A Tale of Two Devices

The iPhone Age

The iPhone turned ten earlier this year. As the world anxiously awaits the release of the anniversary edition phone, its difficult to fathom that in a mere decade this device became the bestselling product in history with 1.2 billion units sold and counting. To give you some perspective, the next best selling product is Sony’s PlayStation at 360 million units.

The iPhone has done nothing less than completely transformed our society. Here’s an easy visualization.

Both photographs show the unveiling of a new pope. The top in 2005 when Pope Benedict XVI was introduced, while the bottom shows the election of Pope Francis in 2013.

This was in the same place. Doing the same thing. Just eight years apart (before and after the introduction of the iPhone). One radical difference.

My Only Phone

The iPhone is the first and only cell phone I’ve ever owned, and it completely changed my life. I’ve handed over countless everyday mundane tasks to my iPhone (and Apple Watch to a lesser degree).

It tells me when to wake up, when to turn, when to stand up, when to stop running, when my rest period has ended, when to flip the burgers, when to take out the trash, and so on.

It’s helped me become a photographer, videographer, voracious reader, manage my finances, deposit checks, do my taxes, lose weight, and even write this blog post.

Yet, for its mind expanding potential I’m surrounded by zombies that instead of moaning, “Brains! Brains!” utter “Phones! Phones!” as they stumble down the hall face glued to a screen single earbud in.

Modern zombies don’t moan, “Brains! Brains!” They say, “Phone! Phone!”

In short, my students are distracted, and they are addicted to their distraction.

It Was The Best Of Times. 
It Was The Worse Of Times.

At its best the device your holding to read this article gives you immediate access to the full wealth of all recorded human knowledge. There’s no picture it can’t locate. No hummed tune it can’t identify. No query it can’t answer. It is the ship’s computer right out of Star Trek just in the palm of your hand.

At it’s worse, its a distraction to which we have become addicted. We’re Pavlov’s dogs trained to unconsciously check the screen at every notification buzz regardless of activity–taking a test, driving a car, taking to a loved one. It’s a bullhorn broadcasting shallow gossipy drivel and fake news teased by click bait headlines.

Unfortunately, too many of my students fall into that second category. Their studies and grades suffer due to an addiction of earning trophies, unlocking chests, and maintaining Snapchat streaks.

Countless hours of learning have been lost in the pursuit of these chests.

But We’re All Addicted

But we’re all addicted, aren’t we?

Don’t believe me? Has your phone ever vibrated in your pocket only for you to discover your pocket was empty? That’s like  an amputee trying to scratch a missing limb.

A recent assembly at Penn Manor on the dangers of heroin. Most people brought their drug of choice with them.

We’re in the midst of a heroin epidemic. Heroin use is up in every single age demographic but one–teenagers. In fact, there has been a downward trend in drug use by American teens over the past ten years. Some believe anti-drug campaigns are finally working. Others think the decrease in teen cigarette smoking which acts as a gate way drug is the reason. Still others think today’s teens have traded one addiction for another–their phone.

Is it a coincidence that the dawn of the modern smart phone age coincides with the downward trend of teenage drug use?

The New York Post recently reported that a brain imaging study showed smartphones (and other stimulating electronic devices like iPads, Xboxes, etc…) affected the frontal cortex in exactly the same way cocaine does. Furthermore, your smartphone has the ability to raise dopamine levels as much as sexual intercourse does.

No wonder my students gets so fowl when I confiscate their phone. Not only have I taken their digital heroin, I’ve also forced them to take a vow of celibacy for the rest of the afternoon.

Let’s be honest. Being addicted to your phone is better than better addicted to heroin, but it shouldn’t be an either or choice.

Driving While Intexticated

Beginning in 1999 we entered a six year period of declining auto accidents. Then in 2005 we start to see an increase. The box police check for the accidents? Distracted.

The year prior to the introduction of the iPhone, vehicle collisions resulting from distracted drivers were 1 in 6. Today that number stands at 1 in 4.

Self-driving cars cannot get here soon enough!

Put another way a quarter of all auto accidents are cell phone related. That’s approximately 1.6 million accidents that didn’t happen ten years ago. I’m not blaming the iPhone or Apple. You could easily exchange the word Droid or Samsung for iPhone and Apple. The devices are indistinguishable from five feet away. I’m blaming ourselves.

What’s frightening about this statistic is as a society we’re okay with it. We’re completely okay with 1.6 million accidents occurring every year that are preventable simply by leaving your phone in your pocket while driving.

We’re okay that 424,000 people are injured every year.

We’re okay that 3,200 people die every year.

We’re okay that eleven teenagers die. Every. Single. Day.

We’re okay with all of this because…why? Because as a society we’ve decided that our phone is more important than a human life.

That’s insane. And sad. It’s the same logic an addict uses.


You no longer have to be the smartest person in the room to be the smartest person in the room. You just have to be the one person not playing on his phone.

I’ve had more failures this year than any other in my 15 year teaching career. The curriculum hasn’t gotten harder nor have I become a harsher grader. Students are failing because they’re distracted. Distracted by the addiction to their phones. An assignment due at the end of the week can’t compete with the immediacy of notifications and Clash Royale battles.

Notifications are a teenager’s morphine drip. Like a heroin addict chasing that first high, they always need more. More likes. More followers. More streaks. More trophies.

Look how this student’s phone is plastered in notifications.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It doesn’t have to be this way. The device in our pocket or more likely constantly in our hand can be something other than a dangerous distraction.

Our options as I see them.

  1. We could be better role models. We could leave the phone in our pocket while driving. We could put it away during meals. We could ignore the urge to yank it out every time we have a space moment. The children in our lives are watching.
  2. We could limit screen time. I realize that’s easier said than done. You could take the tough love approach and completely say, “No.” No iPod. No iPhone. No screens. Period. But then you run the risk of turning your youth into an awkward outsider, a social reject. Just like the class Jehovah’s Witness who can never do anything fun and has to sit in the office every time there’s a party.
  3. We could show them a better way. We could show our youth how to utilize and harness their device’s power for learning and exploration instead of being an electronic babysitter. We could encourage them to use the calendar for keeping track of assignments. We could encourage them to google the questions to which they want answers. We could have them use the phone’s camera to do something useful like photograph their notes instead of puking rainbows.
  4. We could use an app that encourages our students to Bee Present. Learn more about my innovative new app, Bee Present. Launching soon.UpdatedLogo_Done

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