Turning it Off and Back On Again

Recently, we’ve had more and more professors experimenting with asking the class to put all their tech devices away. Chances are, you’ve had this experience as well — an increasing number of professors (including those from Georgia State) are banning laptops and phones from lectures altogether.

We’ve all heard the argument about information retention and learning before. A significant amount of research has gone into proving that students remember lecture material better when they write it down. But something we’ve neglected to discuss is technology’s steady impact on social anxiety and how that’s impacting the classroom.

The prevalence of social media is undeniable. Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat command a total of over a billion daily users. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many believed the internet would help those with social anxiety, due to its ability to create new personalities and anonymous interactions. But studies are showing that the inundation of technology in our lives is actually creating social anxiety. We, by and large, prefer digital communication over in-person interaction, harming our ability to develop deep interpersonal relationships.

Think about how often you’re alone in public and start flipping through your phone, looking for interaction. We’re addicted, and a single still moment triggers that disquieting stir. We’re not lonely. We’re not.

The trend is obvious in classrooms today. When students are so busy absorbing a professor’s lecture and furiously regurgitating it into Evernote, we’re less likely to engage with the lecture. “Can anyone tell me the difference between normative and affective commitment to an organization?” the professor asks the class. Deafening silence.

We could all benefit from a serious conversation on our needs and expectations about our constant digital connection. Does your work have a demanding load of emails or group chats? Do you feel heavy thinking about unread messages? Set boundaries! You have a responsibility and an incentive to advocate for yourself. It’s clear your academic and professional performance can be as impaired as they are improved by these technologies.

Set times throughout the day where you must be by yourself and make it clear to those who count on you that you won’t be reachable during that window. If this feels too strict or too harsh, consider the alternative where you are expected to be reachable 24/7.

Ironically, our phones can help us address this issue. There are a myriad of apps on either the iOS and Android markets that can help us monitor our screen time or find some peace and quiet.

Apps like Headspace, Offtime and Forest can coach you to find the balance that’s healthiest for you. Start with five minutes of guided meditation or ten minutes of phone-free studying and you’ll be surprised where it takes you.