Smart Phones, Self-Regulation, and Attention

[In the school in which I serve, the administration, acting on the instructions of bureaucrats further up the policy chain, has basically, by default, allowed students unfettered and unregulated access to their smart phones. It goes without saying, I assume, that this approach has made teaching and learning all but impossible in this institution. Moreover, it has created serious discipline problems that have led to bitter power struggles between faculty and students, screaming matches in hallways and classrooms, an overburdened deans’ office, and a generally ridiculous and often completely unproductive learning environment. Not that my work is necessarily about me, but I think it’s at least worth mentioning that this situation has rendered a travesty my efforts at helping students become stronger, more proficient readers and writers, and therefore more capable students overall.]

“As Mark Twain said, ‘The two most important days in life are the day you are born and the day you discover the reason why.’

Purpose, however, hinges on self-regulation, the ability to resist impulses in the service of long-term goals. Unfortunately, an entire generation is coming of age absorbed in Facebook and other media that undermine self-regulation, says Larry Rosen, a professor emeritus at California State University and a coauthor of The Distracted Brain. Fully grown adults are no less immune to the dings and pings of feedback that make smartphones so compelling. ‘You may want big ideas, but if your attention is jerked away constantly, they won’t come. There’s no time to process anything on a deeper level,’ Rosen says. Not, he adds, is there time for creative daydreaming, because the brain is often overstimulated.

Rosen has found that young adult students can maintain focus on important work only for two to four minutes on average before checking emails, texts, and social media (older adults are not much better)–and it can take up to 20 minutes to get back on task. The more hours students spend media-multitasking, the lower their grade point average. Even a single check-in on Facebook during focus sessions predicted a lower grade.” 

Pincott, Jena. “10 Life Skills.” Psychology Today, May/June 2018.

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