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A Week in the Life of an Edmonton Teen—as Seen Through Her Phone

From Snapchat to Safari, 17-year-old T'kira McFarlane let us look through her phone—and it was v. enlightening

T'kira surrounded by sunflowers

Photo illustration: Ka Lee and Joel Louzado

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about teenagers’ cellphone use in recent months, from stories of Silicon Valley employees who restrict their own kids’ access to technology to op-eds about how to tell if your kid is addicted to their phone; a recent report even found that 74% of American millennials and Gen Zers (the generation born between 1995 and 2010) interact with each other via cellphone more than they do in person.

We’re not into fear-mongering here at FLARE, especially since plenty of adults are pretty into their phones, too—according to a 2016 report by Pew Research Centre, 67% of Canadian adults report owning a smartphone and an additional 16% have a cellphone that isn’t a smartphone. But it’s true that Gen Zers, also known as the iGeneration, have developed new, technology-specific ways of thinking that are, TBH, lost on us. From Instagram thread accounts and finstas to the vast and cryptic ways they use Snapchat and the impressive speed with which they learn to command any new form of social media, it got us wondering what teenagers are *actually* doing on their phones all day.

So, to find out, we asked one 17-year-old to let us into her world (read, smartphone) for an entire week. Meet T’kira McFarlane, a Grade 12 student, cheerleader and soccer player who lives with her mom and younger brother in Edmonton. She got her first cell phone on her 10th birthday and now she says she doesn’t know what she’d do without it.

Here’s what one week on McFarlane’s phone looks like.

Name: T’kira McFarlane
Age: 17
Grade: 12
Location: Edmonton
Instagram Followers: 1,387
Finstagram Followers: 101
Average amount of Instagram likes per photo: 250
Snapchat Score: 355,678
Phone: iPhone 8

Day One

Snapchat: I Snapchat with friends, send Snapstreaks, take photos and videos and post what I am doing on my story for my friends to see. Snapchat and Instagram are my favourite apps. Most of my communication is through Snapchat. If I’m asking my friends how they’re doing—like what’s going on in their day—it’s not through their actual phone numbers, it’s through Snapchat.

Instagram: With Instagram, you get to see what your friends post and what they’re doing. And that’s where I get to post my pictures and all that stuff. I try to post like almost every week. Today, I look at nail, hair and makeup accounts and like and comment on friends’ photos.

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A post shared by T'kira (@tkira.m) on

When I was a little bit younger, my mom would go through my texts and my Snapchat and stuff. Since I got this new phone, she hasn’t, but my Instagram is not on private so she can just see it whenever she wants. It kinda affects what I post, because I know my family can see it, and like everyone can see it. But I think it affects it in a good way, so I’m not posting anything that shouldn’t be posted.

Safari: While on Instagram, I find @theslumflower’s #SaggyBoobsMatter movement, so I search it up because my boobs tend to sag too. My friends and my family make fun of me because I’m so young and they say I have grandma boobs, so this movement gives me more confidence.

Facebook Messenger: I only use Messenger to talk to my family. Actually, Facebook is the app that I use the least.

Apple Photos: I use Photos all the time to go through pics, edit and delete them or just find photos to post on Instagram. I like it because you can crop pictures to edit them—I don’t usually put any filters on them. For filters, most people use Snapchat or VSCO. I don’t like to add anything to [mine].

Other apps used today: FaceTime

Day Two

YouTube: One of my friends is three-quarters deaf, so today I use YouTube to search up the ASL alphabet and common phrases. When I met her almost a year ago, I told her that I wanted to learn sign language. I’ve learned through her and through YouTube videos, so whenever we’re at parties and we’re out or it’s loud, we’ll sign to each other. Plus it’s kind of a secret code because no one else knows it, so if we want to talk about someone, we can.

Netflix: I only watch TV and movies on Netflix. The account’s shared with my brother, my mom, my grandma and my uncle. Right now I’ve been watching Alex Strangelove, Star and Switched at Birth (for the second time) because I love learning from the sign language in it.

