My fourth-period class had been let out early, so I found myself sitting in the nearly empty Dining Hall lobby. A handful of other students were sitting quietly and working on their computers or reading. In order to take advantage of my few minutes of extra time, I pulled out my phone and began to sort through the e-mails I had received since first period. Right then, Ms. Creagh walked into the lobby and raised an eyebrow at me. I apologized, put my phone away, and pulled out my iPad to finish going through my e-mails.
This instance illustrates the flaws in our cell phone policy, particularly with regard to cell phone use in the Dining Hall. The cell phone policy, which restricts cell phone use to specific areas on campus with the intention of creating a community in which everyone is engaged, has become obsolete since cell phones, iPads and computers now serve nearly the same purposes. I receive text messages on my iPad, I call my parents with Skype on my computer, and I read the news on my phone. While talking on the phone in a public place is a different matter, using a phone otherwise is hardly any different from using a laptop or reading a book.
Consider the Dining Hall example above. With my head over my phone, I was only as disengaged as those with their heads in textbooks and computers, and I doubt any of us felt excluded in any way. If the true goal of the cell phone policy is to maintain a constantly engaged community, not only cell phones, but all forms of disengagement should be prohibited in the Dining Hall and other public spaces, including laptops, books and headphones.
Not that I am calling for more drastic measures—such an extension of the cell phone policy would take away cherished study spots and alter the character of the dining hall. Sunday brunches at which homework was not allowed or breakfasts during which you could not review for a first-period test would make the Dining Hall feel almost like the Greer, turning it from an all-inclusive space where it is sometimes okay to be alone to a purely social environment. This runs counter to what the Dining Hall represents—and as a community, Deerfield ought to allow it to be the great space it already is. If this requires the allowance of cell phone use— excluding making phone calls— in the Dining Hall, the cell phone policy should be relaxed.
If we modified the cell phone policy to allow texting and listening to music around campus, we would not immediately turn into disengaged zombies. I am confident that the Deerfield community would continue being cordially social because we recognize that small gestures like saying “hi” to someone on Albany Road cumulatively have a profound impact on the character of our school. I would like to think that we could be trusted to be engaged individuals not because of a rule, but because that is the kind of students Deerfield kids are. Furthermore, with a less strict cell phone policy, students would have new opportunities to relax. Even a five-minute walk to co-curriculars during which you are not expected to be “on” could help to reduce stress and slow the pace of life.
At the core of the problem with the current cell phone policy is the misguided expectation that every student and faculty member be engaged at all times. As we continue to examine the issue of the pace of life at Deerfield, we should consider the possibility that disengaging necessary and healthy, whether you choose to disengage by putting on headphones in the Dining Hall or by texting a friend from home while walking on Albany Road.
Students deserve every opportunity they can get to slow down, and a relaxed cell phone policy would help create moments to do so, without preventing us from upholding our core values as a community.