Arts, On Campus, Column

Why Millennials Just Can’t Put Their Phones Down

If you went to class this past week—and hopefully you all did—you likely received a half-pound syllabus, some hesitant eye contact from that one kid in your orientation group (which is awkward whether it’s been a week since you’ve seen him or three years), and a new nugget from your professor. That nugget (buried within side tangents from yours truly) went something like this:

I know that we’re all adults here, and I can’t really forbid you from doing anything, but I would really discourage you from using your phone, laptop, tablet, Google Glass, or Google Contact in this class. I think we’re losing touch with how to communicate with each other—and studies have shown that students learn better with handwritten notes than typed.

Odds are, at least one student in the class was shopping at virtual J. Crew precisely as this all went on.

I went to five different classes last week and received five thoughtful, well-articulated iterations of the above nugget: most technology is not meant for the classroom—at least not yet. A few years off, it well might be a robot standing at the front of the class reciting Shakespeare to us, but as for now, chalkboards rule the roost here at Boston College.

Education is changing. Most grade schools have a bundle of laptops and iPads ready to be dispersed at a moment’s notice. Mine didn’t, but they do now. Most high schools require their students to carry their laptops with them like the Power Rangers carry their morphers. Mine didn’t, but they will soon. Who knows, maybe in 10 years we won’t need teachers in class. Maybe some C-3PO character will be running 8-year-olds through their multiplication tables. This would hopefully make education cheaper, but then, probably not.

So we’re stuck in the middle here, with none of us, institutions included, really sure how to proceed. How do we maintain that level of human interaction needed to learn without getting left behind with Fred and Wilma? (That’s a Flintstones reference—Google it.)

New technology is inescapable. It’s what many artists are dealing with, as well. This is what Childish Gambino’s sophomore effort Because the Internet is about. This is one of the many things The Social Network is about. One is riddled in honest pretension. The other is the best film of the 21st century.

It’s a tough question—how do I break away from my gorgeously cracked phone? And the answer is simple, really. Grantland’s Steven Hyden wrote in his review of Glover’s album:

“In a recent interview, Glover talked about growing up in the pre-Internet world and how he can still ‘remember what humanity is like.’ We need to ‘bring that good shit with us,’ he said. Actually, you can go back to that world whenever you want. It still surrounds us. Just look up from your damn phone.”

There are some summer days when I don’t miss a tweet on my timeline. I follow 243 people. But then again, there are days my eyes glaze over every single tweet. Sometimes I’m eating on campus, scrolling through my timeline but not really reading—just scrolling interestingly so it looks like I’m waiting for someone. Anything that keeps me from twiddling my thumbs. Anything to not just sit, because to just sit is to be alone and to be alone is to experience what Louie C.K. calls “the forever empty”—total isolation, the knowledge that you’re truly alone and might even die alone. Happy Monday.

But to just sit is also to see and listen—whether it’s observing your professor talking about math stuff, two freshmen on a date, or an out-of-line Mac employee blasting country music through the PA. We’re stuck in the middle, between this avalanche of impassive technology and some vision of an ideal past where people actually interacted with each other. We’re stuck between feeling shielded by this bright screen and frightfully exposed through it.

Striking a balance is key, because I love Netflix just as much I love the sight of changing leaves. And maybe we can have both. Maybe you can spend an afternoon watching House of Cards and then spend the next apple picking—because the boy in me always thought that might be really fun.

So if you see me around and I’m hunched over my phone scrolling through some impassioned tweets about the fake How I Met Your Mother ending, give me a nod so I know we’re cool and kindly smack that damn phone out of my hands. And then go on to class. It’s too early in the year for skipping classes.

Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Editor

September 7, 2014