Phone Hijack

Phone Hijack by The Editorial Board

Smartphones may have a stronger grasp on people’s minds than previously thought, a level of control that is alarming, if not downright unnerving.

It is easy to admit to a certain degree of dependency on smartphones; after all, one would be hard pressed to find someone this day in age who is not at least somewhat reliant on the device. Confronting the harmful effects of that dependency, however, is another story. An article in The Wall Street Journal by Nicolas Carr, “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds,” highlights the extent to which this technology influences concentration and mental function.

The overwhelming majority of Americans are all too happy to shrug off any concerns regarding their smartphone obsession and not give the possible consequences further contemplation. More than half concede they feel they could not live without their phone, yet in a test measuring the distractibility of phones, next to none considered their phones a distraction, despite evidence indicating otherwise. 

This attitude can be observed in other settings, including Snider. In a poll of 141 Snider students, only 26 said that phones were a distraction, while 64 thought phones were not a disruption to learning. A University of California, San Diego experiment performed on undergraduate students revealed that proximity to smartphones shares an inverse relationship with problem solving skills, despite “nearly all participants [saying] that their phones hadn’t been a distraction.”

“If it isn’t allowed then I usually don’t think about it,” junior Kyle Oswalt said, indicating that he estimates the temptation to use her phone to be rather low, certainly not something that would be a significant distraction.

Many Snider students took a mind over matter approach, claiming they do not “let” their phones be a distraction, without considering the full range of control that mobile devices can have on a person’s involuntary responses.

“Some students, not every student, but some students, are waiting for a text all the time,” English teacher Mr. James Del Priore said, addressing students who almost constantly have their phones within reach.

Just hearing a phone but being incapable of checking it can cause physical reactions, such as a quickening pulse and a spike in blood pressure, according to a Journal of Computer Mediated Communication study. Likewise, deliberately suppressing the urge to check one’s phone causes mental impairment and decreased performance. Even actively trying to keep the device from being a distraction can be a distraction in itself, as the person’s mind wanders from their task to thoughts of what updates or messages are waiting for them, all without having to actually reach into their pocket.

“I just keep my phone in my pocket or turned face down on my desk,” said junior Madalynn Smith, one of many students who keeps her phone within easy reach at all times.

Of the 82% of Snider students surveyed who have at least one class that allows phones, only one admitted to their grades being negatively affected; however, research indicates they were likely not the only one. In an Arkansas study, students who did not bring their phones to school scored an entire letter grade higher than students who had their phones with them, including those who had the devices on their person but did not use them.

Fifty-six percent of students surveyed felt that taking away phones or implementing new rules would not enhance learning. Many said it would not matter because those who are more undisciplined would still find a way to either sneak in time on their phones or find new ways to distract themselves, yet one U.K. study clearly refutes that, concluding “weakest students benefit most” when phones are removed from the equation.

“People who choose to learn will learn, regardless of whether they use their phone or not,” said senior Carson Skinner, who believes a phone ban would be useless.

Those who diligently defended their phones and the right to use them did so by appealing to the logic of having them around to use as a classroom tool. Some even claimed their phone was not only useful, but that it helped them focus. Many of these people used their smartphone to play music.

“When I am in [language arts] class and I have to write, I have to have music on so I can think,” sophomore Monique Franklin said.

Others use it as a calculator or as a way to look up information.

“I do think phones can be useful as a classroom tool because it’s got all the technology of a computer,” biomed teacher Christina Ehle-Fails said, listing a smartphone’s camera, reminders and recording capabilities as reasons to implement them in class.

Research suggests that phones may not be as beneficial as many estimate them to be. With Google at their fingertips, people are less concerned with memorizing information, trusting it to be there whenever they need it. More people rely less on their brain and more on the internet to have all the answers.

This effect was demonstrated in a study by researchers Betsy Sparrow and Daniel Wegner where subjects who were asked to type information remembered it with greater accuracy if they were forewarned that it was going to be deleted than if they were told it was to be saved. The obvious conclusion is that there is little incentive to learn something that can be easily accessed again and again at one’s convenience.

Not only do smartphones interfere with academics and memory, but with social life as well. According to a University of Essex study, “the mere presence of mobile phones” decreases ability to empathize with and relate to others. It would seem the fear that modern technology is cheapening the value of face-to-face interaction is not unfounded. All too frequently, teenagers and young adults abandon their friends in favor of the company of their smartphones.

“I also notice that people don’t talk in the halls as much because they put earbuds in,” Mr. Del Priore said.

While Carr does not consider smartphones to be the doomsday devices destined to topple civilization, he does suggest a healthy dose of separation from them. The negative consequences cannot be overlooked. The research indicates that a strong dependence on smartphones can be detrimental to academic success and mental growth. They do more than just kill brain cells; they hijack a person’s mind, influencing their behavior and sabotaging their performance.

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