Week 8: The test; put your damn phone away

This week’s class required the group to consider the effect of multiple technological devices on attention span and cognitive function. Being a student, I gathered the most effective way to measure this would be to devise a test that measures the productivity of two different students and their ability to study.

Deriving from my assignment pitch in week 4 which is intended to measure the separation anxiety of users without a smartphone, I contrived a small scale experiment on smartphone usage.

For a different subject I am studying this semester (MARK101) one assessment task is a group activity whereby the students are to meet and complete certain aspects of the report. Conveniently, the two other group members I was working with in the library were at a similar stage for ‘Part E’ and had the same amount of words to write to complete their designated section. I asked permission of both ‘James’ and ‘Tom’ to nominate one person to switch off their phone for two hours. ‘James’ being a more studious type opted to switch his phone off for the purpose of the experiment and allowed me to analyse the work ethic of the two.

The small scale experiment consisted of:

Dependent Variable: Effects of smartphones on study and productivity

Independent Variable: James’ smartphone is switched ‘off’, Tom’s smartphone remains ‘on’ and free to use.

Controlled Variable – Two hours of study


After two relatively long hours, I noticed throughout that Tom was inclined to check his phone at regular intervals. This included replying to instant messages through Facebook and text, as well as using snapchat to take photos. Having his phone constantly vibrate on the table served as a distraction for all of us, however James’ was less concerned as he was determined to :

a)finish the work
b) be more productive than Tom as the experiment suggested he should be.

At the end of the two hours I observed that James’ word count was at 679/1000 words required (not a bad effort considering the detail required for the subject.

Unsurprisingly, Tom’s word count was 347/1000 words required – not that this seemed to bother him. “I’ll just finish it tomorrow, I’ve got ages to finish it anyway.”

At the beginning of the experiment James’ told me he was happy to do it, as it would help him concentrate and hopefully finish the task in a short space of time.

Despite this, after the two hours James told me of his frustration and anxiety at times to check his phone as a form of procrastination.

‘I generally just do it as a force of habit. At the end of every sentence or two I’ll just flick it out and make sure I’m not missing out on anything. It’s kind of second nature to be honest.”

It was interesting to note that this action is deemed as almost second nature, with our phone quite literally being an extension of ourselves and our being. I could relate to this fact. I am guilty of checking my phone as a type of ‘reward’ after writing a paragraph or two, even if I don’t have a notification or alert to reply to it’s almost a way of escaping the reality of the situation and avoiding the fact that I have a considerable amount of work to do. If I am able to knock off 50-100 words at a time it makes the task seem less formidable, and there is added motivation to have regular breaks from staring at my computer screen to then staring at my phone screen.

Suffice to say, the world is a crazy place!


About alexdebs

Third year Bachelor of Communications and Media studies student at the University of Wollongong. I am an aspiring journalist with a passion for sport, music and travel.
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