Focusing when using technology is becoming a test of willpower

Usually when professors see technology as distracting to their students, they respond by banning laptops and cellphones in the classroom.

Yet, a University of Washington professor is tackling technology’s everyday distractions by teaching students how to be more mindful of their use of it in order to improve their attention spans, as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education. One exercise involves students recording themselves and their Internet activity while they check their email to study their emotional responses to multitasking and notice when they become distracted.

In an age when juggling a computer screen and smartphone notifications are pretty much part of the college experience, it’s understandable why such a course — titled Information and Contemplation — would seem necessary for students overwhelmed by the toll technology may take on their everyday lives.

However, the fact that this assistance is available shows the control technology has over its users. Especially since many of us, as reported by the Chronicle, don’t realize things such as our posture and the stress that comes from attempting to reach our multitasking limits.

It’s alarming to think that regular, common habits on computers could slow down the process of even finishing a lengthy book, a concern mentioned in the article, and how being frustrated by something such as email can foster “pleasure” or “hatred,” which are both, essentially, “(reactions) to robots.”

According to a survey by the Common Sense Project, approximately 60 percent of teachers believe technology negatively impacts students’ “ability to write and communicate face-to-face.” Another survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a part of the Pew Research Center, found 90 percent of teachers thought technology builds a “distracted generation.” 

When most students rely on computers to get their work done, or at least assist in doing so, it’s worrying to think that distractions and shortened attention spans are just negative consequences they must learn to live with. 

These consequences don’t have to be part of the reality of being a student. Given the unconscious aspect of turning to technology and ending up on a YouTube video without remembering the process of getting there, it could be more helpful for students to think of technology as simply an aid during the time they intend to be productive on it, that way all actions are conscious and intentional. 

All in all, using technology can be a practice of self-control. As mentioned in a column by the Huffington Post, the simple action of snapping a quick photo of something on the board in class can be a convenient reference for later. However, it also mentioned one has to avoid giving in to the distraction of other activities while the phone is out. As the column noted, students don’t need much help using technology, but they could benefit from learning ways to use it consciously. 

Of course, distractions do have their place. There’s nothing inherently wrong with mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Tumblr when the time is right. However, allowing these distractions to take place while attempting to complete other important tasks only holds students back and highlights how incapable students can become in comparison to their devices. 

Isabelle Cavazos is a junior majoring in English and Spanish.