Student Life

Jaipuriar: Digital distractions are inevitable, but students can find balance to address ‘nomophobia’

You used to call me on my cellphone — but now you bombard me with texts, Facebook messages, Tweets and Snaps.

A study recently published in The Journal of Media Education reported that students are more digitally distracted in college classrooms than ever before. According to the study of 675 college students in 26 states, including New York, students spend about 20 percent of class time using a digital device for non-class purposes, which can amount to roughly two-thirds of the academic year, according to researchers.

This comes as no surprise as digital distractions are on the rise in all aspects of our lives. In fact, the Pew Research Center confirms this in a December 2015 survey, which found that one-fifth of Americans go online “almost constantly.” So it’s not necessarily that students find class particularly boring, it’s just that we can’t help but log in.

But there is no one solution that will work for everyone. Still, balance can be achieved and progress can be made if students and faculty work together to adapt to modern classroom dynamics. If each individual creates his or her own code of conduct in class and if professors adapt to this new generation, we can keep up with this fast-paced world.

Students may, for instance, put their phones away completely out of sight in classes of fewer than twenty students. In large lecture halls, on the other hand, they might keep it inconspicuously within reach in case a text warrants an immediate response, an urgent email pops up or inspiration for a funny Tweet strikes.

Still, this behavior can be dangerous. A quick glance for the time can turn into a scroll through Instagram, which can turn into a habit of zoning out completely.

Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor of social media in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, said it’s about personal responsibility. She said even though a laptop in a classroom can be “like a wall” between the student and the professor, there are other classmates who are also affected.

For example, Grygiel said, a classmate checking Facebook or online shopping during a lecture may not seem like the best group member or future business colleague.

“It’s not just the professor that we need to care about — it’s the peers in our class,” Grygiel said. “Being in a brick and mortar school is actually more and more of a luxury, and those in-real-life connections are super valuable. Take advantage of it.”

Those missed connections in class are the forgotten consequences of living in the cyber age. It proves that even though students can get away with texting or Snapchatting during class because of an oblivious professor, it doesn’t mean we have won. In reality, we are on the losing side because we fall into a vicious cycle of coexisting in two worlds at once, the real and the virtual. And we’re pulling classmates down with us because one distracted student can inspire a chain reaction of everyone pulling out their phones.

The short-term high of being sneaky is outweighed by the long-term consequences of this behavior: missing information, spending more time relearning the material and perhaps subtly sending a message to the professor and students that you have other priorities.

Because it is incredibly disrespectful to faculty and their time, professors have a right to intervene. They are the ones running the show and therefore have a right to create rules they deem appropriate, as many make extremely clear on their syllabi. But while this is valid, students alone cannot be blamed for behavior that is a consequence of modern technology.

Increased accessibility of the Internet and the higher rates of distraction show that classrooms must adapt to students and their shorter attention spans. A continuous lecture for 80 minutes is essentially asking students to check their phones.

Professors must understand that as digital natives — those who have grown up with technology — students don’t have the luxury of distancing themselves from their devices. Just take a look at the rising number cases of “nomophobia,” the fear and anxiety of being without a mobile phone, which have been backed up by psychological studies. We cannot live without our devices because we have literally never lived without them.

Keeping that in mind, professors should create rules that align with our generation’s complex relationship with technology. For instance, a strict “no-device policy” can be balanced by occasional 5-minute device breaks, a measure some Syracuse University professors have already put into play. And while cell phones should be up to student discretion, laptops should be banned entirely for note-taking, based on research which shows taking notes by hand is a more effective way to retain information.

As this semester gets into full swing, students should be looking to form healthy work habits, especially by assessing their classroom distractions, because the primary responsibility lies in their hands. Devices can help us survive a never-ending lecture by giving us an easy escape, but they can hurt us in the long run.

Maybe the occasional glance isn’t totally detrimental, but it should be done with minimal damage to the professor, classmates and one’s own learning.

Side note: I may or may not have worked on this piece during a lecture.

Rashika Jaipuriar is a freshman broadcast and digital journalism major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at and followed on Twitter @rashikajpr.


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