“Mr. Mohler, may I use the bathroom?”
Most of the time that question comes from an honest place. After all, we’re in school for a long time each day, and it’s hard to go seven hours without using the bathroom. But it’s probably just as hard to go seven hours without checking our smartphones, and maybe that’s why so many of us use going to the bathroom as a smokescreen for doing just that.
It’s a need that’s almost compulsive; a study by WGU revealed that 78% of teenagers check their phones at least hourly. Because of these little touchscreen devices, the world is at our fingertips both literally and figuratively, and being disconnected from them for an extended period of time can make you feel like you’re missing out. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 56% of teenagers associate the absence of their phone with feelings of loneliness or anxiety. Just a few minutes into the bus ride to Kairos 130, many guys were already bemoaning the fact that they felt “naked” without their iPhones in their pockets. But there are also practical reasons why a lot of us use our phones during the day; I recall the incredibly awkward call I had with a College Board customer service rep during a free period last year. My SAT scores were a few weeks overdue, and since their office would have been closed by the time I finished practice, school was the only time that I could contact them. We use phones to quell the omnipresent fear of missing out (a coping mechanism I’d argue is demonstrably negative), but they’re also powerful tools with which we can manage our lives. These two truths have borne the desire for a new phone policy.
I’d have to bet that most students didn’t take the SGA’s survey about the new policy, but those that did responded pretty boldly. There was a general sentiment in the responses that the current phone policy is archaic and ridiculous, and that teachers haven’t really considered the policy from a student perspective. But the truth (as always) is far more nuanced than that.
According to science teacher Mr. Bromwell, teachers very much have considered this issue for years, and he agreed that there are good reasons for cellphone use, saying that he doesn’t think that we should have to hide in the corner to manage our lives. As I interviewed him for this piece, I realized that his reservations, and those of many other teachers, are very valid. During a meeting between the SGA and school faculty, an ever-impassioned Mr. Edward Brown expressed that a new phone policy would be almost impossible to enforce. How do you tell the difference between the kid who’s texting his mom about how he’s getting home and the kid who’s sending a meme to the water polo group chat?
And the doubts loom even larger than just enforcement. As we feel that our phones connect us to the world outside of school, teachers fear that our phones disconnect us from the community inside it, and these fears are backed by science. A study from the University of British Columbia indicates that people enjoy face-to-face interactions far less and feel more distracted when they use their smartphones during them. In so many ways, our school experience is built on the bonds we share with each other. My fondest memories of school are the lunch periods spent fully engaged in conversations with my brothers about things as deep as their hopes and dreams in life, or as trivial as whether chicken chipotle beats spicy buff. Teachers fear that if we allow widespread phone use, the natural light of conversation and relationship will be replaced by the artificial glow of 6-inch LED screens.
When we couple students’ hopes for the new policy with their teachers’ doubts about it, it’s obvious that the new phone policy has a lot to consider. It has to empower students to make use of their phones to manage their lives and connect to the world outside of school without threatening the human-to-human moments that are at the core of the Loyola experience. It’s a tall order, but if we execute it right we’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of tomorrow’s technology without compromising our time-tested values. I just hope we can figure it out quickly because it’s college app season. I’ll probably need to call the College Board again soon.