How Cell Phones Have Changed Us + Words From Pope Francis

man holding cell phone, blurred lights on right
Peter Lenzini, Dean of Students

Pope Francis remarked on our highly digitalized culture, which has seen a staggering impact of cell phone use that affects attention, academic performance, and mental health.

In June of 2019, the Jesuits outlined the four areas of focus for the next ten years, otherwise known as their four Universal Apostolic Preferences. In his letter outlining and describing these areas of focus, Fr. Arturo Sosa, the Superior General of the Jesuits, warns that “we are constantly bombarded with images and options, and there is almost no space to find our true self or to let God find us­­­.”  This document rests upon what our Holy Father said in April of the same year. In an apostolic letter to young people addressing the “highly digitalized culture” in which our youth now find themselves, Pope Francis, without blinding himself to the many advantages that technology affords us, outlines the many ways in which the digital age is a threat to our relationship with God, to self-reflection, to human dignity, to community, and to democracy.

In the past twelve years, we have witnessed a profound and awesome proliferation of technology. Consider that in 2007, just 4% of Americans owned cell phones. In 2019, that number is 96%. From notification alerts--real and phantom--that distract us to that sinking feeling of having left our phone at home or in the car, our attachment to these devices is extraordinary. The average American checks their phone 85 times a day. For many, the device has become an incontrovertible addiction. Consider that 10% of Americans check their phones every four minutes and that 71% of people sleep with their phones. Approximately 50% of American teens self-report that they feel addicted to their phones.

Good investigation by researchers and journalists, combined with the work of a litany of tech industry defectors, has begun to show that the tech industry has been intentional and systematic about trying to create addiction in cell phone users.

Researchers across the globe have begun to study the mechanics behind the allure of cell phones and the effects of the proliferation of these devices on attention, retention, brain activity and development, academic performance, driving, mental health, sleep patterns, the media, political systems, and many other aspects of human life. One byproduct many researchers refer to is known as the Dopamine Feedback Loop. This notion describes how the design behind much of our cell phone technology relies on how our human nature responds favorably to sounds and sensations that make us feel good.

For more on what Pope Francis has written about technology in the digital age, please refer to these online articles:

From Influencers to Cyborgs, Pope Francis Has Tech Advice for Young People

To Young People and to the Entire People of God

  • Francis. “‘Christus Vivit’: Post-Synodal Exhortation to Young People and to the Entire People of God (25 March 2019): Francis.” "Christus Vivit": Post-Synodal Exhortation to Young People and to the Entire People of God (25 March 2019) | Francis,

For more research on the impact of cell phone addiction and the Dopamine Loop, please refer to these online articles:

Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A Battle for Your Time

  • Haynes, Trevor. “Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A Battle for Your Time.” Science in the News, 27 Feb. 2019,

Ledger of Harms

  • “Ledger of Harms.” Ledger of Harms, 14 Dec. 2018,

The Dopamine Seeking-Reward Loop