Tech: helps, hinders learning, interpersonal relationships

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    As technology has evolved over the years, students on campus have access to quicker forms of communication and expression. They now have access to almost anyone or any type of media at the push of a button thanks to devices like cell phone and MP3 players.
    These devices have been known to cause distraction and can make people seem unapproachable. Do cell phones and MP3 players hinder students’ awareness of their surroundings?
     “Digital technology is transforming our culture in complex ways that are difficult to fathom,” said Harald E.L. Prins, University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology. “Newly engineered portable devices such as the cell phones enable us to communicate with friends, relatives and colleagues almost anywhere and at anytime. That is the new media environment of ‘connectivity’ we now live in.” 
    The Collegian conducted a recent poll of 275 K-State students in several lecture halls and in the K-State Student Union to determine how often students use cell phones or MP3 players when they are walking to and from classes.
    About 10 percent of the students surveyed said they used either device during the entirety of each and every passing period. About 28 percent claimed they used one of the devices during the entire period, however would put the device away if they saw someone they wanted to talk to. Close to 36 percent said they use one of the devices only for a couple minutes during each passing period. And only about 5 percent said they use a cell phone or MP3 player occasionally during one or two passing periods per day, and about 20 percent said they never use either when walking in between classes.
    When the students were asked if using their cell phones or MP3 players hinder them from speaking with other people on campus, about 5 percent of students said they were completely absorbed in the device they were using. About 9 percent said they don’t talk to or approach people (strangers and friends) if they are using their cell phones or MP3 players. An overwhelming 81 percent of the students polled said they don’t let their devices hinder interaction with people on campus, and only about 4 percent said they use neither device when walking on campus.
    Lastly, when the students were asked how often they noticed people or their surroundings on campus, only about 1 percent of the students said they are completely involved in their devices and seldom look around while walking on campus. Nearly 45 percent said they are involved in their devices but can pay attention to the important things around them. About 39 percent said they seldom look at their devices while walking around and are usually paying attention to their surroundings or the people near them, and about 15 percent claimed that they were totally alert and paying attention to their surroundings or people near them while walking on campus.
    Charlene Kamper, who recently spoke at K-State, is a teacher and speaker on teen issues, learning, and relationsßhips from The Dibble Institute. The institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping young people learn the skills necessary for successful relationships and marriages. In a recent press release, she stated that students’ overuse of technology “is altering the developmental and educational process.”
    According to the press release, she said when students listen to something new electronically after a class, the new information can disrupt the brain’s comprehension of the class material.
    “The brain is capable of parallel processing, and when a student leaves class, his or her brain typically continues processing the educational message for a longer period of time,” Kamper said.
    An overload from multi-tasking, especially if the tasks are unrelated to each other, can slow down the brain´s ability to link thoughts properly, Kamper said.
    Prins recounted his own experience in an airport, where the number of people on their cell phones was overwhelming.
    “I felt like an alien in a surreal world of phantoms. Likewise, iPods allow us to be plugged into an incredibly rich soundscape, privately listening to recorded voices and music while walking across campus, eating in a diner, or driving in your car.”
    He said in his lecture hall, he will occasionally tap a student on the shoulder who is listening to an MP3 player.
    “It is as if I just woke them up, because they were mentally and emotionally tuned in elsewhere. Being with someone plugged up, I realize I am tuned out, almost completely irrelevant in that person’s environment,” Prins said. “In short, the digital revolution presents us with a paradox, an internal contradiction: the new technology both promotes and impairs ‘connectivity.'”
    Prins said he believes there could be a possible psychological impact from MP3s, “when waves of music drown out the more subtle sounds of leaves blowing in the wind or drops of water falling on the ground.”
    “And what happens when we have become thus desensitized to nature?” he said. “Is there such a thing as becoming addicted to music, when silence is boring or simply unbearable?”
    Students were given an opportunity to give any additional thoughts or opinions on the use of technology at the end of the survey several students were very eager to comment.
    “This is one of the first things I noticed when I came to K-state,” wrote Cody Bansemer, junior in pre-journalism and mass communications, in the comment section of the survey.  “People are hard to meet because they are too busy in their own world. They also walk out into traffic without looking or thinking twice while on their MP3 or cell phone. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets hit. I think it curbs away from interpersonal communication and the ability to meet new people.”

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