Foran class gives up cell phones for lesson in technology dependence

Spending a day without their cell phones wasn’t an easy assignment for most of the students in Lisa Farrell’s journalism class at Foran High School.

Last Friday almost 20 of Farrell’s students were asked to turn in their cell phones at the beginning of the school day for a lesson in the power of cell phones and technology and for a school newspaper article. The idea of going phoneless had come up during class as an interesting article for Foran’s Mane Street Mirror, and student Katherine Riordan was tasked with writing the article: So she needed her subjects.

“I just wanted the students to be aware of the power of technology and how it can affect all of us at some level,” Farrell explained.

For the most part, the assignment went well, offering students an eye opener into their own reliance on cell phones.

Most of them have iPhones, and they treat them with kid gloves because of their vital role in daily communication.

Without them for the school day, some said they felt disconnected.

“I didn’t know what to do in between classes,” said Juliana Tuozzola. “Usually I have my phone, and I don’t think about it. I just have it.”

She and the other students often look at their cell phones between classes to check text messages, Facebook, Twitter and Instragram.

“I look for anything my mom has texted me,” one student added.

And it’s not just the social media aspect. The students said they also rely on their phones to check the time, and even these days to check postings or notices from some of their teachers and the guidance office.

“I felt disconnected,” said Mark Duffy, who sought out Farrell between every class Friday to try to get his phone back, but with no luck. Mark said his cell phone makes him feel connected to the world and his friends. Group messages, the students said, are a big thing with today’s teens, keeping them in the loop with various groups of people in their lives.

Khadija Ashfaq said she just always has her phone in hand between classes and her hands felt strangely empty on Friday. “I didn’t know what to do with my hands,” she said with a laugh.

She also said that some classes actually call for cell phone use. Her foreign language class uses Kahoot, which an Internet search revealed is “where over 30 million empowered educators and captivated learners connect in real-time to create a social, fun and game-based learning space.”

Student Katie Buckheit added, “A lot more teachers are getting more tekkie.”

Though they are a small sampling, these students likely aren’t unique in their phone attachment. A 2013 article in The Atlantic, which covers news and analysis on politics, business, culture and technology, states that more than 90% of adults have a cell phone, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. For people under the age of 44, that number is closer to 97%.

“Pew calls the cell phone the fastest-adopted device in history,” the publication reported. “These things are subject to some variability because of when we start the clock, but the cell phone adoption rate is certainly up there with the radio and color TV, and far faster than computers or landline telephones.”

Not all of Farrell’s students turned in their phones — this wasn’t a graded assignment, said Wyatt Johnson, who held onto his phone for the day.

“Generally, I think it’s a bad idea to be cut off from all communication,” Wyatt said.

And while she sort of laments the fact that she didn’t take part in the social experiment, the teacher held onto her phone too.

Farrell said she planned to turn in her phone, but at the last minute she couldn’t do it. Part of her job is to tweet messages for the school newspaper, and she needs her phone to do that. Plus, she has young children and didn’t like the idea that she might not be reachable quickly if she was needed.

She said she also uses her phone to time group sessions during her classes.

“I wish I did turn in my cell phone,” Farrell said, adding that she does let it go when she’s on family vacations — because she’s with the people she needs to keep tabs on.

There are some exceptions to the can’t-go-without-the-phone group. Eva Knudsen admits she may be in the minority: She didn’t miss her phone that much. She usually has it in her backpack most of the school day anyway and keeps it there so she doesn’t have to provoke a teacher to tell her to put it away.

“I didn’t really feel a change,” she said.

But for the majority, it was a bit nerve wracking. Some of the students said they had 60 to more than 100 messages waiting when they finally retrieved their phones at the end of the school day Friday.

The lesson?

“I’m addicted,” said one student.

“Don’t lose your phone,” said another.

Julia Mahroos had an interesting observation. She said it may take a week or so to break the cell phone habit.

Julia was traveling this summer in Belize and didn’t have her phone for 12 days. The first seven days were tough, but after that, it was almost a relief not to be tied to its constant messages.

“After a week, it felt good,” Julia said.