Three things came together this past week and got me thinking about the “always on” culture. The first was a blog post about a distraction-free iPhone, the second an announcement at school’s first Morning Meeting in which the girls were reminded that while texting/checking the phone discretely in the dining hall was ok, actually taking/making a call was rude and unacceptable. The final piece was at my Quaker Meeting, where one of the members said that she had never really seen a smartphone in action and didn’t know that there was a phone “app” so that you could make calls; she also mentioned that her home internet connection was out and had been for a week and she didn’t mind it, while her husband (writing three books) couldn’t do his work so wasn’t happy.
At first I was a little surprised: how has anyone missed seeing the face of a smartphone at this point in time? They’re ubiquitous. And one week without home internet? Yikes!
Then, on my drive home, I started thinking about it and realizing how calming. How nice to not have websites to check, an RSS feed piling up, many many e-mails waiting for a response.
At one of my former schools the Head has declared weekends to be e-mail free. Obviously if there’s an emergency, that’s one thing. But no one, from the Head on down, is expected to check – much less answer – e-mail over the weekend or during a school break (for teachers; year-round employees don’t have to during their vacation time). At another school, there has been a stream of complaints from faculty about administration checking e-mail continuously during meetings and events (sometimes the complaints lead to a lessening of the problem, but it soon is back to previous levels). Faculty there who do not check their e-mails over the weekend (or even at night, when they’re at home) are frequently reminded that they need to do so and respond in a timely fashion.
My current school is a boarding school, and we function in loco parentis so completely turning off overnight or on weekends is not going to happen. But what if we did limit that to emergencies only? What if we go back to The Good Old Days, like when I was at boarding school, when communication was mostly by letter or postcard, and only occasional calls to/from home? Often we send off an e-mail in the heat of the moment, while having to reflect on “is this an emergency?” might be a better tack to take. Students would voluntarily put their phones in their backpacks and not check them until the school day is over. Parents would know and respect those limits, teaching students some measure of independence from their parents.
One school I know is starting to look at those communications and considering how to best work with/educate both parents and students so that the appropriate separation happens.
What if we all did that?