Most people in the Colby student body have never lived in a world without cell phones. The first iPhone was unveiled in June of 2007, when most current students were toddlers. By the time our generation entered middle and high school, the presence of phones in society was permanent, mainstream, and unavoidable. We had become the first generation of young people to hold the power of the world in our pockets.
As many of us have gotten older, iPhones have assumed a variety of identities. In particular, their relationship with education. Of course, easy access to the internet has posed some challenges for the prevention of cheating; though this problem is more prevalent in younger students. In a college environment, the complexity and specificity of schoolwork shifts the role of the cell phone completely. In this setting, the iPhone assumes the job of ‘distractor’ and ‘interferer’, with social media being the biggest culprit. At a school like Colby, this effect is only heightened by the intense academic demand.
Cell phones have also risen as a topic of academic interest and research, legitimizing their effect on larger society. Nowadays, there are established impacts of social media on attention spans, mental health, and more. This was not always the case. It has seemed that throughout my academic career, phones have gained a greater presence as a part of my life that is demanding to be studied. Usually, this so-called ‘studying’ of my cell phone use consists of determining to what extent its negative effects apply to me. For example, last year I was asked to conduct a cell phone ethnography for an anthropology class, a feat which tasked me with carefully reviewing and documenting my online behavior for 24 hours. The assignment called for me to scrutinize and be aware of the way I spent my time, and the extent to which my cell phone commanded my day. This was not the only assignment that looked at these issues, in my personal experience and for many others across the campus. Classes such as psychology, statistics, and computer science have all integrated a study of cell phones.
The potential damage that social media can cause is well-known and well documented across the College community. There is a clear and present anti-phone atmosphere that exists on campus. Now, this isn’t to say that there is a reduction in their use or that cell phones and connectivity they bring are a bad thing. The aforementioned atmosphere instead is one that exists in conflict with academics; people frequently view them as devices that are prone to disrupt our productivity. That they are addictive and denigrating to our health in the long term. In spite of this, conversations surrounding the depreciation of our attention spans and corrosion of our dopamine receptors do not often translate into changes in practice. This may be a testament to the nature of the addiction, or the overestimation of it. Regardless, most choose to turn the cheek when it comes to addressing their cell phone use.
Is this a commentary on campus culture as a whole, or a parallel to another problem? Maybe, though not necessarily. On a surface level, it is simply important to acknowledge the profound effect that our phones have on our perception of technology, the world, and our personal development. Doing so may help us to transform the way they are used, and lead to a healthier relationship between students and iPhones.
~ Wyatt Tune `26