A Turning Point

On March 12, 2020, life in the United States changed drastically as Covid-19 had made its way to the nation and cases were on the rise. This new life altered nearly every aspect of society, especially the face of education and students’ relationship with technology. Zoom, which was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, was an overnight success in 2020, as schools turned to Zoom to launch their new classrooms. When thinking about popular social network downloads, one would picture Instagram, Snapchat, or Tik Tok taking the lead, but in April of 2020, Zoom was getting more downloads than all these social media networks combined. This was just the beginning of a whole new way of living.

Graphic created by Jenna Danielson

Distractions Everywhere

For a student, imagine getting up every morning for 15 years of your life to get to school, waking up five minutes before class turning over and opening your laptop. This change in lifestyle has influenced a strong connection between students and their technology. Being on a computer all day long not only makes multitasking easier for students, but also increases use in other technologies including phones, tablets, and video games. It is incredibly simple for one to shut off their camera, put on mute and open their phone for the remainder of their class. It is difficult for students to escape the tendencies of opening their phone during class when apps like Tik Tok, Instagram, and Snapchat grab the attention of teenagers so easily. Claire Zwaan, a freshman at Saint Joseph’s University claims “It is difficult to detach from the internet and put my full attention into class when I have easy access to just open my phone.”

Photo of student online shopping and looking at other social media platforms while failing to pay attention to class. Captured by Jenna Danielson.

It is scientifically proven that as a whole, attention spans have gotten shorter. This is being excessively shown in the relationship between students and technology. Being in a class online where a teacher can’t know what the student is doing behind the screen develops an even bigger desire to be on their phone or engaging in another distraction. It is reasonable to say that if a teenager gets distracted or bored, for the most part they are going to lay in their bed and watch Tik Toks or another type of entertainment. This is an example of a shift to hyper attention especially in people of our generation. Hyper attention, talked about by Katherine Hayles in Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes, is the type of attention where someone needs almost constant entertainment. Having better hyper attention means someone can adapt to new developments quicker and can multitask easier. The downside is that people have a harder time focusing on one problem for an extended period of time. There is no break from devices during the Zoom call day, and it is hard for a student to focus on just the class they are in. In today’s world, the media is constantly blowing up. This week specifically, students were likely distracted quite a bit by the election. Gabrielle Bruno, a student at Saint Joseph’s University, says “I was constantly checking the election, at least 5 times during classes, it was hard not to.”

Gabrielle Bruno checking the election on her phone during class. Photo captured by Jenna Danielson

Living in a Zoom World

Technology and media was already a huge part of the American culture, but with the rise of Covid-19, Americans rely on social media networks such as Zoom to feel a sense of reality. Technology fills the void of social interaction that Covid-19 took away. Zoom has become a place for not only the classroom, but birthday parties, family gatherings, holidays, book clubs, and even dates. Students are using this new classroom scenery to their advantage as they can engage in other aspects of the social world while being a virtual participant. There are plenty of positives for using technology for school, but it’s not perfect, causing distraction and other problems for students around the country.