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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

This week’s Editorial

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My phone buzzed inside my bag. I surreptitiously slid it from a pocket and into my lap, peering at the screen and then at my professor to make sure he wasn’t looking at me.

Just another email. Food Truth? I slid the phone back and tried to re-immerse myself in the nuances of the nitrogen cycle.

It’s ridiculous, really, that I can’t sit through an eighty-minute class without checking my iPhone.

It’s usually the first thing I do when I get up in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to bed. I’m not alone, either: nearly 2⁄3 of Americans own a Smartphone, reported the Pew Research center in April. And according to a 2013 IDC Research, 63% of 7,500 survey participants— and 74% of those between 18 and 24 years old—reach for their phone immediately after waking in the morning. It’s like they are our children: we put them to bed, we wake them up.

Or maybe we’re the needy toddlers, glued to the hip of their shiny black screens.

Last week I shattered my own iPhone’s shiny black screen. The glass fractured, the reflective surface now thirty plus sections instead of one seamless plain. The pattern is actually somewhat beautiful, but it’s not a picture they put on Apple advertisements. It no longer has the effervescent gleam of new technology. My cracked iPhone 5, just two years old, sits sadly beside my lab partner’s boastful, big-screened iPhone 6.

Should I just get a flip phone? I do like the “clap” they make when you shut them. And they’re kind of cool now, hipster, whatever. I briefly searched the flip phone market on Amazon, but as I scrolled through the results, I started to think about all the features I’d miss about my iPhone. Spotify, Google Maps, email, texting without incessant clicking, the This American Life app, Ira Glass’ sweet voice, NPR…

I closed the search window.

I’m not alone in this either: though 54% of Smartphone owners say their phone isn’t always needed, 46% feel they couldn’t live without it, the Pew Research Center also reports.

That’s not a very large gap. And honestly, “couldn’t live without” is strong language compared to “isn’t always needed.” Who would admit they “couldn’t live without” their phone? 46% of 2⁄3 of Americans, apparently—also known as almost 98 million people.

I’ve had a phone since I was twelve; an iPhone since I was fourteen. I’ve gone prolonged periods without my phone, but those have all been in wilderness or travel settings. I can’t imagine not having a Smartphone in my everyday life. It fits perfectly in the width of my hand. I rely on it for directions, information, communication. Without my iPhone, I’d be like a bewildered kid separated from her mom in the grocery store, lost in the cold section somewhere between the produce and the dairy.

The fact is, they’re just so freaking helpful. Your Smartphone is like a miniature wizard robot catering to your mind’s every inquisitive whim and need. How do calculate standard deviation? Where’s the closest gas station? What’s Morgan up to? What time is it in Melbourne, Australia? What’s the computational power of this iPhone 5?

Answer: 240,000 times the memory of the Voyager spacecraft, according to NASA.

I sneak out my little wizarding robot during lecture, cracked screen and all, just to know what new tidbit of information it has to tell me at this very second. The plethora and rapidity of such knowledge and connection is intoxicating. For me, and I suspect, for many of us, it’s irresistible.

I don’t need a study to tell me that this instant gratification is shortening my attention span. It’s pretty obvious. I can’t sit still through an eighty-minute class. I can’t read for more than twenty minutes without becoming antsy. I can’t write a paragraph in a paper without stopping to look at Ebay listings or check The New York Times or respond to some text (heck, I just did that while writing this sentence.)

When everything comes easily, it’s hard to focus on anything that doesn’t.

Technology is shifting our mental habits, and we need to begin to acknowledge and account for that. Our little wizarding robot devices are changing the way we think, for the better and the worse.

As of now, it feels like the approach in academia to tackling this attention deficit problem is to beat students back in the other direction. Assign 120 pages of reading for one class! Do the reading! It’ll all important!

But it just isn’t going to happen. Let’s be real: most students will read the first 25 pages, get bored and skim the rest, if that.

And yet, I also don’t want professors and teachers to give up on the battle entirely. I don’t want to be a complete sloth. A part of me wants my professor to call me out when I’m checking my phone in class. Some accommodation for the pace of life in the 21st century feel necessary, but so does some pushback. There are endeavors worth sustained and devoted attention, or at least, more effort than a few taps of a touchpad.

Could we create an adaptive curriculums that focuses less on the quantity of the work assigned and more on the quality of the work undertaken? Could professors teach lesson plans that require less time sitting in front of computer screens and more time working in groups, with others, or out in the field?

Could exams and evaluations mirror the reality of what it means to be proficient in an area; might it occasionally be appropriate to, instead of taking an hour long written exam, have a thirty minute-long conversation with a professor?

I see this happening in some departments. I hear about more group projects, field trips and civic engagements. But we could do even better, think even more creatively. Part of Carleton’s strategic plan is to experiment with online learning models, but personally, I find this dumb. Online learning is code for teaching yourself.

It’s hard, and we do enough of it. I like that the administration is focused on experimentation, but could we try experimenting the other way?

Even in an atmosphere saturated with technology, the world is still about human to human interaction. Learning still happens between people–not between people and their iPhones.

I don’t think I’m going to get a flip phone. I can’t tear my death grip off my wizard robot. But I don’t think I’ll buy a new iPhone 6 either–I’m stalling that decision for now, uncomfortable and yet, somewhat resigned to my co-dependency. The exploding cracks perturbing my iPhone’s glimmering screen are perhaps just the imperfection it needs to remind me of the dangers of our relationship.

In any case, this is the last Carletonian issue of year. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading the paper as much as we’ve enjoyed producing it. Mostly, we’ve enjoyed it because of the creative, intelligent folks we get to work with every week, and we thank all of our editors, staff writers and contributors for their hard work. The paper is the people it is composed of.

We’re excited for fall term, for new projects, for another iteration of our staff, for the return of old editors and the welcoming of new. But between now and then, there’s three months. There’s a thousand opportunities to take a nap in a hammock, to read a book while barefoot, to leave your iPhone at home. There’s an entire summer, stretching out from June ad infinitum like a field of prairie grass running towards the horizon, and from the perspective of ninth week Friday, there could be no better view.

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