Brandeis students are stunted by technology

March 9, 2018

I attended an open forum with President Liebowitz about a month ago which gave interested members of the community the opportunity to voice their opinions about the aspects of Brandies they thought should change. One speaker expressed that students are not ever truly dedicated to their activities here at school. The speaker understood Brandeis students take on a massive course-load and fill their schedules with club meetings and other extracurricular activities. They felt Brandeis students prevent themselves from fully dedicating themselves to these pursuits because they are distracted by technology. They used the example of students in the library, who they said constantly distract themselves with phones and Facebook.

I think that there is some truth in this speaker’s concerns. I do not want to sound like an old man screaming at millennials, but sometimes when I look around the library for the perfect spot to study, I wander across the computer screens in Upper and Lower Green with a passing glance see students on Facebook and other non-academic sites. I cannot help but remember the classes in which I sit in the back of the room, seeing lectures completely ignored by at least a fourth of the class or more when laptops are allowed. There might be some truth to the statement that, even when we are participating in academic and extracurricular activities, we are constantly distracted by our phones and laptops.

I am not absolving myself of guilt; my brain is a master of distracting itself. I have taken steps to avoid these distractions by “unliking” certain distracting pages on Facebook and limiting my phone’s News alerts. Phones are engineered to distract us. The bright lights and rapidly changing content on our screens is designed to keep us looking as long as possible. The 24-hour news cycle, which is now just as present on phones as on TV, gives our phones even more material to distract us. Our brains love this sort of thing.

I think that Brandeis students might be uniquely susceptible to this sort of distraction due to stress caused by the high-achieving culture of the school. Our phones encourage us to distract ourselves from that stress rather than face it head-on. Brandeis students’ penchant for distraction from stress is fueled by a lack of independence allowed by middle-class environments, as well as an in-group out-group mentality that leaves wealthier young people frightened of the world around them. I wrote about this mentality in my recent opinion piece “The Disorganization Kid,” where I also state that the sheltering of middle and upper-class “high achieving” kids creates adults that prefer their screens to scarier face-to-face interactions. If any interaction may be unwanted, we just look down.

The more distraction that occurs, the less time a student spends using the privilege to study at a university and the less likely we are to learn to better interact face-to-face. Even if we can’t put down our phones, we should at least be aware of the effect they might be having on our academic and social wellness.

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