Sunday, September 28

Stupid experiment about being unplugged

Situation: college kids have their digital devices confiscated for an hour.

On the face of it, that doesn't seem so bad. The idea is to see how kids fare when they cannot check their devices every two seconds.

But that wasn't the experiment. The experiment required that students give up their smartphones or silence them and put them away, then sit in a room with nothing to do, nothing to listen to, and nothing to look at for an hour. Every 20 minutes the students were given an anxiety assessment. Guess what? Hold on to your socks. . .they were increasingly anxious. I know, right? Shocking.

What a stupid experiment.

How about if we ask kids to surrender their smartphones or silence them and put them away, then have them sit in a room in which there is engaging conversation and discussion, in which there are videos or posters or even PowerPoint to look at and which spark some of the conversation in which they participate or to which they listen? Let's see if college kids get anxious about not being able to check their smartphones if they are engaged, even in learning.

Or, even better, let's see what happen when kids are asked to silence their phone and put them on the table so they are accessible, but reminded that they must use the phones only for the tasks at hand. So if there is a question they can't answer using the other resources in the room, perhaps they will use their phone to research the answer. The question then might be how well they can resist temptation to check on their Twitter feed or their Facebook page.

Here is my hypothesis. As long as the students--or anyone else on the planet for that matter--is engaged in whatever is at hand, they will be okay with being "unplugged" because they won't really notice they're "unplugged." However, I also believe that when the students--or anyone else on that planet--gets excited about something they've learned or discovered, then yes, they'll want to share it online. And how horrible they want to share a learning experience online!

Will it increase student disconnection anxiety if they are asked to wait until the end of class (or the meeting or whatever) to post something about their learning? Will it increase student disconnection anxiety if they are asked to wait until the end of the class and then to write a blog post that reflects their learning, even their questions that day?

I get the looooong reach of trying to say that wearable technology will increase digital attachment and, therefore, increase the probability of digital separation anxiety. But if we're going to test digital separation anxiety, let's do so in an environment that gives the brain an option.

If I were left in a room for an hour without anything to read or look at, without any noise whatsoever, well, I'd fall asleep. Who am I kidding? And then I'd grumble when someone woke me up every 20 minutes to test my anxiety level.

I've no doubt that there are those who are addicted to their devices, but if we're going to test separation anxiety for college students, let's put them at a student union with a bunch other people, or at a sports event, or in a classroom with a great professor with a lively, engaging class experience, and then let's see to what extent there is anxiety for the high, medium, and low user. As with any assessment, let's make sure it's realistic and relevant.

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