Technological Isolation

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“Every instinct in me tells me to text someone, send an email, check my Instagram [or] see if anyone saw my story. Why is this my instinct?” writes freshman Taylor Repak in her daily time log as she observes the classroom full of students on their phones, their eyes glued to the tiny devices they hold in the palm of their hands.

Along with Repak, fellow freshman Lily Jarosik chose to participate in a device-free social experiment for three days with no access to any personal technology in or outside school. This included their phones, iPads, and televisions, among other miscellaneous devices.

Some might question “why would it be so hard to live without tiny pixels creating a pseudo-image of what we call reality?” But the reality is that between Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and every other social media rabbit hole, it’s almost impossible for the average high schooler to go through the day without falling into one. With hours of incessant scrolling through endless branches of videos and comments, the interconnectivity is so appealing to a teenager that commenting on a YouTube video or reacting to a friend’s story is difficult to resist.

According to Digital Information World, children spend 142 minutes a day on their personal devices, which is just over two hours. When considering school devices provided, it is likely that there are probably a few thousand mobile devices in school a day. At RMHS for example– Take each person and add a phone (that’s 2,000).  Add an iPad (and we are close to 4,000). Then add an ELMO or projector for every room, give a phone and laptop to every teacher, add the dwindling computer labs and miscellaneous devices, and we are now at likely near 5,000 devices in this school alone. The amount of devices in just one building is mind-blowing. These devices, though well-intentioned, are addictive and can even be seen as damaging to some students. 

This widespread technology addiction affects not just the school day, but most social situations as well. Repak, sitting on her school bus home, observes her surroundings with a newfound shock.

“I look around, and it’s like a scene from a movie,” Repak said. “Everyone’s quiet, everyone’s head is bent, everyone is scrolling with their thumbs the exact same way. In almost complete synchronicity, it was scary.” 

The technology fixation may affect home life too. During the experiment, Jarosik noticed how her family would come home, all migrate to separate areas in the house and ignore each other for hours on end, playing games and clicking on video after video. The subconscious exclusion was evident, and it stung. As she stared at the ceiling on the days she would come home without a phone, she couldn’t think of anything to do. If there’s no phone, then what was there to occupy her time? She was afraid that at times, she could not think of an answer.

Regardless of the struggles and isolation for those without technology outside of school hours, it became apparent that the worst time to be without personal technology is during the school day. 

“Our school life revolves so much around the iPad,” wrote Jarosik on her third day in technological isolation. “Hardly any teacher is running a class without technology.” 

Repak and Jarosik both agree that while this social experiment was exceptionally eye-opening outside of the school day, it undoubtedly caused a great deal of stress in school. Not only were they often interrogated and sometimes judged by their peers, but it began to affect their academic performances. Without an iPad to use, everything had to be printed for the girls and was the cause of anxiety for both the students and the teachers. Although the teachers were ecstatic for this challenge, many were less than thrilled with the need to print and accommodate the two outlying students by the week’s close.

By the close of their experiment, the girls learned a great deal. Not only was living without a phone liberating at times, but it was necessary. However, being without a personal device during the school day was a completely different story.

“In the end, going a week without technology sucks,” Jarosik said. “I would definitely not recommend. It’s sad but the truth is it causes a lot of stress to be without it. As the week went on, I found it easier to go without my phone but found it harder and harder to not use my iPad. Things like checking emails and Schoology began to stress me out and I eventually had to ask my mom to check my updates for me.”

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Repak expressed similar thoughts on the experiment.

“It wasn’t too difficult without my phone, but the lack of an iPad for academic purposes was incredibly difficult to cope with, despite it being worse in the aftermath of the experiment,” Repak said. “I hadn’t realized the sheer amount of work I was missing until it was all marked ‘late’ in Infinite Campus, and it all needed to be made up.”

While education uses technology in ways that help aide student learning and work to expand their knowledge, the cell phone does very much the opposite by isolating people from those who are physically in the presence of others on their devices.

Even though the two girls adamantly agree that they wouldn’t participate in this kind of experiment again, both admitted to having a new perspective on how connected they are to the digital world and how much they rely on technology for everyday life. 

 

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