Digital technology has experienced nothing short of a miraculous renaissance that has defined my generation and will continue to define all generations henceforth.
In layman’s terms, cell phones have weaseled their way into our everyday lives.
Every day, I rely on my cell phone to wake me up at a reasonable hour. Between classes, I consume the majority of my news through the New York Times, AP News and NPR apps (with a smattering of thumbing through Twitter).
While classes are underway, I might go months without seeing my friends who have graduated. With social media, I can exchange messages, and even see their faces on Snapchat.
And, within my own profession of being a journalist, I can schedule interviews with sources, record the interviews, splice it together into a video story or type out live-tweets, all from a small box in my hands.
I can take notes and organize them with the “Notes” app. I can access and respond to email anywhere in my home (not just my desk). Cell phones have made being organized and responsible more accessible for everyone, all from the palm of my hand.
So why do professors abhor their use in class?
I already pay tuition. What business is it of theirs if I show up to class, use my phone to take notes and follow along with the readings, or alternatively text my friends, shoot out a tweet and post a gallery to Instagram? Or if they say a complex word or phrase, or make mention of an obscure historical event, why do they care if I’m writing down their lecture or enriching my own understanding by Googling what exactly the Creek War of 1836 was?
Professors eliminated cells phones from classrooms via the syllabus years ago, and have not quite seen them re-introduced since. That’s because the utilities of cell phones 20 years ago revolved around calling home to mom and dad to throw extra money in your bank account and flirting with that cutie down the dorm hall on a button pad with nine digits and some symbols. Plus, the irksome ring tones that came with these phones would make any academic scholar want to claw their eyes out.
Don’t get me wrong — if the dude in the back of the lecture hall keeps ding ding dinging throughout the professor’s monologue, they should have to silence the phone or face other punitive measures, be it removal from class or loss of a letter grade. Besides, I’m not sure what kind of human being could survive the first noisy notification of a text without dying from embarrassment and quickly shutting off their volume.
But the cell phones of 20 years ago are not the cell phones of today. As I mentioned above, there are so many positive uses for cell phones that do not detract from learning, but rather enrich it. Professors are assigning more online articles and less physical textbooks to read. Why not let students access that via cell phone?
Even more baffling is the fact that some professors allow laptop computers and touch-surface tablets to access readings, but prohibit cell phones. The only fundamental difference between the potential for abuse between these devices is the fact that a cell phone can fit in a student’s front pocket. Tablets can post to Instagram and send Snapchats. Laptops can shoot off tweets and share memes on Facebook.
Perhaps the most pilfering part of professor’s policies prohibiting the profligation of cell phones in academic settings is the underlying implication that students are not able to discriminate between responsible and irresponsible uses of technology. This is condescending and incorrect. Students and students alone are responsible for their success in a class in every other dimension.
Across the spectrum, when people are granted responsibility, they are also granted the opportunity to develop discipline and restraint in their adoption of responsibility. And in an evolving workplace that will likely require college graduates to use their cell phones to aid them in completing the job, it is evermore important for students to have an acquired focus achieved not from rules imposed by professors, but through learning that the more they pay attention in class, the more successful they will be. Their future careers depend on it.
Think about it, professors. Or, as Chase Slenker will write on the next page, “Give it a thought.” Cell phones only have the potential to grow students’ experience. And if students misuse them, it’s to their own disadvantage.
"Your World Today" is a weekly column written by the editor-in-chief of The Slate. It represents solely the subjective opinion of the individual who wrote it. For Staff Editorial opinions, see this week's "The Slate Speaks."