Hooked on technology: Call of social world pesters attention spans in class

Hooked+on+technology%3A+Call+of+social+world+pesters+attention+spans+in+class

Abby Kempf

Senior Sarah Nelson pulls out her phone for the fifth time during her Advanced Placement Biology class. She knows she is just going to see another text message from her mom, quite possibly containing a cute picture of her ten year old sister, but she still clicks the center button of her iPhone compulsively every few minutes.

Nelson knows firsthand how difficult it can be to ignore the pull to use her device during class.

“It is difficult for us to sit there and not be on our phones,” during class, Nelson said. “If we aren’t on our phones, we are thinking about being on our phones, so it’s hard.”

“People can become addicted to internet and video games for a variety of reasons. For example, video games, in particular, often feature variable reward schedules, much like slot machines at a casino.” Dr. Christopher Engelhardt, researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Department of Health Psychology at Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders .”

With the multitude of technology, tablets, laptops and the infamous iPhone available in teenagers’ lives, media consumption and time spent online is at an all time high among children, according to a new study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The same study reports that students ages 11-14 spend an average of eight hours a day absorbing media in forms such as music, computers, cell phones, televisions and video games. No matter the form of media being consumed, students are getting technological exposure by staring at screens.

Not only is the amount of screen time increasing, rates in ownership of electronic devices are also rising. Just from 2005 to 2010, ownership of cell phones in children ages eight to 18 increased from 39 percent to 66 percent.

Technology is becoming such an essential part of students’ lives, especially with the widespread use of online textbooks and online classes, that for some, it has grown into an addiction.

Dr. Christopher Engelhardt, a researcher for the Department of Health Psychology at Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri, said addiction to technology is becoming a serious problem, with eight to 10 percent of the population addicted to gaming.

“People can become addicted to internet and video games for a variety of reasons. For example, video games, in particular, often feature variable reward schedules, much like slot machines at a casino,” Engelhardt said. “But other factors…might include playing video games for social reasons, [like] ‘my friends play them so I play them too.’ Playing video games is an attempt to escape the real world.”

Once someone checks into the virtual world, they check out of reality.  Immersed in the social sphere, the present world gets pushed to the back of the mind and sometimes even disappears. Students may think they can multitask, but studies conducted by David E. Meyer at the University of Michigan have proved this isn’t true.

Social studies teacher Debra Perry sees the ineffectiveness of students attempting to be on their device and be present in class concurrently.

“We all think we can multi-task and get more done, but perhaps what we are getting done isn’t being done as well as it could be if we were able to focus on it,” Perry said. “I do know that technology in the classroom can be a distraction.”

Perry consistently sees students zoned out with dim blue light casting shadows on their faces, paying little to no attention to the physical world outside of them.

“I see people walking down the hall and they are just checking their phones. Everybody has their phone out,” Perry said. “I think as a society it’s an appendage to us now, so instead of greeting my fellow people of humanity, I’m checking in [on my phone].”

Addiction to technology is not just about constantly checking your iPhone for a new message or seeing if iOS 8 had finally downloaded.

When technology stops people from performing daily life tasks, this is when the addiction truly begins, and it can be dangerous, Engelhardt said.

“People have died from deep vein thrombosis because they played video games for extended periods of time,” Engelhardt said. “Game addiction…is not simply playing a lot of video games. It’s more than that. Specifically, the games need to negatively interfere with daily functioning [such as] missing work or not showering in order to play video games.”

By Abby Kempf
In an AP U.S. History and AP Language and Composition classroom, junior Karson Ringdahl uses his school-issued iPad to play games.  Since the 2013-14 school year, Columbia Public Schools has issued iPads to all students enrolled in an AP course. Photo by Devesh Kumar.