WINTER PARK, Fla. — A club at Rollins College grew out of a need to address smartphone and social media addiction, and help other students connect with each other.
Sean Killingsworth, 20, is the founder of the Reconnect movement, an idea to bring people together without the distraction of smartphones and the pressure of social media.
The Rollins chapter of the Reconnect movement kicked off in January and has 90 members so far.
Killingsworth said he came up with that name one night while talking to his mom.
“I started crying to her and basically just pleading, so frustrated at the fact there’s no one to talk to and I’m stuck on these fake apps,” said Killingsworth.
Pia Hernandez is the organizer of the college club. She works with Killingsworth to brainstorm ideas for students to engage in a digitally clean space and experience real human connection. She said so far there have been different reactions to the club.
“We had really excited people, and then we had people that were like, ‘What are you doing? This is crazy. This is weird. This is abnormal,’” said Hernandez.
They set up club meetings, plan events and are making sure there’s a phone-free club on campus where students can go.
“Because of the fact we have regular members come throughout the semester, it means we have definitely made an impact because some people feel very strongly about this and value it,” said Hernandez. “Which is why they come to every club meeting to experience reconnect.”
During every meeting, phones are put into decorated black boxes called “portals into the moment.”
“When they come here, they know there’s going to be people looking to them, giving their attention to them not a device, they know they’re going to be able to have a conversation, make a friend and connect,” said Killingsworth. “It’s what we need as a generation.”
Killingsworth’s goal is to spread the movement to schools across the country, aiming to decrease the negative effects of mental health linked to screen use. He’s hoping to create the Reconnect Club at UCF and a local high school in the fall semester.
Becca Mawn, a clinical mental health counselor at UCF, said the relationship between mental health and screen use comes down to how social media is being used and ways content is being shared.
“The harm becomes the comparison culture and who we’re kind of allowing to be on our social media, how we’re using it with the like counts, and are we hiding words that might otherwise be detrimental and making specific time that we can kind of use it,” said Mawn.
She said most of the studies analyzing this are cross-sectional, which means they’re studying for a short period of time.
“So, they’re saying these students are using a lot of social media, and they have high rates of depression, but there aren’t really studies studying the effect over time,” said Mawn. “What I always say to our students at UCF as they’re comparing 100% of what they know about themselves to 10% of another individual that they see online, and then holding themselves to that standard, which could be detrimental to their mental health.”