Paul L. Caron

Friday, December 7, 2018

Smartphones For All Students: An Academic Equalizer In An Era Of Income Inequality?

Inside Higher Ed, Smartphones for All Students: An Academic Equalizer in an Era of Income Inequality?:

As social inequality on American college campuses continues to spark debate, the fast-growing use of smartphone technology is raising new questions about the divide between poor and affluent students: Should all students have smartphones, whether or not they can afford them? Have smartphones become as important to student success as food and housing? Would having smartphones help low-income students be more academically successful? ...

Jessica Calarco, an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University, posted a statement she intends to add to her class syllabus outlining why digital devices like smartphones are so important to college success and recognizing that some students are unable to afford them.

Some universities have taken steps to level the playing field, said Calarco. Ohio State University, for example, has started giving all first-year students an iPad Pro. These initiatives are admirable but out of reach for many institutions because of the cost, Calarco said. In the short term, she suggests professors take the small step of making students feel "supported and seen" by including statements on digital access in their syllabi. ...

Professors and students generally agree working on a laptop or tablet is preferable to working on a smartphone, but given the choice to buy either a laptop or a phone, many students may opt for the relative value and dual functionality of a smartphone

Legal Education | Permalink



60 Minutes had another segment just last night that touched upon how phones and popular apps are purposefully engineered to be addictive, and the effects that might have on the developing adolescent brain.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 10, 2018 8:35:40 AM

I doubt many college students lack smartphones already. In fact, I doubt many people in the US across the board lack smartphones, unless they deliberately are avoiding them. I see people who are begging outside DC Metro stations with smartphones.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Dec 10, 2018 5:12:11 AM

Smart phones might be an equalizer, but not in the way people think. If rich kids get distracted by their shiny smart phones, poor kids might have a chance to pull ahead by *not* having the distraction of smart phones.

Posted by: The great leveller | Dec 9, 2018 11:54:05 AM

The problem is, if college students get them and others don't, does it reduce inequality or increase it? It's a hard problem.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Dec 8, 2018 2:53:24 AM

Smartphones are the opiate of the masses. Smartphones are purposefully addictive. Comedian Bill Maher recently declared, “Apple, Google, Facebook, they are essentially drug dealers.” Similarly, 60 Minutes had a segment on “brain hacking.”

Tech companies do this because “[i]t’s not neutral. They want you to use it in particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that’s how they make their money.” A tech company head similarly stated, “You’re guinea pigs. You are guinea pigs in the box pushing the button and sometimes getting the likes. And they’re doing this to keep you in there.” Finally, “The longer we look at our screens, the more data companies collect about us, and the more ads we see. Ad spending on social media has doubled in just two years to more than $31 billion.”

One scientist noted, “whether they want to or not, they are shaping the thoughts and feelings and actions of people. They are programming people. There’s always this narrative that technology’s neutral. And it’s up to us to choose how we use it. This is just not true.”

In sum, giving smartphones to students plays into the tech companies trying to get young people hooked. For more see, Epilogue, Overcoming Cognitive Biases: Thinking More Clearly and Avoiding Manipulation by Others at

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Dec 7, 2018 11:07:05 AM

Smartphones are wonderful little windows to much of the world's knowledge. With a camera and GPS too! Cool! Many nice ones are under $200 - unlocked and ready for an affordable "no contract" plan. "Tablets" are similar (without the phone), bigger, and often cheaper.

A laptop meanwhile is much faster to use, lets you create as well as consume (with much excellent full featured free software available including the Linux system that will keep it running great until it actually wears out) , works with Wifi and VOIP programs to surf the web and even make calls for *free*. All under $200 for a perfectly functional plasticky one or a bit more for a classy feel.

Yes, every student should have a smartphone and/or a laptop. But what is the tax angle?

Oh, a state university bought *really expensive* tablets with limited interoperability?

Let's consider this a teachable moment about transparency and incentives for taxpayers, consumers, and insiders.

Give the kids basic guidelines, and let the market bring them nice gadgets. With a subsidy sufficient for decent ones where somebody really can't afford.

Posted by: Anand Desai | Dec 7, 2018 6:10:16 AM