Cell Phones and the Brave New World of Hyper-Information

iphone_home Make no mistake about this, the world is moving from an Industrial Age to an Information Age. The ramifications of this are still to be seen over the course of the decades ahead of us. Many think this is the worst thing that has ever happened. Education will be unduly ruined they tell us. (It will surely be changed and how people learn will be radically altered I believe.) “The sky is falling” is pretty close to their approach. Others think this will be a new golden age. Everything from cell phones to social networking will bring us all much closer to each other and to real community. I am of neither opinion. Just as in other great shifts in culture and life these will bring about much good. There will be some new possibilities for improving life and we can already see a few taking shape around us each day. But there will also be some distinct problems that will further erode the human condition socially.

I was reminded of this by a recent Common Sense Media survey done for the Pew Research Center on the use of cell phones.

The majority of high schools in the U.S. ban cell phone use during school hours. Yet problems, some of them serious, remain. Consider the following data:

70% of high school students carry a cell phone.

65% of high school students use their phone in school.

69% of high schools ban the possession or use of phones during school hours.

63% of students who attend schools that ban cell phones use their phones anyway.

440 text message, on average, are sent each week by high school students. 25% of these are sent during class time.

2/3 of all students say their classmates use their cell phones to cheat.

1/3 of all students admit to using cell phones to cheat.

The problems here are obvious. The issue is not first about cell phones but about self-control. We would not win any prizes for self-control in most contexts. Technology is useful. But technology without self-control is misplaced and becomes at best a major distraction.

At the other end of the spectrum some schools have argued that iPhones and BlackBerrys (which are essentially mini-computers) could be used with great value in the school setting. Perhaps the answer will be to provide a computer to each student and at each desk someday.

I wonder about your schools? Your students? Your thoughts? Is this a real problem and if so how do we positively address it? The technology is not going away so we had better come up with some thoughtful policies that are not simply massive over-reactions.