No laptops or cell phones use in my classrooms. From experience I have learned that these devices are distractions, not enhancements, to learning. Students think they can multi-task, combining learning with surfing and texting, but research shows otherwise.
Now the military is worried about similar problems in the field. Troops are on their smart phones when they should be working instead. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/us/17soldiers.html
The military’s concern goes beyond divided attention. It turns out that having easy access to home has its downside. While it boosts the morale of many to stay in touch, it also means that soldiers can’t disconnect from the mundane concerns of home. Worrying about everyday domestic matters means losing focus on the job you are there to do.
There is a value to being unplugged, as I know from personal experience. More than forty years ago, for two years my wife and I lived in Kenya. There was one public telephone in town, which we never used since it was too expensive to call home. We wrote letters and made tape recordings. A month later we received a reply. That was it.
Of course, Lyn and I had each other, but our experience was still mainly that of immersing ourselves in another way of life. There was only a thin safety net of comfort in the Peace Corps office 250 miles away, which we also seldom communicated with.
Being disconnected from home meant being connecting to others. And that was one of the real values of living abroad—seeing the world from a new angle, distinguishing between conventions and morals, understanding what privilege is, knowing the role luck plays in what you start with in life.
Doing one thing at a time, allowing new experiences in, taking on another’s perspective—these are worthwhile experiences in an ethical education. Soldiers may have good reason to be instantly connected to home, but for most of us most of the time it isn’t necessary or even desirable.
I ban cell phones and laptops in my classes not because they disrupt my teaching but because I think they deprive students of getting the education they deserve. And at the dinner table with my family, I ask that electronic devices be turned off. We need to listen to one another with both ears, for really listening to another is at the heart of ethical relationships.