As students, we are all aware of the penetration of technology into our academic lives.
We use laptops in class to take notes and email to keep up-to-date on syllabus changes. We check the time using our cellphones, and we even use dictionaries on our smartphones to look up words in other languages. Technology can aid learning, working and developing social relationships. Nothing about taking quick notes, viewing the time or checking the spelling of a word is inherently distracting, yet profs ban technology from class. As a rule, using a cellphone during class is now considered rude.
Don't get me wrong. It is impolite to text in class, no doubt about it. A prof or a fellow student is speaking directly to you – perhaps not speaking solely to you as there may be many other people in the room – but they are speaking directly to you. The same is true if a friend is speaking and you are ignoring them, absorbed in your phone – that's rude too.
It's not rude because of your phone, though. If you take out your phone to check the time in the middle of class or a conversation, that would not be rude. When you check the time you are interrupting your interaction with your use of technology but you are not mentally removing yourself from the situation. If you are doing a crossword while in class, or counting ceiling tiles while a friend is talking to you, that's another story.
There is nothing inherently rude about the use of technology and even if you are not in the process of using your phone, it still does not guarantee you are being polite (or engaged). There were many rude people around long before the invention of the cellphone. And it is possible that you may leave your phone in your bag for an hour and still retain zero content from a prof's lecture. It is the mental commitment to the lecture or the situation at hand that determines your actual engagement with the subject matter. And that can be present both with and without a cellphone. Your commitment (or your lack thereof) to the interaction is what makes you polite -- or not so much.
My personal work term experience as a field co-ordinator with the Department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development gave me some fresh perspective into the texting in class issue. As part of my work, I gave 50-minute presentations to high school students all over the province about becoming entrepreneurs. I viewed the classes from a prof's point of view and it served to remind me of the similarities between texting in class and texting during one-on-one conversations. Either way, if your face is in your phone and you are talking to someone else, your mind is somewhere else.
My opinion, as such, is to let people text as they choose – in class or not. When you text (or daydream or doodle) you make a conscious decision to mentally remove yourself from your present situation. When the situation is your university education, I think that's a decision you're old enough to make.
Megan Denty is a fifth-year commerce student. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.