In an article titled “Cell phones: friends or foes?” published in the January 2016 issue of the UV, staff writers investigated Marlborough students’ use of cell phones and the harmful effects the devices may have on us. The potential harms to sleep and focused study that smartphones present were discussed. But what the 1300-word article failed to acknowledge is the larger and more significant threats that our technology-based culture poses to our education and academic capability.
Today’s classrooms look far different than they did just five years ago. In 2011, the Honor Code prohibited phone use during the school day, but now phone use is encouraged even inside the classroom with quiz games like Kahoot!. As science and technology advance, so do the ways in which we are exposed to new material. While these technological advances do encourage a more dynamic education, they aid in the loss of our ability to engage with and understand information in the way students in previous generations did.
The abundance of information on the internet provides us with more knowledge than could ever be contained in a book (sorry, World Atlas), but the accessibility of it all encourages us to never commit any of it entirely to memory. We are tested on information in school, sure, but beyond that there appears to be no real reason to memorize facts. If we forget the name of an important historical figure, all we have to do is pull out our phones and Google “assassinated female prime minister India” to find out that the person we were thinking of was Indira Gandhi. The whole process takes at most a minute. In this way, we have come to view the internet as an extension of our own memory rather than a supplement to it, devaluing the importance of personal intelligence.
Furthermore, the very nature of high-tech education encourages a shallow absorption of information. Multiple scientific studies in the past few years, such as Metacognitive regulation of text learning: on screen versus on paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology by R. Ackerman and M. Goldsmith, have proven that, due to our current preconceptions about technology, we read online texts faster than print texts and remember the contents of them significantly less. Though the connection between online reading and poor understanding is metacognitive (thinking about thinking)—due to our expectations rather than the actual act of online reading—the study proves the shortcomings of computer and internet-based education in comparison to physical and textbook-based education.
Beyond this, modern technology is creating a culture of instant gratification that is harming the way students learn. The internet provides a medium in which users are reduced to unthinking observers; Netflix, YouTube, Instagram and other social media sites promote the act of being an onlooker and not participating in the act of creating or thinking, making entertainment significantly easier. This easiness is what draws us away from intellectual and artistic pursuits of our own. When was the last time you sat down for two hours or more away from your phone or computer to read? Write? Draw? Cook? These acts are significantly more constructive and put us in the position to obtain more knowledge and give our time a lasting importance. Yet, when compared to Snapchat and Facebook, these pursuits are challenging, and so we are prone to giving in to the instant gratification of technology. Technology’s efficiency, speed and ease are turning us into thoughtless, addicted observers instead of the eager, hardworking students that we expect ourselves to become.
The question arises, however, of how we can possibly combat this issue, and whether it can be fought at all. We don’t have ourselves to blame for our newfound dependence on our rapidly modernizing technology; the world around us is moving at such a fast pace that it is nearly impossible to remove ourselves, even partially, from the technological sphere. But in the face of our newly internet, laptop and phone-based society, I encourage us to try to be more aware of the ways in which technology affects us and our education.