unreceptive art


People make fun of my cell phone, excuse me, Blackberry, for being so small (forget the fact we used to make fun on any phone larger than a credit card while today we strap laptops to our hip) and its outdated features. Still, I’m sure if used correctly I could run NORAD. I just make calls, check email, and text people. Sometimes I take pictures.

I was confident when I first owned a phone which resembled Captain Kirk’s transponder that I’d not forget some basic etiquette rules, the most obvious being to look at people when they talk to me. But I’ve been teaching college long enough to know the generation which occupies the seats today have never not known cell phones, so eye contact was never really an issue; they just don’t.

I also know how addicting technology can be so I decided to update my cell phone policy for my course outlines. I never had to do that when I first taught. Students sat and the closest they came to distraction was with each other, or the weather outside, or sleep. You remember–non-device diversions. Today, we live in a world where we need to put up signs to tell people not to throw garbage out the window. We are so mentally preoccupied that we actually need a law requiring posted signs to remind workers to wash their hands after they wipe their butts. And now we need policies to suggest to students they actually pay attention to the professor. So at some point the collective collegiate community found it necessary to establish guidelines for technology. I created my first phone policy from various college handbooks and it read something like this: 

Cell Phone Policy During Class Hours: (early 2000’s version)

Cell phones or other electronic devices are prohibited from use in the classroom unless the professor or a recognized counselor approves such use. Neither should students disrupt the class by leaving to respond to a call.

How pleasant. I thought it made me sound affable, maybe even approachable in a distant sort of way.

I had a student once sit in the second row and lean down behind the student in front of her to talk so I wouldn’t notice. I noticed. One student answered his phone during class and talked in a regular voice to someone from work. When I stopped teaching to protest, he put his hand up, covered the mouthpiece and said, “Excuse me but I’m a master chief.” That was the last day he ever attended one of my classes. One student politely excused herself to talk on her phone outside the class, which is fine, until she was just two feet outside the room and told her boyfriend in a not so quiet manner, “I’m in class you dipshit! Oh that’s right, you’re too stupid to read the schedule I put on the fridge! I should have put it on my sister’s ass where you would’ve seen it!” True story. While I pointed out she should have left the building to answer that one, I excused her for originality.

Some students read their texts and tell me they’re taking notes. They’re not and I know that because their excited expressions don’t align with my desperately boring discussions. Some tell me they’re checking the time. One guy actually admitted he was playing a game because he was bored. I asked which game and he said “Sonic the Hedgehog.” I told him my son used to play that game and he looked up all excited like we had made some connection; when he made eye contact he saw how much we hadn’t.

It’s irritating. Not because I don’t understand; I do, I really do. I can multitask; I can totally listen to a lecture while scanning my phone to see what emails came through and who is texting me. In fact I might even argue it is a good thing since it teaches students the reality of multiple people talking to you at the same time at just about any workplace. And if it’s done discreetly, it really doesn’t disrupt the class. I’ve sat through more than a few faculty meetings during which I wanted to text colleagues across the room, “If I were the man I were five years ago I’d take a flamethrower to this place!”

But most students miss the point. They don’t get how disrespectful it is. They’re more like the master chief, or, worse since their sense of entitlement wasn’t earned but instead  nurtured, they simply don’t understand why they can’t do exactly what they want when they want to. Therefore, at some point a stricter notation seemed necessary. So as technology advanced, so did my cell phone policy.

Again, I updated the outline:

Policy Update Concerning the Use of Cell Phones During Class: (2010 version)

Put away the damn phone you miserable no good dirtbag! What makes you think you’re so important that whoever calls or texts you needs an answer immediately because your thought is so essential to civilization that it can’t wait ninety minutes? If it’s that big of an emergency they should call 911. If it’s not you can wait until I’m done talking and by the way while I am talking look at me and not at your phone because that is how vertical homo sapiens are supposed to act! Essential? Bullshit. Shove your ego aside and accept the fact you’re talking to your girlfriend or on Facebook or checking updates or seeing the score. Here’s the score: Shut the fuck up or put the phone somewhere so far removed you’ll have too fart to answer it!

Faculty senate refused to approve that one.

When I was in college we talked face to face. Today I get to class early and absolutely no one is communicating with each other. It wasn’t too many years ago when the class was alive and people learned about each other, shared stories and made futures together. Now most maintain an umbilical to friends at home or from high school, preferring “facetime” before class. Ironic, actually. It’s not hard to find the advantages to the pre-tech days when we spent more time around picnic tables or fires talking to each other, never being interrupted or excusing ourselves. We were present, one hundred percent, and between the money we saved and the time we spent driving to a friend’s house, or the convening on the corner at night beneath a street-light to have a conversation, we savored friendships, never deleted each other’s final thoughts.

Perhaps advantages exist I haven’t begun to fathom. Maybe lifelong friendships can be continued which in my day faded, some friends forgotten by distance and silence. Sometimes when I see a young woman laughing at her phone, messaging back to someone she has known since seventh grade where they might meet that night, I’m sorry I lost touch with parts of my youth, and it makes me want to reach for my phone and do a quick search of the names of old friends. With that in mind, I knew despite my age and decades teaching, it was time to update my technology policy one more time to accommodate a changing generation:

Policy Update Concerning the Use of Cell Phones During Class: (Today’s draft)

When using your cell phone during class, do not plan to type texts or emails, but use the time for reading incoming messages, as that is less disruptive. If you have a backlight turned “on,” please turn it off during movies so you can read the text but the illumination doesn’t distract from the film. The west side of campus is Sprint and T-Mobile friendly; however, the east side of campus is best for Verizon users. All of this is questionable during storms, of course. Please refrain from verbal and even facial reactions to incoming texts while I am lecturing, and perhaps read only the good messages, and not from someone you are fighting with as that might also disrupt the class. If you do find the need to call or text someone back, please do so during “group work” where the interruption is less noticeable. In the event your battery should die or you chose to use data which might drain the device during class, I will provide power strips at various locations in the class for more efficiency. If you have any questions, please consult the cell phone technician now located at the entrance to each building on campus.






4 thoughts on “Unreceptive

  1. I literally shed a tear I laughed so hard reading this. While I’m glad I remember a time before we collectively disconnected through virtual social networks, accepting this new way of life is challenging.

    Liked by 1 person

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