Too Connected?

Some of you know that I teach in a public school. Today’s post comes from a realization today.

Teenagers these days are connected. Most of my students carry a phone, and several use iPhones or Blackberries, and they are constantly attached to them.

Now, at first glance, the teacher thinks Dang, they’re always on these things instead of listening in class. I regularly catch students, 10 or so a day, sneaking to a hidden spot in the hall to chat or, more often, half-hiding their phone and texting away. None of them are particularly good at hiding them. And the school policy is that they can only be used at lunch and after school. I’m supposed to take them away, but most of the time I just shake my head and let it pass or give them a warning (I know, empty warnings mean nothing), because I don’t want to spend my whole day policing phones, and that’s what it would be.

The technologist in me wants to find a way to utilize their connectivity in a good way (and I have used their love of texting to get messages out to large groups of students), or at least to pass it off as an experience that will make them better at handling the massive amounts of input that working adults deal with. My own teenage computer addiction was like this. I think it has really made me a productive adult. But how true is this about their phone habits really?

Good – They do deal with and respond to massive amounts of input daily, a skill they’ll need later.
Bad – They do miss out on regular instruction because their attention is elsewhere.(Though even those without phones hardly pay attention.)

But here’s the real bad – most of the activities on their phones are meaningless. They chat about things that are personal to them, but hardly have much meaning at all.

Typical exchange:
1) whats up?
2) nm what r u up 2?
3) nothing

Now, though my degree is in English, I’m not one of those people who believe IM speak is the devil. I think if students are taught correctly, they will understand that we can move between different modes of communication, and that the way you talk to your friends is not the way you write a research paper.

However, I am bothered by the lack of substance in their dawdlings. Most of the time, they use their phones for something to do other than pay attention to the world around them. Not that formal instruction in schools is so great that I paid attention. You can bet I was a student who doodled and wrote and read novels in class. But what about in their personal lives? I bet they’re not paying much attention there, either. And that’s the real shame. By connecting too much, they’ve disconnected themselves from the world.