Other apps used today: Snapchat, Instagram, Safari, Phone, Pic Collage

Day Three

Google Play: For music, it’s either Apple Music, Spotify or Google Play. I use Google Play the most. Today I listen to Nicki Minaj’s new album. I’m literally the biggest fan. I’ve listen to Nicki since I was 11 or 12. The first CD that I ever got was one of hers. I didn’t really like some of her new songs on Queen—I thought she could do a little bit better. But then there were other songs where she did really good. I liked “Barbie Dreams” and “LLC”… but  not “Chun Swae.”

Instagram: I am looking at pictures of tattoos—I want one so badly. I also like and comment on pics. Sometimes I like photos just because I like them. Other times, if I want someone to notice me or follow me back on their account, I’ll like old photos of theirs so that they can see I’m liking old photos of theirs, and then they’ll probably do the same or follow me.

Snapchat: I post about my cousin leaving for college in the US and a picture of a new outfit on my story and send my streaks to people. I have a lot of streaks with my friends from school and work and just people that I’ve met before just going out and stuff.

When I have streaks and people want to start streaks with me, I put purple hearts in front of their names so I don’t forget to send to them. This just puts them all down at the bottom of my screen, so I go all the way down and all the people with the purple hearts I will click on and then snap them. It’s usually just pictures and videos of me and what I’m doing.

Snapstreaks were just a thing that we all started to try and get. Like, people always try to get the highest number or when you hit 100, people will post on their story saying “100 streaks.” Lots of people try to get to big numbers like a year or 700… I once had a year-long streak with two people and then I lost it.

Notes: I use Apple Notes to write down websites, quotes and sayings I like to remember. I find quotes on other people’s Instagrams that they’ve posted, like this one: “Try to find another better than me… you’ll die trying.” I’m gonna use it because that’s just how I’m feeling.

I also write down my work schedule—this week I work six days. I hope I don’t have to work those hours during school, though, because I’ll have homework and cheer. I’m probably gonna look for another job because they’re gonna want me to work later hours.

Apple Maps: My friends and I are going to a café but we don’t know where it is, so I have to use Maps. I also need to find a Starbucks, so I search that up as well. I use Maps every day—I’d get lost all the time if I didn’t have it.

Other apps used today: Messages, Netflix, Camera, Photos, Starbucks app

Day Four

Snapchat: I’m having a get-together for my friend who’s in town for a visit. I want her to have a party and, because she left when we were really young, I’m getting all my elementary school friends so we can say hi to her before she leaves again. On the group chat, it’s just easier to tell all the people what’s happening—like, you could use Instagram for a group chat but Snapchat is more common. And with text group chats, everyone has to have an iPhone, but not everyone does.

Google Play: I listen to YG and Travis Scott’s new albums.

Tumblr: I like and repost pictures on Tumblr—and I make a new account because I just didn’t like my old one. A lot of people use Tumblr, but it’s up and down. People use Instagram more, and I do too, but if I get tired of it then I’ll go on Tumblr because it’s basically the same thing. I’ll usually post more aesthetic pictures.

FaceTime: After work, I FaceTime a friend I haven’t talked to in a while about how my day was at work.

Photos: Then I edit pictures and go through ones that I can post for my Instagram.

Other apps used today: Instagram, Messages, Camera, Netflix

Day Five

Safari: I’m still searching up tattoos that I want to get and what style I’d like.

Instagram: I post a picture on my spam (a.k.a. finsta) account. That’s on private. It has 101 followers who are all my close friends, people I know. Even people I know, sometimes I don’t let them follow me because I’m like, “I don’t know you that well.”

I mostly post baby pictures of me and funny stuff that my friends and I are doing. I repost other Instagram videos and pictures that are just my moods and stuff. It’s basically just to post stuff that you can’t post on your main account. That’s usually why people have finstas. There’s things that you want to post and you want everyone to see but you don’t want to post it on your main account because it’s not good enough.

To determine what is good enough, there are a bunch of things I look at: how clear my face is, what my hair looks like, the angles I have—like, does my face look more round or do I look more slim? I look at the quality of the picture—if a picture is really cute but the quality isn’t that nice, or it’s if it’s a silly picture and you look cute but you’re making a silly face, you wouldn’t post it.

