I sit at the front of the classroom, introducing The Tragedy of Othello, when I see one of my students attempt to stifle a sinister giggle from the the right side of the room.
“Susie (names have been changed to protect the guilty), what are you doing?” It’s more of a statement than a question, though, because I know what she’s doing. The tapping finger, the downcast eyes, the angled backpack hoarding the desk space before her. These are telltale signs.
“Cyberbullying.” Oh. We all chuckle because we know she is (mostly) not serious.
And then the classroom erupts into a frenzy of the five Ws (and an H) and frantic digging for phones because of what is happening right now, during fourth period, on Twitter.
I sigh. Clearly, I am not as exciting as Twitter. I don’t move as fast. I’m too wordy. Each of my sentences doesn’t end with some witty summative phrase immediately following what used to be known as a “pound key.” I get that part.
But here’s the part I don’t get: I am a working mother of three and my phone, which is not quite educated enough to be considered “smart”, is tucked safely inside my purse, hidden away in my desk drawer. The sound is off. When I remember, I glance at it in the four minutes between classes. But I don’t always remember.
In the five classes I teach daily at a local private high school, there are six students without smartphones. Six. Why on earth does a teenager need a smartphone? If I, a working mother of three, don’t need a smartphone, then why do they?
I’ll tell you why.
They need it for texting (I kind of miss the days when all they did was text). They need it for Ruzzle. They need it for Snapchat (Pictures that disappear? Brilliant idea. Really. I’m not even going to tell you what teenagers are doing with that.) They need it for Fun Run.
And when I polled my second period class full of sophomores concerning what, exactly, they use their smartphones for, the answer was a resounding, simultaneous: “TWITTER!”
Oh, Twitter. Forget Facebook, my friends (and fellow parents). They’re over liking and commenting. They’re tweeting. And retweeting.
Let me take a moment to say that I’m not some kind technology-and-social-media-hating curmudgeon. I have a Facebook, I have a Twitter, I have a blog. But what concerns me as a classroom teacher is the behavior I’m starting to see that seems to be a direct result of the overuse (to put it lightly) of smartphones, of being continuously plugged in.
They can’t keep themselves away. And though some of them may use this handheld piece of technology appropriately (I had one boy tell me, “I like to use my phone to read sports articles” — be still my heart!), a great majority of them don’t. They use social media to gossip, to complain about their teachers (and their parents), to arbitrarily use foul language, to cheat on their school work, to post compromising pictures of themselves (I won’t tell you what they’ve shown me), to recount each event of each period of each day.
And they use it to gang up on each other. To bully. To be ugly and hateful. Just this week, a few of our girls participated in a Twitter cyberfight, slinging quick and disgusting insults at each other during the school day. Things they would never say to each other’s faces. Things that would horrify the very people who gave them the smartphones in the first place. And even though the fight was between two or three girls, the majority of our student body saw the exchange and even went so far as to involve themselves. (I used to work for a principal who told his students that if they stood around and watched a fight happen without doing anything about it, they were just as guilty as the fighters. In my opinion, this is worse. The bystanders keep it going. They promote it by retweeting.)
And even though they’re probably going to hate me for it, I’m going to tell you, parents, that they use it to broadcast all the pieces of their lives that they want to keep from you.
In the minimal research I did for this post, I found enough to make me nervous, as their teacher, and as a parent. So I told them that.
“You crept, Ms. Lavelle?”
“I did. I crept. Did you guys know that your Twitter profiles are basically public? That even though I don’t ‘follow’ you, I can see what you tweet?”
Then one of them said, “But if you make it private, you can’t retweet.” Oh.
The truth is, I love these kids. But what I’m seeing is starting to get downright scary. Every moment of their existences is fodder for social media, every thought they have needs to be put on display. Even when some of those things should be kept quiet. Especially when some of those things should be kept quiet. How will they ever learn to discern?
The tragic flaw.
“You guys know enough about Shakespeare to know what happens in one of his tragedies. Othello’s tragic flaw will be his downfall.”
“Hashtagspoileralert, Ms. Lavelle.”
I suppose, though, that there’s always a glimmer of hope. That it’s not quite doomsday yet. I leave you with a recent post made by a former student of mine on Facebook (yes, I’m old, so I still check Facebook):
“Lost my phone today. Thinking about going a semester without one if it doesn’t turn up. If anyone has to talk to me or contact me for some reason, just Facebook me. I’ll check it every now and then.”
Yes. Every now and then.