Be as smart as your phone


By Carly Charles

You’ve heard the doleful suspicion at least half a dozen times: Technology is changing the way we learn, possibly for the worse. It’s been calculated that students between the ages of 8 and 18 spend twice as much time in front of a screen than they do in school, as of 2012. 

Furthermore, there have been numerous studies that produce results suggesting that the persistent use of technology “can affect behavior, particularly in developing brains, because of heavy stimulation and rapid shifts in attention,” as noted in the New York Times. 

However, I don’t think anybody’s about to discard technology any time soon. Instead of focusing on all the ways technology hinders our learning, I think it’s far more productive to explore the ways we can use additional technology to aid us.

We must first identify the specific means by which technology negatively affects our learning. 

As I study English and music performance at the University, I’ve encountered traces of these suggested negative technological side effects among fellow students as well as myself.

In my music studies, I sometimes find it hard to focus on one particular facet of music for too long — if I stop counting in my head, my rhythm suffers; if I concentrate too heavily on rhythm, my musicality is compromised. My Internet usage has gotten me so accustomed to approaching many different topics and ideas for small, ineffectual amounts of time. This limits my ability to think deeply on multiple subjects, and I remain unable to be fully attentive and engaged.

I’ll be honest and say that even as I’m writing this column, trying in vain to meet my 9:00 p.m. deadline, I’ve checked my email on my laptop, checked my email on my phone, checked the other email I rarely bother checking, and scanned the sidebar of Facebook to see “what’s new in the world.”

All of these tasks clearly force me to deviate from my intended area of focus, and all of them were done for no better reason than that they were possible, and only a mere click away. 

The Daily Illini published an article this Tuesday about ThinkSuite, “a collection of applications designed to improve focus, mood and knowledge retention and to replace current media that people already use.” 

The cofounders of this product, the article revealed, major in areas of study such as neuroscience and engineering, which undoubtedly lend them more insight and knowledge on the matter of information retention and other brain-related facets of academia than yours truly. 

However, as a University student, I can attest without the slightest hesitation that the incorporation of the Internet and other forms of attention-sapping technology have majorly impacted the amount of time it takes me to complete my work, and tackle assignments in full, without interruption. Judging from the many “friends” I see “online” at many hours of the day and the number of people I’ve noticed at the library browsing sites that range not from Compass to JSTOR, but from Instagram to Upworthy, I think it’s safe to say this is a problem shared by many University students. 

I happen to like the overall point ThinkSuite makes: Technology in the education sector isn’t completely, inherently bad, and we may use it to our benefit to garner an increased level of focus and information retention. 

While I truthfully think I’m more productive away from a computer screen — or, at least, in front of one with no Internet access — the fact of the matter is that “the interwebz,” technology and all the joys and terrors that come with it are here to stay. Rather than attack the negative impact technology has on our brains and the way we focus, we ought to seek out available products and services that enable us to be simultaneously technologically savvy and productive in our professional and academic pursuits. 

ThinkSuite, which consists of an e-book reader, a music player and focus trainer, is just one of these options. Available online one will find masses of free books, free study materials and software that is designed to aid in focus and information retention. There are programs designed to limit the websites to which one has access (i.e., block Facebook and Netflix during the four hour period you reserved to write your religion paper), or to gradually darken the display on your desktop, so as to disallow the glaring computer screen to mess with your sleep cycle. 

Technology both in and out the classroom is an inevitability; thus, we must take it upon ourselves to seek out the technologies that will benefit and aid us in our professional and academic pursuits.

Carly is a junior in FAA.

[email protected]