I have long tried, as an integral part of my teaching, to learn more about students in their social, cultural particularity. I have done this partly by noting the differences between us, most especially the inter-generational gap. Today I felt as if I had fallen more into an inter-generational abyss.
Students are giving their oral reports; and one student is trying to discuss the cell phone and its use among college students. She wants to investigate the paradox: that while the cell encourages ongoing communication with people one already knows (from clear back in high school for example) it may—by just that fact—inhibit one’s ability to establish new connections with those in the immediate surroundings.
So to get the class engage a bit, she asked some survey questions. The first one was: how many people use their cell phone as their alarm clock. All but three people raised hands in the affirmative. I didn’t even know the cell phone could be used as an alarm clock? I was nonplussed. And to think, there sits that cell right next to the bed, the first thing your average student sees upon waking.
The next question was: how many at this very moment have the phone out where you can see it, right there on the desk. I hadn’t thought to look till she asked. Since she was upfront giving the report, I was sitting “with” the students, though more up towards the front. I couldn’t see the whole room from where I was sitting, but looking off to the right I saw them everywhere.. Right there, usually in the upper right hand corner of desk. Two thirds of the students raised their hands. And probably more would have done so had I not been looking.
The student asked me to close my eyes for the next question: how many students consult their cells during class. I did as she asked so I don’t know the answer to that one—though I expect it was somewhere in the two thirds area again, maybe higher.
The student asked some other questions too but I have forgotten them. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention. And again in the discussion that followed many students said they felt very emotionally connected to their cell phones and that when they forgot them at home or misplaced them they felt lost, even anxious.
While the next student set up her oral report—she was having technical problems—the student next to me show me her Iphone. I have to say that was one impressive phone; you could spend all day poking at that thing—texting friends, or checking the weather, or finding out what happened to Brittany on her big day, or seeing what time it is in Hong Kong.
She could check her email too with that phone, and in a couple of clicks pulled up the email I had sent to the whole class reminding them on what was on tap for that day.
I have to ponder this some more, but for that moment I felt deeply out of it.