As a bus driver in the Midd-West School District for the past 11 years, Kevin Hood has watched a steady increase in cell phone usage among his passengers.
And as a result, quieter bus rides to and from school.
“It makes me shake my head when there are two kids sitting beside each other or across the row from each other — and they’re texting,” he said.
With the advent of smart phones came not just texting and talking availability, but a plethora of media, literally right at our fingertips.
“They’re watching videos in the morning, or have their earbuds in, listening to music,” Hood said. “Eleven years ago, that technology was just surfacing and wasn’t even available around here.”
It may have taken away from healthy face-to-face social interaction and outdoor play and imagination, but it’s not the first time technology has had that affect.
“It’s like the video game era of the 1980s,” Hood said. “It’s just that now, it’s smart phones.
Need for interaction
Lewisburg licensed psychologist Nancy Pashchuk said cell phones can be used for both good and bad.
“Any technology is simply a tool,” she said, “it just depends on how that tool is being used.”
Personally, she keeps a cell phone with her, but only to use in case of an emergency. She prefers direct communication versus texting. As a psychologist, she’s practicing what she preaches.
Sure, cell phones have positively helped increase convenient and more immediate communication, she conceded, “But when it’s used in place of human contact — it’s what I would call job security for me. Though I would prefer not to have that kind of job security.”
“Personally, I think that there’s not enough direct communication, and it’s alienating,” she said. “Emotionally, we need to sit down the phone at times and spend time looking at people, talking with them directly, connecting with them directly. And we need to engage in the community — we need connectedness with each other.”
“It’s been said that to be truly human and a person, requires the other,” she added. “You can have the other in Tweet or Facebook terms — or we can have it in an actual interaction. What would you see as the most satisfying?”
In addition, the deluge of information always available to us now is often more negative than positive, especially when we are able to view the disasters and tragedies happening all around the world, in real time, that we otherwise would never have seen.
Pashchuk said that can be spiritually, emotionally and relationally damaging.
“We need wisdom to be able to handle this information,” she said.
“I see students and adults alike with their face in their cell phone for significant amounts of time, checking texts and various apps, and wonder if it has reduced face-to-face conversation and personal interactions,” said Dr. Mark DiRocco, superintendent of Lewisburg Area School District.
“On the other side, kids are much more connected through technology than they were without it,” he said. “Friendships and family relationships can be maintained over large geographical boundaries that would have been difficult to overcome in the past.”
Most would say, however, that cell phones have made our lives richer, at least as far as convenience is concerned.
Dr. Anthony G. Butto, DSW, director of The Courtyard Counseling Center in Selinsgrove, said he remembers 9/11 well — a day that was especially disconcerting because his daughter was working in New York City at the time, and they were unable to reach her by landline to see if she was safe. They didn’t hear from her until that night.
“After that tragedy, we bought cell phones for our family,” he said. “This highlights perhaps the most positive aspect of cell phones — they can keep us connected to our loved ones in a way that land phones are simply not able to.”
Certainly, cell phones have made our lives easier.
“We can make calls while on the run, from our cars, and from the grocery store while shopping to check to see if we need milk or eggs,” Butto said, adding that not only can we research the Internet, hop on social media and stay in touch with friends and family, “We can check the weather, our bank accounts, our children’s school assignments or grades, and our stocks. We can shop, pay bills and make appointments.”
“Cell phones bring the world to us in a simple, manageable way,” he said.
Hood said the technology of the iPhone has been beneficial in regard to some of the students with special needs, such as struggles with social interaction, who ride his bus.
“If they have a phone, or iPod or a Gameboy,” he said, he uses that to his advantage. “It keeps them occupied and keeps them from acting out.”
For other, however, cell phones can mean more stress, because they mean we are “on call 24/7,” Butto said. “Some people find it difficult to turn off their phone — ever! This obviously creates a multitude of problems.”
Butto said he believes the biggest problem with cell phones is the danger they pose to us while driving.
His research shows that cell phones are implicated in more than 25 percent of all auto accidents and up to 50 percent of all daytime single-car accidents. Most of them are due to a person talking on the phone, which is actually more frequent than the typically blamed texting while driving scenario.
In addition to his job as a bus driver, Hood is a local emergency medical technician, and a 911 dispatcher. And he has seen far too many accidents that have been caused by the distraction of cell phones.
But thankfully, that number has been going down.
“The initiative is out there — don’t talk and drive, or text and drive,” he said. “The laws have helped a lot. But you still always have that instance that someone was texting or talking and distracted.”
Damage to relationships
Real, human interaction, Pashchuk said, is “sitting face to face, talking to somebody.”
It’s the chemistry of another person sitting alongside you, and experiencing one another’s’ nonverbal cues, and the shared sights and smells in that time and place.
“The actual human experience is lost in texting,” she said.
And in many cases, texting and social media allows us to distance ourselves from one another, making it “easier to send nasty messages,” she said.
Butto, a marriage and family therapist, said he has seen many couples in crisis because of extra-marital affairs, and “Cell phones are the most common tool implicated in this crisis.”
“Communicating via text, email and social media often give people a false sense of privacy and anonymity,” he said, “but in reality they are easily discovered.”
“Cell phones have long surpassed the secret notes and ‘lipstick on the collars’ in the affairs of days past.”
Cell phone usage and social media — Facebook in particular — has often been blamed for marital estrangement, Butto said, adding that it is usually the husbands complaining about the wives in this regard.
“Women are much more social than men, and cell phones facilitate quick and easy access to friends and family and can often be very time consuming,” he said.
Pashchuck said she, too, has seen the ways texting and instant messaging have destroyed relationships, as well as a person’s personal life.
“I have many patients who have gotten themselves into a lot of trouble texting,” she said, explaining that virtual reality has led them to “engage in activities beneath them.”
Pashchuk also said it is crucial that children be properly supervised while engaging with others through technology, as there have been so many instances where they have gotten involved in relationships with others that have proved tragic.
Butto reminds that cell phones are just like computers, containing a lot of personal information that can become victim to hackers and scammers.
“A basic rule of thumb should be: If you are communicating on your cell phone something that you don’t want others to know, remember that it is potentially discoverable.”
Hood said it’s a common and sometimes comedic sight to see little kids teaching their parents or other adults to use their smart phones.
“They’re more tech savvy,” he said.
To Milton Area School District superintendent Cathy Keegan, that’s actually something that can be used for good.
“Since the birth of technology, life has never been the same, especially in schools,” she said. “As school leaders, we are faced with how best to meet the challenge because technology is now our reality.”
The question they face, she said, is “Do they battle technology or use it to enhance their educational programs?”
A district policy formed to answer that question reads: “The board recognizes the value of allowing students to use personal electronic devices in school to support educational goals and objectives.”
“Milton does provide opportunities for our educators to use their discretion of student technology use so that learning can happen anywhere and anytime,” Keegan said. “Our students are respectful of technology, regardless that it has proclivity to be disruptive. In preparation for career and college, we believe that we have a responsibility to our students so that when they graduate they are ready to join a globally competitive society.”
Lewisburg Superintendent Mark DiRocco agrees that technology is here to stay, so why not work with it instead of against it?
“As educators, we have to adapt to the technology and use it to our advantage,” he said. “If students are excited about using technology, let’s harness it and use it in the most positive manner possible to enhance learning.”
“I don’t believe cell phones are any more of a distraction than pocket-sized transistor radios, Sony Walkman and iPods have been in the past,” DiRocco said. “Good classroom management and effective school rules will overcome any distractions that may affect learning.”