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What Does Your Phone Screen Say About You?

By Sydney Meyer
On December 4, 2017

Photo by: Ashley Alonzo 

There is a constant buzzing in the pocket of every person’s jeans. Continuous ringing, random notifications, sporadic bursts of noise and interruption — and it’s all completely normal.

Cell phones. Whether you love them or hate them, they’re ever-present and permanently attached to each passerby. They have become so ingrained in this culture that the mere mention of the world “millennials” brings forth a picture of social media-obsessed, overly absorbed teens. Leaning over their phones, scrolling through whatever apps have captured their attention.

This technology creates new methods of self-expression. Society has become a controlled marketing scene, each individual vying to create a personal image that fits with cultural expectation, while at the same time, stands out. Part of this customizable culture involves the use of phone lock screens — insight to a person’s interests, history and even their personality.

“I think a lock screen can tell you a lot about a person,” says Braijon Carter, OU freshman. “It’s just certain things that can tell you about certain people.”

Because photo-imaging is such a prolific part of this visual culture, the sky is the limit when it comes to photo portrayal. Though people may think of their phone screens’ backgrounds as personal decisions, odds are, they’ve selected it for a particular reason.

“I basically choose off of the style of my photo,” says Jakeem Martin, senior at OU, “just to catch somebody’s attention, whoever looks. Because people look all the time.”

People tend to create rules about what photos they use as their lock screens. Though these rules exist, they are not the same for everyone. The lock screen photo tends to pertain to certain interests, values and standard that is applicable solely to the phone-holder.

These regulations assist individuals in deciding what deserves to be displayed and may include qualifications regarding appearance, background or eye-catching graphics.

“If I’m standing next to a body of water or some buildings, I know that’s going to look nice on my lock screen,” Carter says. “Plus, based on my case, too … it’s just all color-coordinated.”

Sometimes a lock screen can serve as inspiration, like in Martin’s case. He chose his NFL-logo lock-screen because he hopes to play for them someday. He said that in the future, he may change his background to his favorite quarterback to inspire him to play better.

Phone screen backgrounds cover a wide range of categories. Typically presented are images of friends, family and events. Oftentimes, these photos contain a memory, a connection to a value or certain aspirations.

Carter believes phone screens can tell you a lot about a person. He believes facial expressions, the subject of the photo and the overall vibe of the image provide insight to one’s personality.

That being said, according to Carter, there is never a “bad” lock screen photo.

“Your happiness may not be the same as my happiness,” he says, stating other people shouldn’t define what you have as your lock screen. “I always put pictures of myself on my lock screen because it’s my phone, and I wouldn’t want anyone else on my phone. And … I want to look at myself. I’m just a high self-esteemed person.”

According to Ryan Louis, Communications professor at OU, having a selfie as a lock screen isn’t necessarily narcissistic.

“Although I think that would be the first place a lot of people go,” he says. “I think there’s a cultural ramification here. … If I were speculating, I would say they want to see themselves at their best. … Some people will kind of see a picture of themselves at their best, and it really can brighten their day.”

The content of one’s lock screen can also allude to the role the phone plays in an individual’s life. Those who tend to have general, impersonal backgrounds most likely see the phone as more of a tool, an instrument used to accomplish tasks. Others, however, may see a phone as much more.

Louis mentioned a study relating the ways people treat their phones to their friendliness — people often treat the device the same way they treat their friends. In that aspect, a phone may emanate desired characteristics within a friend, like a photo of a painting or a certain hobby. The phone can also be an extension of style, which leads to a display photo with aesthetic appeal, such as a flower or landscape.

Drawing personal conclusions from a phone screen seems reasonable, as the lock screen photo is available for the public to view. These methods of self-expression contain messages that run deeper than surface level. A photo display could have a much deeper connotation to overall wellbeing, more complex than what is pictured on the surface. A picture could be a memory of a past event, motivation to get up in the morning or a reminder that everything is going to be okay.

“If you look at someone’s picture, you would be able to point out what they’re most nostalgic for,” Louis says. “It’s so intricately tied to memory and how they express that memory, and so I think that comes out in what we choose to remember, and how we continually remember it.”

The length of time a person keeps the same photo also says something about their personality. According to Louis, media has changed the way we see photos. They are no longer used for memory but for snapshots of a certain moment. The rate at which an individual changes the photo display of their lock screen relates to the importance of a particular photo. If a photo has been in place for a longer period of time, the photo may have a deeper connotation to the person’s overall personality.

Technology is not going away. If anything, it is becoming more pervasive. Multiple methods of self-expression provide more opportunity to those who are hoping to present themselves a certain way. The next time you decide to change your phone background, consider the messages you are sending, the rules you are following and the story you are inviting people to read. 

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