Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
May 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Wilczynski: A Whole New World

Cell phones should not be a portal to one's entire world.

Upon coming to Dartmouth, I was excited for the glorious anarchy of college life. As a senior at a strict New England boarding school, I fantasized about college, where I could wear athletic leggings or jeans to class, spend Saturday mornings sleeping in, stay out past 10:45 p.m. and not have mandatory nightly study hall from 8 to 10 p.m. Although I begrudgingly understood that the 72 pages of rules detailed in my boarding school’s student handbook were meant to promote the academic, social and personal well-being and growth of all students, I felt like many of them were trivial or unnecessary. Thus, as I turned 18 during my senior year of high school, I was ready for college, where my “legal adult” status would be acknowledged and uninhibited by a handbook full of rules limiting everything I did.

However, as I walked to my first class at Dartmouth, I couldn’t help but notice that something felt unnatural about my newfound freedom. Was it the jeans I was wearing? Was it that no bell had rung to indicate the start of class in five minutes? Was it the fact that it was nearly noon and I was just now walking to my first class of the day? While these were three unmistakable differences between my life at Dartmouth and my previous experience at boarding school, none of them explained why my long-anticipated autonomy now felt vaguely forlorn. And then it occurred to me: Not once during my 10 minute walk from the Choates to Dartmouth Hall had students acknowledged — or even noticed — each other; virtually everyone was too entranced by the glowing light in their hands to look up.

Within the 72 pages of rules I was accustomed to following in boarding school was a “not to be seen, not to be heard” cell phone policy. Administrators reasoned that cell phones decrease opportunities for direct person-to-person interaction and thus thwart the development of an intimate sense of community. Having gotten accustomed to this rule, I experienced some culture shock when I came to Dartmouth.

I was astonished by the number of students who walked around campus with their gaze fastened irremovably to the phone held in front of them. It was as though students had mastered the dexterity necessary to travel on autopilot: they had trained their legs to slice confidently through the crowd so their minds could wander through the abyss of a virtual universe. Some students opted for an even deeper level of disengagement by wearing headphones that canceled out noise and separated them further from their surroundings. They were at once disconnected and intimately engaged. The irony, however, lies in the fact that by not using my cell phone and instead opting to observe my surroundings, I felt even more isolated than did my cell phone-using counterparts, whose minds were light years away from the environment around them.

As part of orientation, the vast majority of incoming Dartmouth students participate in the Dartmouth Outing Club’s First-Year Trips, a tradition in which a group of five to nine students spend four days in the outdoors getting to know each other. The success of this program in promoting class bonding isn’t as much a result of doing crazy dances as it is of merely spending time together in the absence of cell phones. Because the experience is shared by students who are all fully engaged in the present, the resulting friendships and connections often have a rare durability that crosses social groups and academic interests.

Smart phones have become an indispensable part of our lives. One would be hard-pressed to find a public area void of the beeping, tweeting, flashing or vibrating of mobile devices. And while the nearly infinite applications of cell phones have revolutionized and facilitated interpersonal communication in both the professional and social spheres, there remains a precarious line between the use of cell phones as a convenience of the modern-day world and the use of cell phones as the portal to one’s entire world.

Dartmouth is undoubtedly full of highly accomplished individuals, each of whom has a different background and set of talents. There are very few places like it in the world, and current students bear the responsibility of safeguarding the school’s legacy that makes it so unique, one aspect of which is its relatively tight-knit student body. But if the seductive allure of the cell phone disables any interactions or exchanges between students, then the Dartmouth campus is no longer any different from an ordinary city block. The gifts and diversity of the individuals that comprise the student body become significant only when ideas are exchanged, connections are formed and students agree to actively share the present experience of being a Dartmouth student.

While I was excited for the anarchy of college life, perhaps I overestimated the extent to which the 72 pages of rules at my boarding school were pointless. I realize now that autonomy might mean that I can wear jeans to class, but it doesn’t mean that I can disregard basic social etiquette. With that in mind, I challenge the Dartmouth community to walk to class without looking at a phone or wearing headphones. Observe your classmates, observe your school and make haste to connect yourself with your present surroundings. Your time in such an extraordinary place is limited, and you should not waste it scrolling mindlessly through your phone.