Will Using Your Phone while Using the Bathroom Kill You?

Written by Twumasi Duah-Mensah

I’ve been deeply disturbed. 

Whenever my sister goes to empty the tank, she returns with her cellular device in hand. That can only mean one thing: while using the bathroom, she was using her phone as well. Disgusting. I’ve always ridiculed her for what I thought was so vile, until I found out that she wasn’t alone and, in fact, it was me who was in the minority.

In a poll of over 200 of my friends on my Instagram, the vast majority of them when asked if they used their phone while using the bathroom responded “yes.” Not only was my sister not the sole member of the “I’m a disgusting freak of nature” club, but around 80% of my friends were proud club members. Some will even head to the bathroom, forget their phone, and go back to get their phones. 

Now, I’m no crummy journalist, so I must strive to understand even the most seemingly unjustifiable trends. And that’s why I ask the question posed in the title: will using your phone while using the bathroom kill you?

What does science say about using your phone on the toilet?

Regrettably, science doesn’t really back me up. Yes, poop particles can fly from the toilet bowl to your phone screen, and on that note, phones pick up a lot of the bacteria we’re exposed to everyday, though that doesn’t mean you’re getting E. Coli or any other bacterial disease. Experts assure that you’ll be fine as long as you wash your hands after you wipe.

So there’s no objective reason to admonish those who use their phone on the toilet. Drats. But like any good journalist, I must milk this story as much as possible, and keep going. I’m part of the endangered species of those who leave their phones outside of the bathroom, but why?

The bathroom as a haven

Whether you browse while on the john or not, we are united in how we value the bathroom as a quick pause before stepping back into reality. It’s a very American thing; we’re privileged enough that we don’t need to worry about our sanitation systems functioning properly, but the bathroom is more to us than an indicator of socioeconomic status. The bathroom is an extension of our individuality—something we Americans hold dearly to our hearts. We use it to relieve and refresh our brains after a long day, so it’s only natural to personalize the bathroom and design it for our escapist needs, even if we don’t realize that we are. It’s just a matter of how we design our personal space. 

Some of us, intentionally or unintentionally, opt to take a break from our phones and escape into our thoughts and fantasies. I like using the bathroom as a factory for daydreams and new ideas. That means shutting any morsel of the outside world out, including my phone. The bathroom is my safe place. It is where I’m most vulnerable and reflective. I often delay getting ready in the morning, not because I don’t feel like it, but because I want every single thought about anything of consequence out of my brain before entering my haven. I don’t want my frustrations or lamentations to distract me from the Twuma Zone™.

Perhaps that’s another level to my grudge against browsing while I’m on the can: the phone represents an intrusion. An unnecessary, unwelcome burden. It sucks the sanctity out of the bathroom’s haven and transports me to a foreign world against my will. What I see as an invader, however, is—to most—their personal portal into a world away from the rigors of daily life. Almost everyone I talked to can’t forget their phones before they jump into their personal escapist pool, be it a force of habit or a preference to drown themselves in TikToks over wallowing in their thoughts.

So what’s the takeaway here?

Really, using your phone on the toilet to take a breather from an exhausting day is just one of the many ways we make the bathroom cater to our personal escapist needs, even if we’re not actively customizing our bathroom experience like it’s a video game avatar. And we Americans adore anything that aids us in living out our individualist philosophy.

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