Mālama Ola: Do Smartphones Make You Dumb?

Contributing Writer Solomon Singer

It was a fascinating, absorbing lecture, with the professor occasionally jumping up and down with glee while delivering his lesson. Class couldn’t have been more fun and interesting, but I glanced over at a classmate, and she was deeply absorbed in a thrilling game of Candy Crush on her smartphone. She was totally oblivious to the professor, the lecture, and the dazzling slides of wildlife in all its beauty that was displayed for the class.

And she wasn’t alone. I looked around in all of my classes and noticed that about a third of the students were looking at their smartphones for almost the entire class. I decided to look further into this smartphone addiction. I began to notice students everywhere who were studying with earbuds plugged in, blaring pop hits and other music into their brains. Many were texting or browsing social media. How does this distraction and multitasking affect someone’s ability to read complicated material and remember it?

I decided to ask a fellow student whom I had seen in class playing games on her phone. She sat in the library lounge, listening to music with earbuds, periodically texting and reading a textbook all at the same time, multitasking up a storm. I approached her and said, “Hi!”

She didn’t hear me because of the obnoxiously loud music she was playing through her earbuds that I could also hear from where I was standing. I had to lean into her narrow field of vision to get her attention, which made her give me a glower, since I had intruded on her social media study-bubble. Once she noticed I was wanting to speak, she removed her earbuds, which she kept poised in her fingers for rapid reinstallation once my intrusion abated.

I asked her how she can study while texting and playing games on her phone. She replied, “Studying is so boring, I have to keep entertained while studying or I’ll fall asleep.” I then asked her how she can learn if she is ignoring the professors in class and instead texting friends and playing games on her phone. She replied, in an annoyed and slightly exhausted tone, “I like am so bored in class.”

I asked her one last question. By this time, her patience was running short, and her earbuds were trembling with anticipation, raring to fly back into her ear canals. I asked, with a curious tone, “What activities on your phone interfere with your concentration the most, and are you afraid of getting bad grades because of your obsession with your phone?”

She obviously realized I was not a fellow smartphone abuser by now, so she took a slightly defensive tone. She said, “Games are like the worst, ‘cause I can’t hear what the professor is saying and play a game at the same time. And I don’t worry about grades, ‘cause I’ll just study the slides later.”

To find out whether this is an actual problem, I consulted my longtime friend and confidant, Siri. I asked her about college performance and smartphone use, and, despite her conflict of interest, she directed me to a wonderful source, which stated the real problem.

A Kent State study by Lepp, Barkley, and Karpinski, titled, “The Relationship Between Cell Phone Use and Academic Performance in a Sample of U.S. College Students,” found an alarming correlation with low GPA and high smartphone use. “Cell phones are an integral part of college life and culture. Even a casual observation of today’s college students will reveal cell phones being used, both overtly and covertly, in every possible campus setting, including the classroom. Research suggests that college students frequently use the cellphone during class time despite rules against doing so.…when asked to describe cell phone use habits, one participant stated, ‘I usually go on my phone if I’m bored sitting there in class. Or during homework I’ll take little Twitter breaks.’”

The study shows an alarming trend towards a much lower GPA for students who are frequently on smartphones and devices. What will become of the next generation of community and country leaders, who graduate college knowing how to beat their phone in Chuzzle, but don’t remember their classes because they were more interested in what was on their phone than what was going on in class?

Lepp, et al continues, “Results showed that multitasking with any of the technologies was associated with lower scores on follow-up tests compared with students who did not multitask.” Focusing on one thing at a time is essential to the learning process. Lepp’s study also showed that students who used phones in class, in addition to having lower grades, were more anxious and less happy.

How can we prevent our modern students from floundering in class, being rude and immature to their college professors by texting in front of them, and failing tests? The solution: Put away your phone and don’t look at it until after class! Some students fresh out of high school may not understand that texting in front of your professor is rude. They are so used to being bathed in the warm glow of their smartphone’s screen, day and night, that actually focusing on class and the professor without their phone for an hour may seem like a ghastly, boring proposition. People seem to want entertainment more than education.

Some professors take the illicit use of phones in class seriously. They will either deduct points for cellphone use, or tell you to put it away. These teachers understand the importance of focusing in class on the material being taught. Other teachers feel that telling students what to do regarding cellphone use is treating students like children. Students need to realize that smartphone addiction will not work later in professional life. A former student whipping out a cellphone for a refreshing Facebook break in the middle of a company meeting risks losing their job.

Resisting the addiction of social media distraction is essential for success in the modern world. It’s all about self-control. Can students resist their phones without the help of professors cracking down on in-class smartphone use? Can students stop being entertained long enough to be educated?

For those who can’t resist their phone, take heart. There may be ways to make a living playing Candy Crush or Pokémon Go.

If you want to kick your phone habit you can go to the UH Hilo Counseling Center for help. They have strategies for addiction recovery and mental health. Next time you’re on your phone in class, check out their website at https://hilo.hawaii.edu/studentaffairs/counseling/.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely the views of the author.

About the author: Solomon Kauka Singer is a premed student at UH Hilo, and is an outreach volunteer for UH Hilo Student Medical Services.