Cell phone addiction is real. I've ripped up a midterm because a student was looking at his phone, despite a warning not to have phones out at all. It's a rule written on the syllabus, and I begin class every day asking students to put their phones away. I've asked students to leave the classroom if they couldn't stay off their phones.
Some might quibble with the idea of cell phone "addiction." I think it depends on your definition of addiction. Mine is this:
A persistent, compulsive need to have something in spite of negative consequences.
Is a failed midterm worth checking Snapchat? What social media post is so important it can't wait for one hour? What text could possibly have such importance that a delayed response of 15 minutes will be devastating? Is it worth losing points, getting behind, possibly having to re-take a test, or antagonizing the teacher? Never mind the distraction from learning.
I understand the draw of constantly checking a phone. I am not an out-of-touch technophobe with a flip phone in my purse for emergencies. My phone is my constant companion; I run my online business on it, I check in with my master mind group on Google Hangouts, I text regularly with family and friends, it tracks my workouts and diet, and it contains priceless pictures, and a whole library of podcasts that provide the background narrative of my life. I fight the urge to check it during class time even when I'm teaching. I understand the urge. I do.
Here's the difference: I don't check it during meetings, during church, while driving, rarely after 9:00 at night, and in many other circumstances. I can leave it behind on a vacation (well, I'll keep in my purse for emergencies). Sometimes I completely forget about it for hours at a time when I'm engaged in a project. I seriously doubt some of my students can say something similar. I am not saying I have some sort of moral high ground. I'm saying there is a difference between regularly utilizing a phone and an an addiction. I have assigned many essays on technology and social media, and combined with what I've read there and their behaviors in class, I can confidently say that there are some who have a true addiction.
Some admit they sleep with their phone so they don't miss any late-night or early-morning texts. Most admit to texting and driving (but I can multi-task!), and in one memorable class discussion, most said if they had to choose between food or their phone for one day, they would choose their phone. I have witnessed the withdrawal symptoms. I used to be able to judge when it was time for a break by the smokers getting antsy, but now that I work on a smoke-free campus, I can judge break time by the sneaky reaches into the backpacks and the anxiety and agitation.
Labeling something as an addiction, however, does not mean the rules should change or that the behavior is somehow more acceptable. When students show up drunk or high, I show them the door. I don't care if they are addicts, it's not acceptable in the classroom. If you take your phone out during a midterm, you will still fail.