As part of a digital citizenship unit I do in my classes, I show a documentary called Digital Nation. It is a 2010 Front Line production that takes a look at the new “connected generation” and how they are faring in this new wired world.
A sign of the times, the February 2, 2010 production is only 5 years old, but it already looks dated. What is interesting however, is that the questions and the concerns this documentary posed in 2010, are still fresh and relevant today. We don’t seem to be working through the issues that the digital era has placed before us, yet advancements in technology soldier on. An ever-widening gap has developed between what we understand about technology and the technology itself, but I wondered if this is just a gap my generation just can’t traverse?
Some of the things we worry about and posed in this documentary include:
- Digital addiction
- Myth of multitasking
- Short attention spans
- Inability to think clearly
- Poor analytical thinking
- Disconnect between real and online worlds
Even as someone who endorses and supports the use of technology, I have my concerns about theses things. As a teacher I see unhealthy behaviors around the use of technology all the time and it isn’t just with the students. The funny thing is, there can be quite the double standard when it comes to tech and who is using it. One minute I can hear an adult complaining about kids and their dependence and misuse, the next minute that same adult is doing the very thing they were complaining about the kid doing.
To get a bit of a measure on what kids thought about their own use of technology in school, I did a bit of a survey after watching Digital Nation. I should have actually given the survey before and after to see if the documentary had some effect on the way they thought about their relationship with technology, but the post view survey yielded some interesting results just the same.
Just so everyone realizes that I realize the survey is not scientifically valid. I declare the data unscientific! Just fun to look at.
First concern any of us have about our digital device use is how much time we spend on these things, so the first question I asked was how much time do you THINK you are spending on a digital device over the course of a week. I thought the responses were quite reasonable until I referenced a recent study of college students published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. It was concluded that.
…college students spent nearly nine hours daily on their cell-phones. As the functionality of cell-phones continues to expand, addiction to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology becomes an increasingly realistic possibility. Roberts, Yaya, & Manolis (2014)
Addiction issues aside, this number dwarfs the number I got in my little survey. What it is suggesting to me that my students are under estimating their time on-screen and that all of us probably spend much of our time blissfully unaware of time we are squandering on our devices.
The other concern, especially with educators, is that kids cannot focus on anything for more than a minute or two without checking their phone or gazing longingly into some type of screen. Again this is not just a student issue, I see plenty of adults who are compulsively checking their phones or sitting down at a computer terminal. “Oh! I am JUST checking my email… be off in a sec” Sustaining focus seems to be an issue and something that is quite important to some tasks in life.
My results seem to suggest that the majority of my students have at least some level of awareness about how their devices affect them and if they are aware of it, then there is hope they can change their behavior should it become problematic. However, if we are talking about addiction issues then changing the behavior won’t be a matter of a simple rational choice.
The next statement played with the idea of banning digital devices in schools all together and as you can see this idea was not all that warmly embraced. This statement got the highest number of NO FLIPPING WAY votes of any of the questions, but there were students who thought that it might be an idea. Why they voted for an outright ban… Who knows but it goes to show there is a segment of the student body who are willing to entertain the idea.
What I found most interesting was how well the next two questions were received. The suggestion of a more moderate stance, where devices were not banned but instead moderated or controlled was much more acceptable to the students. This would be more along the lines of how things play out in class now, but many educators (including myself) still struggle with issues around appropriate time and use of digital devices. It is very difficult to regulate device use in a classroom. You can have all the rules you want around when students can use a device, but there is ALWAYS at least one student in class trying to push those boundaries and this drives some teachers absolutely batty.
What surprised me was the support the students gave to the idea of having some classes where devices are not allowed. I would be curious which classes they would accept a device ban in but alas I didn’t ask that question. I am sure there could be arguments made for digital free zones in all subject areas, but I don’t think we could ever get to a place where one course was digital free and another not. I think time better spent would be working to create a school/classroom culture where appropriate time and use guidelines are respectfully followed by both students and the adults in the building.
Although there is nothing in my little unscientific survey to suggest that we have this digital device thing all figured out in our schools, I think there are more positives in these graphs than negatives. It would appear to me that my students are more than willing to take a critical look at their device use and are willing to accept situations where they don’t use their device for a period of time. It looks to me that they might actually understand that there is a balance to be had between living device free and being digitally dependant.
Life is undoubtedly different today than a scant twenty years ago but we are learning how best to manage this wired world we live in. We will undoubtedly make mistakes but I think we will eventually be able to bridge the gap between the two solitudes of Device free and all wired all the time.
Roberts, J. A., Yaya, L. H. P., & Manolis, C. (2014). The invisible addiction:
Cell-phone activities and addiction among male and female college students.Journal of behavioral addictions