As a teacher, the most nagging question from students is: “Why do I need to know this?” And, with the advancement in the Internet, and now the comparatively cheap availability to the smartphone, that question gets harder to answer truthfully. I was teaching a lesson on dimensional analysis the other day and started with converting the “fastest man in the world’s” time to MPH. After doing the problem on the board, I simply used the voice recognition software in my smartphone to answer the same question – in less than three seconds. But my real fear isn’t that I am (as a mathematics instructor) becoming obsolete.
My real fear, I realized after driving home and seeing an innocent looking scene, is that we no longer live in the moment: I noticed a woman with a stroller walking down the sidewalk – talking on a smartphone. No, I’m not worried about her walking into traffic, although that could happen; I’m concerned about the lost social-emotional and language connections that she was missing with her child. How much is that child missing by mom being distracted by the smartphone? In previous generations, the mom would have been talking to the child and saying things like: “Look at that pretty flower; can you say flower?” “See the doggie. What sound does a dog make?” Etcetera. Now, parents say, “Hush honey, I’m on the phone.”
I’ve never had call waiting (because if I’m talking to you, you deserve my full attention) and for friends who do and attempt to put me on hold, I disconnect (because I’m obviously not that important). Now I do have access to a smartphone, but I wouldn’t interrupt a “real” conversation to answer a text or receive a call (unless I pre-warned somebody that I was expecting an important call). Yet, I find myself in the minority. That is, not only do my students tune-out to read and respond to the constant barrage of text messages, but I also witness it happening in meetings, at places of service, and it even happened during a scheduled doctor’s office visit. We would be well advised to follow our First President’s advice (which I believe we can add smartphones to the list of distractions…): “Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave...” If we did, we might attain our social-emotional and intellectual potential.