Technology is a double-edged sword. Although technology has significantly increased the resources readily available to us, we have become addicted to its omnipresence. Technology and social media, while certainly convenient, have fostered an overreliance that takes a toll on education in the U.S.
Firstly, the addictiveness of social media detracts from our education by distracting us from our studies. A 2011 study of students at Johnson & Wales University indicates that 45 percent of their sample spend six to eight hours a day on social media and 23 percent spend more than eight hours daily. That means nearly 70 percent of students spend at least six hours a day checking social media.
With all of this time spent online, it is inevitable that technology will encroach into classroom time. Aaron Heresco, an assistant professor of communication at California Lutheran University, wrote via email, “To take different technologies, such as mobile phones and student laptops, I often feel like they take student ‘out of’ the class. It is almost impossible for students to resist checking Facebook, email, fantasy sports scores or Twitter when class material seems so dry and boring by comparison.”
Heresco’s observation may be attributable to social media’s diminishing effect on our attention spans. This year, the National Center for Biotechnology Information released statistics pertaining to attention span and the rapidity of online browsing. The organization reported that the American’s average attention span has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to only eight seconds in 2013. This means that Americans’ present attention span is now one second shorter than that of a goldfish, which has a nine-second attention span, according to the NCBI.
The NCBI correlates attention span reduction with Internet browsing statistics: we are more than four times more likely to view a page for fewer than four seconds than we are to view a page for at least 10 minutes.
Though correlation does not necessarily indicate causation, the NCBI statistics suggest that the fast pace of Internet activity may contribute to the reduction of Americans’ overall attention spans. Furthermore, this connection is likely mutually reinforcing, as our lessened attention span increases the appeal of the continuous stream of online distractions.
In turn, our desire for constant stimulation weakens our self-discipline for tasks such as studying and research.
As Heresco explains, “[Teachers] end up in a situation where teachers are struggling to attract the attention of students who are looking for the constant excitement and connection of online life.”
When a Vine shows us something entertaining in six seconds and we get frustrated when a YouTube video has a 15-second advertisement, how is anything else supposed to compete?
The lack of focus abetted by technology impedes learning efforts not only during class but outside the classroom as well.
In an interview with the American Psychological Association in 2010, psychology professor and procrastination researcher Joseph Ferrari said that “technology today makes it easier to procrastinate.”
Procrastination, commonly known as the bane of the college student’s existence, encourages us to put off our studies until the last possible second. However, cramming for a test or scrambling to finish a term paper is not conducive to retaining information or producing polished work.
Therefore, it is unsurprising that a 2007 meta-analysis published by Piers Steel, a researcher from the University of Calgary, shows a negative effect of procrastination on academic performance.
While technology has its wonderful benefits, our education is compromised when we prioritize our digital lives over our education. When we cannot remain present in a lecture without checking to see if we received a text, SnapChat, or a “like” on an Instagram photo, we lose focus in our studies. The easy accessibility of social media dissuades us from giving undivided attention to any one task, whether it be participating in class or completing an assignment uninterrupted.
“How can I compete with the wealth of distractions available in the mediated world?” Heresco asks.
He believes that classroom technology must be used wisely in order to avoid the problems commonly associated with digital media.
“One of the big questions, and challenges, in higher education is thinking through the best ways to harness the power of technology while still maintaining focus on the important aspects of education, such as critical thinking, socialization, and effective writing and speaking skills.”
My advice? Unplug, logout, and shut down your devices, and you will become aware of how much of your life has been attached to technology and social media. Though we should not abandon technology entirely, we all should acknowledge and attempt to limit its toll on our learning and our lives.
Published December 10, 2014