This week's post is written by our NextGen Project Team Member Liz Robertson
When I think about the important relationships in my life, I use technology to stay in touch with friends and family across the globe. It’s an incredible gift! But nothing compares to being together in the same place having face-to-face conversation. I am in the work of Student Development at a private liberal arts college and my husband and I actually live in a Residence Hall with about 200 undergraduate college students! This role has given me a unique perspective into the lives of students. Face-to-face conversation is a skill I see sorely lacking among many college students today. They are quickly tired and distracted during personal interactions. They get nervous and look away and they fiddle with their phones as a way to feel secure. Eye contact can make them uncomfortable. Being face-to-face makes them feel vulnerable and exposed.
In response to these challenges, my Residence Life staff and I facilitated a cell phone-free event. You should know I am not anti-technology, but I feel strongly about the value of face-to-face human connection. Nothing can take the place of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual presence with another person. During our event, we encouraged students to place their phones in this box. Those who didn’t still kept their phones in their pockets so they weren’t out and visible. The social dynamic was drastically different with the physical absence of phones. Meaningful connection and conversation ensued as students were present with one another.
To promote continued learning (and to utilize a passive learning strategy within our Residential Education outcomes), we asked students to engage and reflect on their experience. We encouraged residents to write a word (or draw a picture) to describe their experience without their phones. I had incredible and insightful conversations with college students as they talked about their over-dependence on phones. Multiple students thanked us for providing a space for them to connect with one another.
At the end of the night, some of the words that were written down were free, better, fulfilling, lit, unencumbered, fun, present, quiet, left it [my phone] in my room, peaceful, better off and free. One student went so far as to sum up her feelings with this drawing! Another recommended the book “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age” by Sherry Turkle. I am looking forward to purchasing and reading it!
I was also encouraged by my professor to look at this Phone Smarts article by BYU Magazine. The article encourages people to think less about how much they use their phones and to think about how they use their phones.
After reading the article, I sent the following reflection questions to my residents to encourage mindfulness:
• What have I been doing in the last 15 minutes?
• How have I been feeling? Anxious? Connected? Alone?
• Am I on here just because I’m bored?
• Have I intentionally been using my phone, or was I just passing time?
• Am I using my phone when I ought to be doing something else? During work? School? Sleep time?
For me personally, these questions have been convicting. They have forced me to think about how and why I am using my phone. It is my hope that this process has helped increase awareness and mindfulness within our entire community. I am confident we can continue using technology in meaningful ways while valuing the gift of presence. In doing so, we can be truly connected. The truth is, people love to connect with one another, but sometimes they are scared because connection requires openness and vulnerability and risk. But I believe the rewards outweigh the risks.
What do you think?