October 2016 (Volume 67, Issue 1)
In this day and age, social media plays an unprecedentedly large role in teenagers’ lives. With the widespread availability of smartphones, teenagers are spending more time online than ever before, and Needham High School is no exception. On a casual stroll through the halls between classes, it would be unsurprising to see at least half of NHS students with their faces glued to glowing screens. Unfortunately for academics at Needham High, this behavior is not fully restricted to the hallways.
Despite regulations on cellphone usage in the classroom, a large percentage of students at NHS find themselves unable to cut the technological umbilical cord for the full extent of a 50-minute class period. This need to check social media and be nearly constantly plugged into internet communication results in distraction and a lack of focus on academics, whether the student is aware of it or not.
Studies at the University of London have shown that having even the opportunity to check in boxes and websites decreases one’s effective IQ by as much as ten points. According to Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, while people may think they are easily multitasking with technology, they are actually “switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” Thus, being preoccupied with technology during class is harmful to the user’s intellectual productivity. Not only does the presence of cell phones in the classroom harm the productivity of the person using their phone, but it also impairs the classroom learning environment by distracting others around them who are trying to focus.
It is for this reason that Needham High School’s wifi censorship, though it may, at times, be irritating and inconvenient, ultimately exists for the benefit of its students. Blocking only certain sites and social media apps (such as Instagram, Netflix, and, more recently, Snapchat) does not fully eliminate the presence of technology as a distraction for students in the classroom. It does, however, decrease students’ desire to constantly check their smartphones. With the absence of this mental distraction, students are able to focus, think, and learn more easily.
As social media becomes an even more ever-present aspect of people’s lives, society must make adjustments accordingly. There is a time and place for social media, to serve as a forum for communication, creativity, and fun, but this time is not between 8:00 a.m. and 2:35 p.m. during the school week. “Prolonged” separation from social media and technology is something that current teenagers must learn in life in order to function as healthy, well-rounded human beings. Therefore, the next time you swipe down on your Snapchat screen only to remember that the school won’t let your snaps load, remember that while it seems like an annoyance, you are benefiting mentally and academically from the forced separation between your technological life and your school life.
Despite the school’s claims that social network censorship is beneficial for the students and their learning, the new policies have only forced students to look for alternative access to these sites. After the implementation of the first regulation to block Netflix, students quickly spread the word on how to use routers to access Netflix through a vpn, which quickly defeated the purpose of blocking the media streaming site in the first place. Others chose to go around the policy by going off campus, or making a sacrifice and using their limited data. Thus, not only did the first regulation prove to be unsuccessful in preventing students from using the app, it also increased the number of very expensive data bills. To clarify, social media should NOT be used during class; however, during students free periods, they have the right to choose how they want to spend their time, whether it be binge-watching episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” or checking up on social media to stay hip.
The administration often emphasizes the rights and privileges that we are given and have earned. Hence, this brings into question whether or not the freedom of choice is a privilege or a right. Although the administration claims that the regulations come out of good intentions, the school’s decision makes us to wonder about how little autonomy we actually have. In addition, these new policies make us wonder whether or not we, as students, have any voice in the censorship process, which most directly affects our freedom of choice.
Furthermore, the school’s attempts to stop this addiction to technology and social media during inappropriate times, such as in class, is not something that can be fixed by simply blocking access to it entirely. Instead, our inability to take our eyes away from the screen stems from societal norms that encouraged and guided our addictions to develop. Thus, the administration’s decision to implement wifi censorship has been ineffective in creating a better environment as students have quickly found ways around the blocks and ultimately infringes on the rights that we, as students, have to make decisions during our free time.