I think it helped a lot in that way.
Homan said the group does not condemn technology. They think technology is a very useful tool, but in moderation.
“We sort of assume that technology will keep getting better and better and our lives will keep getting easier and easier, but convenience and multi-functionality aren’t necessarily good things, and they can pull you away from the things that really matter for you in your life,” Homan said. “We need to use the tool and make sure the tool doesn’t use us.”
The group learns to find comfort in being uncomfortable and takes back control of their days, their lives and, best of all, their minds.
“A lot of this group, a lot of people who’ve done this may go back to smartphones after this,” Capello said. “And they would be able to control that device instead of that device controlling them. And that is actually the main goal.”
For more information about the fair visit here.