My students are on their smartphones more than they are on laptops, iPads or other screens. I’m convinced if I taught a class using smartphones, students may fully participate because their phones are like an appendage. They are almost never without their phones. Ever. It’s as if they have velcro on their palm and the phone naturally just sticks to it, fastened securely all day, everyday. And now phones can even be taken underwater — another glorious convenience because what if we didn’t have access to our phones while being fully submerged? Phones in the bathtub? Yes! We must text during shampooing.
Some faculty have policy written in their syllabus to prohibit phone use in class. I know colleagues who bring a “phone basket” to class for students to drop their phones in until class has ended. I fall somewhere in between. I have encouraged students to use their phones to play a round of Kahoot, a game based learning platform I use for quick surveys or group activities. But other times I will request that phones are silenced or put away, despite students trying to hide texting beneath their desk. Don’t they realize I can see the screen illuminate their face and hear the tapping of their fingers texting?
I have an iPhone. I use it often. I put it in another room when we eat dinner as a family or if I’m working. It can be distracting, but admittedly, I don’t know what I’d do without it. It has become my GPS, dictionary, photo album, video recording communication device. I enjoy many of the features on my phone but one feature I choose not to utilize is the password function. I guess I have password fatigue and opted out of remembering another four or five digit code. However, our two teenage daughters have iPhones that are password protected. They also change their passwords frequently, adding to the layer of security. We have a “contract” in our house that we can check their iPhone contents at any time (after all, we are their parents and do pay the phone bill), but more often than not, we have to get through the Fort Knox of password protection before finally getting any information.
The iPhone has gotten a lot of press lately, but not for coming out with a new sleeker version or upgrade. Recently a federal judge in New York said the Justice Department can’t force Apple to unlock an iPhone that’s part of a drug investigation. While this ruling only applies to one case, it could have an effect on the broader debate over the government playing Big Brother.
A few weeks ago a California judge ordered Apple to write software that would bypass a security feature to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s phone. But Apple did not like the ruling because the company said it could compromise it’s users privacy. When I asked our daughters what they thought about this case, they believed passwords should be protected under the right to privacy. It’s a slippery slope.
And then there’s the latest version of WhatsApp, a service that will encrypt all messages, phone calls, photos, and videos on any phone that runs the app, from iPhones to Android phones to Windows phones to old school Nokia flip phones. WhatsApp would have no way of complying with a court order demanding access to the content of any message, phone call, photo, or video traveling through its service. Does building secure products make for a safer or more dangerous world? It’s a question we will all continue to think about as technology progresses.