When my college career began ten years ago at San Diego State University, cell phones were prevalent, but teachers need only to ask that they be turned to silent so a ring would not disrupt a potentially amazing lecture. Occasionally, a student would forget to silence the phone, and when the phone did ring, the student would search frantically through her backpack, desperate to quiet the little monster that brought the attention of a two hundred-person class. That student would apologize profusely and turn her phone off entirely, unwilling to be shamed like that again. I know this young, distracted college student because I was her, and my Nokia 3210 managed to teach me an incredibly valuable lesson: If you don't turn your phone off, you will look like a total jerk.
Now, professors and teachers are faced with an entirely new cell phone dilemma. In each one of my classes, five classes total, we've been asked to turn off phones. The issue is not a disruptive ring, but secretive texting throughout lecture. Texting in the lap, texting from under a sheet of paper, making it look they are going to get a pen and then texting inside the backpack. The new generation of college students, the majority of them only eight years old when the twin towers fell in New York City, have only experienced a life with text. And because they use it as their main source of communication, most are unsure of how to exist without it. Unfortunately, this is such a big problem that professors are being forced to come up with new ways to combat the technological distractions.
One professor lectured on the new, "cell phone induced ADD," threatening incoming college students and how it takes ten years of having new technology to comprehend socially appropriate use of that technology. And one has threatened to take the phones away, which reminds me of being in grade school. She said by the end of the year she has a collection and I'm not sure if the threat was real, but I feel like this new group of "cell phone induced ADD" kids would call the police. Another professor said that "every time the bell rings," unlike It's a Wonderful Life, we get five more questions added to a test. This is a more reasonable threat than confiscation because it (should) create a sense of community in which we each become accountable -- not because we don't want to be shamed, but because we don't want to make additional work for our classmates. Kind of like being in the Marines, but totally different.
So professors do what they can, but where does being accountable and learning what is socially appropriate begin? I believe it should begin at home, long before the kid is given a cell phone. The, "Use of Your Cell Phone When You Have One," lesson would follow, "Don't Talk Back To Your Mother." The lesson should then evolve as the child grows and learns new modes of communication, so when she is practicing letters or drawing a hand-shaped turkey on Thanksgiving, the lesson would be "Cell Phone and Text Conversations Do Not Replace Face-to-Face Conversations." That way by the time she has a crush, she knows it's better to smile than text a smiley face.
From there, perhaps in third or fourth grade when they begin to learn cursive, the lesson should be, "Texting in Class is Not Appropriate," and this should be combined with the lesson, "No Speaking While the Teacher is Speaking," hopefully a repeat lesson. If these two lessons are combined, chances are the child will think of texting and speaking while the teacher speaks as being of similar offense in class. These types of lessons should be reinforced throughout a young child's educational career, so that by the time she does reach college, whether a junior college level or an ivy league, she understands that texting in class is not only rude, but also super inappropriate. That way, professors won't have to waste their time lecturing on something an eighteen-year-old should already know. And if all else fails, school budgets should include cell phone jamming technology, because at some point, fighting fire with fire may be our only hope.
Personally, when I sit down at a desk with old gum stuck under cheap wood, I am happy to turn off my cell phone. As a young woman with responsibilities, it's nice to slip away into academia and avoid the world. But I've had ten years to obsess over who is texting me, and an equal amount of time to realize it doesn't matter. At what point will this modern breed of student not need to update her Facebook account? When will she not care about who is thinking of her during class? When will she feel good simply being present? Will it take the ten years it took me? Or will the underlying need for instant and constant gratification finally be a positive thing and propel these new students onto the fast track for success?
Obviously, I don't have any answers, but I am contemplating buying a cell phone jammer just for fun.
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