HigherEdMorning.comAre Students Cell Phone Users -- Or Addicts?

Are Students Cell Phone Users — Or Addicts?

April 1, 2013 by Geneva Reid
Posted in: Special Report


Question: When you walk across your college’s campus, how many students do you see who aren’t visibly holding a cell phone in their hands?  And let’s even tack on another question to that: How many students do  you see who are walking and conversing with friends — while simultaneously using their cell phones?

Two researchers have been looking at the issue of cell phone addiction and they’ve come up with some more than interesting observations.

“Of course, cell phones have their merits,” James Roberts, who co-authored the study and is a professor of marketing at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, told U.S. News.

“There’s clearly a utilitarian value. But we’re talking about something that is portable and available 24 hours a day. And like anything, if we go overboard it can become a problem.”

Roberts and Stephen Pirog, of Seton Hall University, compiled their research in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

According to Roberts and Pirog:

  • more than 90% of college students regularly use cell phones.
  • young adults, on average, check their phones 60 times a day.
  • they send out approximately 3,200 texts every month.

It was these stats that led the two men into asking: Has cellphone use become an addiction?

Looking at close to 200 students from two universities, the researchers explored what constituted typical cell phone use and could that use be controlled by the handlers of the phone.

They found impulsiveness and materialism drove the use of cell phones when it came to college students.

They compared the urge to check the phone, send a text or make a call as similar to the compulsion to gamble, shop, or use a credit card excessively.

As far as materialism, Roberts and Pirog found that for many students, the phones were the equivalent of designer jeans of sneakers. In other words, they were seen as a fashion statement.

And like any addiction, the question needs to be considered whether students are enjoying their addiction — or wish they could stop.

Interestingly, previous studies have found that undergrads have a complicated relationship with their social media technology.

Just take a look at this joint poll conducted by the Associated Press and mtvU.

According to 2,207 students at 40 colleges:

• 40% say they have at least 500 friends on Facebook – but hardly interact with most of them

• 25% said they’d feel relief if they shut off their cell phones and computers,

• 60% said they’d be confused if someone failed to respond immediately to a text, and

• 57% said a social-media blackout would increase their stress levels.

College counselors see these numbers as a sign that mental health services need to catch up to student needs. The recommendation: Counseling centers should do more to promote personal interaction among students. (Keep the vision in mind of students walking across campus together while simultaneously texting on their phones.)

That doesn’t necessarily mean turning off the computer or cell phone. But it certainly could mean some kind of  “intervention” is needed.

Yet at least one college is putting a completely different spin on the issue.

Seton Hall (where Pirog is a professor) recently put into effect an effort to help students better engage in their classes via smartphones.

This past summer, the school provided smartphones and pre-paid cell phone plans to incoming freshman.

The phones are equipped with an app so freshmen can connect with other incoming students and academic advisers.

What are school officials hoping for? That the smartphoine (Nokia Lumia 900) will keep students engaged with Seton Hall, even when the students aren’t on campus.

“We need to be able to reach [students] and connect to them,” Michael Taylor, an associate professor and the school’s academic director of the Center for Mobile Research and Innovation told usnews.com. “We want to [provide] a device that’s always on, always connected, and tends to always be with the student no matter where they are.”

Smartphone use has had an astronomical rise in this country: In 2009, 27 percent of students owned smartphones compared to 69% in 2012.

In all truth, even students are starting to question whether they (and their peers) may be overindulging in cell phone use.

Ryan Turk, a columnist for Collegiate Times, writes: “When I walk around Virginia Tech’s campus, the three most abundant things I see are vehicles, students and cell phones.

“The smartphone has morphed from a practical communication tool into one’s organizer, phonebook, video game console, personal computer, MP3 player, digital camera, video camera, sound recorder and news outlet.”

And, Turk questions, are these devices lowering the quality of college life?

He makes a good argument:

“Many have argued texting and instant messaging has made communication much more impersonal between friends. It is as impersonal as it is lazy. Instead of telling someone you are happy, you can send somebody a smiley face emoticon.”

So the real question to be answered is: Have cell phones somehow transitioned from a great communication device to a tool that actually hinders communication?

Let us know what you think in the comments section below.








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