Breaking away: Distractions go high tech

  • Article by: KEVYN BURGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2012 - 3:23 PM

Smartphones, tablets and other technologies present new and tempting distractions for students.

Photo: Eddie Thomas, Star Tribune

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During finals week, Jesse LaMaack doesn't just turn off his cellphone while he studies, he puts it in his backpack.

"I don't want to even see it during crunch time," the incoming college senior said.

Mastering the intricacies of time management has always been a challenge for students starting college. But it's become more complex with constant interruptions from chiming, chirping, vibrating tech toys.

Many high schools forbid students from checking their e-mail or logging on to Facebook during the school day. Some even prohibit students from having their cellphones turned on. Once students reach college, however, they face fewer or no restrictions.

This unfettered access to technology is just one of the many new freedoms that arrive just as students feel increased pressure to perform.

"Success at college has always required incredible self-discipline. It's more difficult now to maintain deep concentration with the constant incoming notifications," said Seth Lewis, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. "We're all susceptible to the pings that come in. Everyone has to learn how to deal with the distractions."

Lewis, who researches digital media culture, said he uses the Pomodoro Technique to help concentrate. The time-management method alternates 25 minutes of sustained mental activity with a short break.

Students are finding other ways to deal with tech distractions. According to Lewis, more students have resorted to an app called Freedom, which puts a lock on the Internet and keeps them offline. Others simply seek a no-Wi-Fi location for studying.

Adrienne Young, an incoming senior at Augsburg College, recalled the approach two of her roommates took to resist the temptations of Facebook. During finals week, each woman allowed the other to change her password.

"It really helped them," Young said. "Me, I just don't look at it."

Kevyn Burger of Minneapolis is a broadcaster, podcaster and freelance writer.

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