Posting good photos matter because of the followers that I do have and the followers that I want to gain through what I post. If I post a lower quality picture, I’ll lose followers. My friend posts lower quality stuff and they only have like 700, 800 followers. That’s not a lot at all.

Safari: I search up the lyrics on Nicki Minaj’s new album.

YouTube: I watch music videos and back-to-school study hacks, mostly about writing notes to help memorize things because I have really bad memory. I’m excited for school and nervous at the same time because I know it’s going to be a lot of work and I’m gonna be stressed out again. But I’m excited to have it be my last year and graduate with all my friends.

Transit app: I find bus times for work.

Maps: Then I try to find busses to take. When I take the bus, I have to leave my house like an hour and a half earlier. I’ve only had to bus three or four times before because usually I get a ride or I walk. Last time I got an Uber.

Other apps used today: Snapchat, YouTube, Netflix, Google Play

Day Six

Snapchat: I send streaks and post pictures on my story. Usually, I’ll post a picture of myself if I think that I look good that day or who I’m hanging out with or what I’m doing, like if I’m at the restaurant or the mall. Or my food—I take lots of pictures of my food.

Safari: I look up prices of tattoos and the pain of them. My pain tolerance isn’t that high, so that’s what I’m nervous for. Later, I look up certain nail styles that I want for back to school. This girl who lives in Edmonton has her own home salon and I see a picture of this girl’s nails that she did that are light and dark purple. The middle finger says “Nike” with the checkmark on it and her ring finger says “Just Do It.” I want that so badly, but she’s booked up. I can’t get it later, though—you’re not allowed to have false nails during cheer season.

Instagram: I go through my photos and find an old video that my friend sent me of this woman talking about how girls don’t know their own self-worth and they go back to the wrong people or put themselves through wrong situations in relationships. I’ve been in that situation before and I can relate to it so I post it on my spam account. People comment relating to it and it gets 20 views.

YouTube: I watch my favourite YouTubers Jazz and Tae—they’re so funny, I love them so much. And then Rae and Brie. Every time I watch their videos, I laugh so hard. I also watch videos about DIY clothing.

Sephora App & Instagram: I look on Sephora for good skincare products to help clear up my skin. Instagram also has some threads that go through exactly what skincare products to buy, so I look on there. I also follow thread accounts for eating healthy and workout routines. I’d say I depend on threads pretty often, but if I’m looking for something specific then I’ll just search it up. Or people just tell me good things to use.

There’s so many things that I want to buy online, but I can’t because I don’t have a credit card—and it’s probably good right now, because otherwise I’d spend my whole paycheque online. My mom says that if I really want something online, I can buy it through her credit card and give her the money. But I plan to get one when I’m 18.

Other apps used today: Google Play, Netflix, Messages

Day Seven

Phone: I talk to my friend over the phone about a mutual friend who he likes and is starting to talk to. He has questions about our relationship and what he should do. I actually call him because on there, we can three-way call. Usually I call him and then our mutual friend. After that, I FaceTime another friend just to catch up.

Online Banking App: I ask my mom to send me money to go to the movies and she sends me $20. That’s a once in a while thing because now that I have a job she says, “You can pay for it yourself.” My friends and I watch The Spy Who Dumped Me. It was stupid but it was funny at the same time.

When I’m out with family and stuff, everyone asks me what I’d do without my phone. Last year I didn’t have a phone for most of the summer because it was broken. So I did live without a phone. It’s just a priority to me. I need it for communication, or I go on it when I’m bored, or when things are awkward. It’s just there now. But I get distracted really easily. When I’m doing homework, if my phone goes off, I’ll check it. And then, just having all the apps and all that social media stuff on there, you can waste a lot of time.

Other apps used today: Snapchat, Netflix, Google Play, Instagram, Maps

Related:

Just Kids? How Today’s Teenagers Became Our Role Models
What Tumblr Taught Me About My Gender Identity
Teenage Boys Are Slaying The Makeup Game—And I’m Salty
“People Say You Are a Certain Way Because That’s What You Were like When You Were Five”

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