By Darren Johnson
As you know, Campus News is distributed to dozens of colleges as a print newspaper. Some people also read this digital version, but we focus on the print edition as there are only so many hours in the day. Plus, we view the web as a big ocean miles away and a print newspaper as the swimming pool in your backyard. It’s there. It’s free. The water’s fine. Jump in.
After each issue hits, we get calls. Some ask about getting past issues. Some people ask where they can find the paper, because a professor mentioned an article they should read or a friend said they saw a picture of them in there. Various reasons. These type calls have increased in the past couple of years, though distribution has been the same. I have to assume some kind of phenomenon is going on, and it’s related to the explosive growth of the smart phone.
The good news is, people are still calling and asking about the newspaper. It’s an anomaly at this point, as often we’re the only physical newspaper they ever come in contact with anymore. They bad news is, they seem to have lost their sense of direction.
When I tour campuses, especially community college campuses, I see students all staring down, addicted to these things. A recent study suggests people look at these five hours a day now! For younger people, that number is obviously even higher.
I fear that this use of the smart phone as a visual pacifier is making students lose their awareness of their immediate reality — the world around them. How else could they miss a stack of 200 newspapers next to the entrance of their building? Many smart phone users are zombies, nearly bumping into those of us who aren’t staring down.
That, and they are hunkering down in chairs and soft spaces, and not walking around campus enough. Some people just stay in their particular building and seldom venture elsewhere.
Sure, a critic of my POV may say, “Get with the times. Hit them with an app!”
First, yes, easier said than done. Attention spans are short. Again, the web is an ocean — we can’t fight that tide. We know the numbers from our previous digital efforts, and we know many more people pick up the print edition. Go with your strengths, my old high school advisor would say.
Second, why reward bad behavior? The truth is, many people retreat to smart phones as a defense mechanism. They may be on social media, but they are hardly socializing — at least not with the real world around them. Their lack of spacial awareness — exemplified by bumping into people and not seeing racks — means that the smart phone is making them even more insular. This isn’t good.
True, back in the day, some students would be buried in a book while sitting under a tree, and newspapers had a much wider readership — so we had ways to retreat while otherwise being in public. But I don’t recall seeing anyone spending five ours a day doing such a thing.
Take a break from the phone. Stand up. Stretch. Walk. Go to a building you’ve never visited before. Look around you. Your campus is beautiful. The maintenance staff do a great job of keeping it clean. Your security team keeps it safe. There’s an art gallery, athletes in the gym, an expansive library, exhibits. Professors will greet you with a friendly smile — if you only look up to take notice.
The real world awaits!