The phone dilemma

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By: Garrick Hoffman, USM Media Studies, ‘20

The phone dilemma: an exhortation to faculty and students

I have a professor who, in his syllabus, addresses the use of technology in class. Others do the same. In this one professor’s address, he encourages the use of laptops and tablets for note-taking, but asks students to refrain from using their phones. His last line is my favorite: “If you find the need to use your phone between 10:15 and 12:45 . . . please do not come to class.”

As a student, this is exactly how I feel, and I wish more professors would take a similarly strict stance on the use of phones.

We all know how ubiquitous phones are. Every time I walk into a classroom before the actual class begins, 4 out of 5 students – or more! – are on their phones, in my estimation. (I actually count frequently.) If there’s a break in the middle of class, it’s like watching a choreographed scene in a movie: almost everyone is immediately on their phones as soon as the break is in effect, absorbed in their digital realities in a nanosecond like it’s become an evolutionary instinct when free time is granted.

This is fine and all – although I’m quite concerned about the inordinate amount of time our society spends on phones – except when they’re used in class. It’s troubling, distracting and vexing to see.

On the first day of one of my classes this semester a student sat next to me and, like many students, placed his phone in front of him on the table to make sure it didn’t get up and run away. Every chance he got, whether the professor was speaking or not, he opened it to send Snapchats and check whether he’d gotten any responses. I say “every chance he got” because he did this repeatedly. I lost count.

In another class from a different semester, there was a student who always brought his laptop. While he did seldom seem to use it for its intended purpose, I also frequently witnessed him on Facebook, in the meat of a lecture, messaging friends. Sometimes this would last the duration of the class. He didn’t even attempt to disguise it. Something like this is harder for an instructor to monitor because it’s a laptop and not a phone; nonetheless, it’s an issue that’s up to the student to avoid.

When I witness this type of behavior, the first thing I think is, Why are you here? If you can’t be away from your phone (or social media) for a fairly small chunk of the day to maximize your time in college, why are you enrolled at all?

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