This semester I’ve noticed cell phone usage in class has skyrocketed more than ever before.
In previous years, I’d seen fellow students using Facebook or texting only in larger lecture classes. In the setting of smaller and more intimate classrooms, students only chanced offending their instructors in cases of extreme urgency: their phones hovering mere millimeters under the surface of their desks, thumbs twitching as if from a stroke, eyes plunging up and down between the class above and their rapid composition below.
Today, barely a year after students found themselves in constant fear of being “found out” by their professors, I’ve seen them kicking back, hardly a care in the world with their phones out on the surface of their desks right in the middle of class — even in classes of only 20 or less students.
I no longer see them panic. Quite oppositely, the students look relaxed. They seem to find no risk in tapping out text messages which are truly urgent. Even more shocking to me, they produce the cell phones from their pockets fearlessly for the simple time-killing purposes of scrolling through news feeds or browsing Amazon.
Surely the instructors notice, surely they are upset — disappointed, even. But no, even when a student’s phone rings, dings or vibrates loudly, distractingly, other students as well as the professor fail to bat an eyelash.
What’s changed? In just a few months to a year, how has cell phone etiquette in the classroom become a thing of the past?
We’re all guilty of over-usage: That’s the answer.
Smart phones, 3G, 4G and the Internet have finally permeated through the entire population. Instructors, for the most part, no longer bother to embarrass an data-using student in the middle of class, and it’s because they know the behavior isn’t going away any time soon.
In fact, they’re probably part of the problem in other ways. It’ll only get worse, and no one can stop it.
A few months ago, friends and peers would tell me I was being rude when I’d pause a live conversation to allow myself a few moments to read and reply to a digital message.
“It’s offensive,” they said, “because you are telling the person you are speaking to in-person that they aren’t as important.”
Now, the same people who have said such things to me in the past have begun interrupting our live interactions to permit themselves a few seconds to manage their social lives and email inboxes. As the percentage of people who own smart phones rises, the percentage of people who believe using them instinctively, habitually or obsessively is bad, will plummet.
The behavior can be likened to a cigarette addiction.
It starts off slowly, harmlessly. But before you know it, you’re telling friends to “hang on a second” while you get your fix, regardless of how it appears or who it offends. And because everyone does it, everyone understands, and no one balks or scolds anyone else for excessive cell phone usage.
Smart phones have become a major part of our society; there’s no doubt about that. People all over the world, even in the poorest of countries, own them and use them to snap photos, interact with family and interrupt their friends mid-sentence.
They’ve benefitted us in a number of ways, but they’ve also depreciated the value we place on face-to-face contact.
Reach the columnist at email@example.com or follow him at @MrJakeWAdler