Rags of Light

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A college philosophy professor got students to live without their phones for a week and write about it. Not pretty:

I first carried out this exercise in 2014. I repeated it last year in the bigger, more urban institution where I now teach. The occasion this time wasn’t a failed test; it was my despair over the classroom experience in its entirety. I want to be clear here—this is not personal. I have a real fondness for my students as people. But they’re abysmal students; or rather, they aren’t really students at all, at least not in my class. On any given day, 70% of them are sitting before me shopping, texting, completing assignments, watching videos, or otherwise occupying themselves. Even the “good” students do this. No one’s even trying to conceal the activity, the way students did before. This is just what they do.

In their world I’m the distraction, not their phones or their social-media profiles or their networking. Yet for what I’m supposed to be doing—educating and cultivating young hearts and minds—the consequences are pretty dark.

What’s changed? Most of what they wrote in the assignment echoed the papers I’d received in 2014. The phones were compromising their relationships, cutting them off from real things, and distracting them from more important matters. But there were two notable differences. First, for these students, even the simplest activities—getting on the bus or train, ordering dinner, getting up in the morning, even knowing where they were—required their cell phones. As the phone grew more ubiquitous in their lives, their fear of being without it seemed to grow apace. They were jittery, lost, without them.

This may help to explain the second difference: compared with the first batch, this second group displayed a fatalism about phones.