What Happened When Students Experienced "A Day without Cell Phones"
What my students reported was incredibly telling and informative for educators as well. Here are some reflections: Students reported feeling uneasy because a common routine was broken. Many were used to waking up in the morning with the cell phone alarm, checking for messages, and listening to music. They reported being incredibly bored and not knowing what to do with odd moments such as waiting for the bus. They felt uncomfortable when waiting in a room with strangers without anything to do. They reported feeling like outcasts from their friends and disconnected from their peers, even angering parents or close friends when they did not respond to calls or texts. They reported feeling paranoid, worrying what emergency they might have missed or what they would do if they needed to contact someone. Most did not leave their phones home because they needed to have them for security, and they reported that they looked at their blank screens for comfort during the day. Those few who did leave them home kept feeling phantom buzzing and would panic in moments when they realized they didn't have their phones on them. Students reported feeling sick, feeling horrible, getting angry; and for some this experiment started off feeling like it was the worst day of their lives.
Then in the reflections, students who did make it through the day, a majority of the fifty-four students I had, reported that they realized how addicted they had become to their phones and how distressing this realization was. They made a vow to be more thoughtful about their cell phone use. They reported that they saw things they never noticed before as they walked places; they got chores done, got a lot more schoolwork done even though they didn't use the Internet, walked their dogs, took a nap, helped cook dinner, and enjoyed conversations with friends and family, a television program with parents. In school, in fact, the time went
in class when they weren't constantly checking their phones and they were "forced to listen to the teacher." One student wrote: "I am not my cell phone. I am more than 16GB of pictures I'll delete next Tuesday to make room for a new app. I am more than glass that will crack with one drop at the wrong angle. I am more than my cell phone and for that I am grateful."
What was really remarkable about this preliminary assignment is how well students were able to understand the methods and value of a bit of sociological experimentation, and understand viscerally, how technology is particularly affecting them. This authentic experience also became good source material from which they would compose their final written synthesis essays.