Saturday, March 2, 2019

Thinking About Smartphones and How We Listen

Recently I was getting my haircut a few blocks from my house. My stylist is a friend from high school. She was a few years older than I was, but I still remember her curling my bangs  with a cordless curling iron on the bus to a marching band competition. Side note - it was the late eighties and serious bangs were a must, thus the cordless curling iron. When I had arrived at her shop another friend from high school/ college was just finishing up. The three of us stood there catching up and one of them mentioned her concerns with smartphones. She mentioned that she had done research on how these devices rewire our brains, making us unable to focus on long tasks for extended periods of time. In doing this research she said she is now using her phone less often and is following their recommendations of finding five minutes to meditate, five times a day.

I left thinking of her words and the conversation we had. This had already been a topic I’d been considering. Author John Green famously announced he was leaving the majority of the world of social media for 2019 because he didn’t like what had happened to his attention span and he attributed it to living his life with his phone and social media. (You can see John’s video HERE.)  I’ve actually written about this before on this blog back in 2013 which you can read HERE. There I was focusing more on eye contact, but I think we have lost a lot of that, lost the personal connection, all due to our phones.

I talk to my students about this every year when I show this video:

We talk about what we’ve lost as a society in that everyone seems to be glued to the devices in our hands, and I am no different. I have taken steps in the last few years to make sure it doesn’t have all of my attention - I try not to always have it out unless I know someone will need me. The only notifications that come to my lock screen are phone calls and texts, everything else can wait until I choose to go to that app. Ditto to the red notification bubble - it makes me want to check the app, so those are turned off too. But it’s not enough.

Like Green, like my friend, I have noticed my attention is broken faster than it used to be. After reading THIS article a week ago, I’ve redoubled my effort to focus on this. And so, I’ve sought out silence - walking the dogs for a bit with nothing coming through my headphones. Driving in silence. Time spent when I arrive at the coffee shop where I just sit and stare at the cars passing by, letting my mind wander.

I’ve also activated Screen Time on my phone and I pay attention in regard to how I use it. I’m proud to say that the time devoted to social media is low, my Kindle app on the other hand is crazy high. I also got a Kindle for Christmas because of this, so I can read completely away from my phone.

On Tuesday I was teaching our mini lesson in the front of our classroom. This immediately follows independent reading and the kids move forward, finding a spot somewhere in the front half of the classroom. For quick writes they are welcome to write on Chromebooks or notebooks, whichever format works best for them. That day I noticed how many of them were being pulled to their Chromebooks instead of what I the lesson at hand. I asked them to shut the devices and we dove into what active listening looks like and what it doesn’t. We talked about how frustrating it is to talk to people who are constantly texting or looking at their phones instead of paying attention. We talked about how it feels to be in a conversation with a teacher or parent and they glance down at their smartwatch that just vibrated. We talked about how I watch them sit at tables in the morning before school in a circle, one or two kids talking to the table, everyone else staring at their phones.

We were left with a desire to do better, to do more, but the knowledge that this is hard work. My kids are beautiful souls and I know they mean well, they know I mean well, so we’re going to work on supporting each other in this. That being said, if you see me out and I have my phone on the table, feel free to whisper kindly, “Actively listening.” That’s our code and I’ll thank you for it.

Happy Saturday, friends -