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Cellphone Addictions: Nuisances or Serious Threats?

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People outside the academic communities probably wonder why teachers are so concerned about the flood of student cellphones into our nation’s classrooms. There are probably several related reasons. For many educators, cellphones have become a major threat to creating a positive learning environment free of disruptions to student learning. Some evidence also exists that “cellphone addictions” have become serious impediments to the development of cognitive skills. As a college professor for many years, I would like to share some personal perspectives based on my own experiences. I will also connect them to related media accounts of others who are concerned with cellphone and social media impacts on education and personal growth.

In my last blog, “Do Cellphones and Social Media Create Superficial Thinking?” (Nov. 2, 2019, I questioned the youth culture that is aligned around cellphone usage, texting, and social media. In the very next essay assignment in my college writing classes, I had my students address the same issues. I also had them work with the same sources I used: Bianca Vivion Brooks’s “Our Fear of Being a Nobody” (New York Times, October 4, 2019); “Human Interaction Improves While on ‘Digital Detox’” (San Diego Union-Tribune, October 29, 2019); and the chapters I assigned from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond (1854).

I was curious as to whether there was a generational divide that separated my early life on the Minnesota prairie, when there were no cellphones or social media, from the world of young people today that seems almost too electronically interconnected. In our small town in the middle of the last century, we had very few electronics. We hunkered down for the winter months with an old radio with limited reception and the books we checked out from our local Carnegie Library. Television signals sent from Minneapolis 150 miles away were too remote to create much more than snowy white residue across a bulky silver screen. My family did not even own a television set until we were well into our teenage years—and even then the reception was so bad no one watched it. We were, for all practical purposes, cut off from the rest of the world during the long winters. Still, in some ways those were simpler times when a younger generation didn’t have quite so many threats aligned against it. So I was curious how my students would react to their peers like Bianca Vivion Brooks who were questioning the impact of cellphones and social media on their lives.

During our in-class discussions of the essay prompt, my students and I focused on the possibility that cellphone and social media overuse might be responsible for superficial thinking patterns and problem solving. Some of the students could still not resist the temptation to periodically sneak peaks at their cellphones that were concealed in various hoodies, oversized sweaters, or other bulky apparel. I seized on those opportunities as “teaching moments.” However, no one seemed particularly concerned that they might be engaged in the kind of compulsive, addictive patterns of behavior Brooks and other writers had addressed in their respective articles.

During the breaks, most of the students........

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