I’m certainly not anti-technology. My laptop, which has outlasted two different best friends, is one of my most stalwart companions and has, therefore, secured its place as one of my most beloved possessions. I hate writing by hand, always preferring to type, and I pity the poor saps who had to write entire novels in such a plebeian fashion. Playing video games is one of my favorite pastimes, and someday, I hope that AI technology becomes advanced enough for me to have a robot dog and a robot butler, who — if we’re talking about sentience level advancement — I pledge to pay a fair wage. At this point, some might question the purpose of a robot butler, to which I would respond, “You just don’t get it. It’s a robot butler. It’s the best thing ever.”
Given my personal preferences, it might seem strange that I can’t stand smartphones, but it’s true. They’re the worst. Sure, I use my laptop every day and feel somewhat hobbled when Apple’s terrible power cord gives out once a year, but you don’t see me plunking it down on the dinner table or pulling it out of my backpack to browse Instagram while in line for coffee. (Also, I don’t get Instagram, but that’s off topic.) The fact is, I don’t enjoy being sucked into the smartphone’s seductive vortex of constant connection, 24/7 entertainment, and instant gratification. Laptops, computers, and cellphones all have limitations for when or how you can use them, but smartphones, as the name suggests, are highly sophisticated devices that have the ability to perform most, if not all, of the previous devices’ capabilities —anytime, anywhere. For one thing, this feeling of being constantly reachable is exhausting. (Please leave me alone.) Furthermore, studies performed by Ward, Duke, Gneezy, and Bos (2017) have found that the mere presence of an individual’s smartphone has a negative impact on their cognitive capacity, impacting the “the attentional resources that reside at the core of both working memory capacity and fluid intelligence” (p. 150). This effect is positively correlated with smartphone dependence, indicating that the negative impact of smartphone usage continues even when we abstain from checking our messages or scrolling through social media (Ward et al., 2017).
There used to be one place where you were, relatively, safe from your pocket overlords — the classroom. That, sadly, is no longer the case. My sister is currently in high school, and she, like the rest of my family, does not have a smartphone. Unfortunately, more and more of her teachers seem to be relying on them in the classroom, a fact which is sometimes problematic for her. To be fair, the teachers always come up with an alternative solution, but they are not always very elegant and usually entail making her share with another student. (I had to share computers with another student for the first half of my Computers/Careers class in high school, and I still only type with four fingers.) Instead of using graphing calculators, they use an app called Desmos. Instead of normal test prep activities, they use their phones to access a website called Cahoots, which is just an electronic quiz game. In what I think is the weirdest example, her history teacher had them make Tik Tok videos as an assignment and then made fun of her when she said she didn’t have a smartphone. None of these activities or tasks are drastically improved by the involvement of smartphones and only serves to further increase smartphone dependence and penalize students whose parents are making a stand against it.
Furst, Evans, and Roderick (2018) found that, on average, students who checked their phones more than 39 times per day were significantly more likely to state that they interfered with their ability to complete their homework. Similar to Ward et al.’s (2017) findings, those who were more dependent on their phones found them to be a greater distraction (Furst et al., 2018). While the intentions behind smartphone use in the classroom are, undoubtedly, good, it still habituates students to smartphone use, and that’s if you assume that every single student is using their phone exactly as they’ve been instructed. (I’ll give you a hint, they’re not.)
As my sister can attest to, students often use their smartphones to text, watch YouTube videos, and, somehow, get away with playing Fortnite in class. When I was in high school, texting in class was a cardinal sin. Today, more and more teachers have embraced the use of smartphones, and this, unfortunately, has the side effect of increasing the number of distractions that go unchecked in the classroom. As Grinols and Rajesh (2014) point out “students alternating their attention between the reading material and their texting [are] likely [to] impede their comprehension of the material” (p. 94). One obvious solution to these distractions is to not allow students to use smartphones in class and to avoid relying on them for things that can be easily achieved through normal means. Ultimately, technology is not something that I wish to demonize. I do think there are ways that technology can assist learning in the classroom, but at this time, smartphones are not the answer.
Furst, R. T., Evans, D. N., & Roderick, N. M. (2018). Frequency of college student smartphone use: Impact on classroom homework assignments. Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science, 3(2), 49-57. doi:10.1007/s41347-017-0034-2
Grinols, A. B., & Rajesh, R. (2014). Multitasking with smartphones in the college classroom. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 77(1), 89–95. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329490613515300
Ward, A. F., Duke, K., Gneezy, A., & Bos, M. W. (2017). Brain drain: The mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces availability in cognitive capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research,2(2), 140-154. doi:10.1086/691462