Smartphones, Wise Teens?

I'm feeling rather pensive today, thanks to a stat from "The Infinite Dial: 2011," a new report from Edison Research and Arbitron that examines the state of media, web, mobile, and social use in the United States today. The stat that has my gears turning is as follows:
  • 33% of 12-17 year olds own a smartphone today

As bleeding edge, tech-addicted marketers who are used to wielding the power of a smartphone 24/7, this number may not seem that impressive. However, it means that one in three high schoolers is carrying the Internet with them at all times (not to mention a host of apps, games, and social communication channels). Overall, Edison and Arbitron found that smartphone use more than doubled over last year. Were this to happen again, we could be looking at over 60% of teens with smartphones in hand by 2012.

The thought of mobile packs of texting, emailing, surfing, Googling, Facebooking, and Angry Birding teens would likely send shivers down the spines of high school administrators and teachers were it not for one simple fact. The use of cell phones and electronic devices is banned at most high schools today.

A quick Google search yields the relevant policy of my local, public high school:

Students wishing to place calls during school hours should report to their House Office to request permission and use of the House Office phone. Cell phones are not to be used as a communication device (voice calls, text messages, photo emails, etc.) during the school day unless under the direction of LHS staff or administration. Other use of cell phones must be approved by administration. Inappropriate use will be subject to confiscation and/or disciplinary action.

A local private school maintains a similar, no-tolerance policy relating to cell phones of any type:

Students are not to use their cell phones during the school day. Cell phones are to be turned off and are never to be taken out during the school day. In case of emergency students wishing to make a call to a parent may come to the Attendance Office to use their cell phone.

Interestingly, however, that same private school has a different policy when it comes to personal computers:

The use of personal computers is acceptable in class when per¬mission is granted by the student's guidance counselor and teach¬er. The student should fill out a form with their counselor that helps register and identify their computer. The student must keep the computer in their possession at all times or safely locked in their locker.

As a parent, I fully understand the logic of these policies. The teen attention span is an endangered species that doesn't need to be tempted by electronics throughout the day. As smartphones blur the line between cell phones and personal computers, however, one has to wonder if these policies will be modified to enable the use of education-worthy smartphone apps. After all, it wasn't too long ago that calculators were banned from schools. Now, they're ubiquitous.

Assuming that these policies don't change, the real evolution to watch will be how smartphones shape teen behavior after school and on weekends. Now that teens have communication options that go well beyond mere text messaging and encompass the full web, email, mobile, social, and location-based services, where will they disperse into even more fragmented digital cliques powered by group texting services like Beluga (recently acquired by Facebook) or GroupMe? Will there attention spans fray in the face of bottomless, handheld entertainment options? Or will their brain's geo-location capabilities atrophy thanks to overreliance on Google Maps and location-based services?

I don't have the answers, but I do have a singular hope. Namely, that these smartphone-wielding teens will tap the power of the mobile web in ways that are wise beyond their years, and that maybe -- just maybe -- their smartphone-free school days will teach them that they are not slaves to technology, but masters of it.

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