Fear and Loathing in the Mobile Learning Environment

I am writing on the topic of mobile learning environments as I enjoy a belated spring break.  To the left is a photo of my current situation in lovely Palm Springs, CA.  It’s been awhile since I’ve taken any time off from work but when I do, I wrestle with the notion of disconnecting.  On the one hand, I feel the need to truly take a break from the day to day, which includes compulsively checking in at work via mobile e-mail and calendars.  It’s easy to say “well don’t.”  That’s the advice I’d give anyone in my situation.  Yet I can’t resist.  I feel it’s easier and indeed more relaxing to keep myself apprised professionally, socially, and globally.  It causes me anxiety to think that I’m returning to some unknown.  In this way, I comprise the frequently cited statistics concerning millennials and their use of mobile devices: I wake and check my phone almost immediately.  I monitor my mobile nearly constantly throughout the day.  I check it in the time between brushing my teeth at night and falling asleep (Deloitte, 2016).  I check so often in fact that I probably consume all updates in real time.  Though excessive, my behavior is probably not unlike many.

I am of two minds on the subject of constant mobile connectivity.  I feel like a baffled, fist shaking senior, deliberate in eschewing advancements in mobile technology.  It overwhelms me at times and sometimes I wish I could just take a pause and skip the iOS updates, proceed without downloading the app, and go a day without authorizing a download with my index finger.  I understand why some Luddites are that.  In their mind, and also mine, exist fears about privacy, “me time,” the erosion of a former, simpler way of life.  But to my other mind, and to all other children who have ever sighed in consternation at the prospect of an obstinate parent who refuses or seems incapable of remembering their Apple ID, this is a necessary and innate life skill.  I wasn’t born into this but it was introduced so gradually and seamlessly that I couldn’t identify a tipping point when the mobile device became an extension of myself.

These are two realities in my life.  The desperate dependence upon and vague fears of the effects of constant mobile connectivity.  There is a third, more optimistic reality that I will address later in this post.  My initial response to Matt Enis’ article on Beacon technology (2014) was the same as Richard W. Loomis, Jr. interviewed for that article.  “It needs to be an opt-in service…It can’t be something where [the beacon notifications are] more spam, more garbage coming at someone.”  That statement almost perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy of fear of information overload versus the desire to acquire additional information.

I feel that mobile information is best when augmented by sorting aids or when mobile services assist with making judgments regarding the quality of information rather than simply acting as a platform for more of it.  Most of all, I feel that the mobile information environment must be thrilling, creative, and NOT anxiety inducing.  I was genuinely excited to read about Mentira and its innovative approach to language instruction as well as UW Madison’s DowDay and WeBIRD apps.  All three are opt-in services that expand educational horizons, providing unique perspective through geographic context and gamification techniques (Gagnon, 2010).

The benefits of mobile information are numerous and indisputable.  Information is the currency in which all humans trade and anything that brings us more information, quickly and easily is undeniably good for all.  And yet my fears persist and I know I’m not alone, even if everyone experiences that vague, nagging fear differently.  I keep grasping at what specifically that means for me and I think the best way I can express it is that one day we will have so much information readily available to us that we will become bored by or inured to it.  I feel that it’s already happening anytime I refresh the same feed over and over again in hopes that it will tell me something new and exciting.  There’s always something new and exciting but it doesn’t always excite me because it’s so easily available to me and it has become a habit or a background activity rather than an act of discovery.  My partner recently confided that he is sometimes unsure how to use the internet or manage the constant stream of information available to him through his mobile device.  He too can be overwhelmed by it.  I realize I’ve bemoaned a great deal, which seems ridiculous given the blessing that is mobile information and what that has done for education, democracy, connectedness, etc.  I do not deny those benefits. Rather, I fear that we may lose sight of the significance of mobile information.  Gagnon asserts that some of the greatest or best-known achievements in mobile education “simply repackage, with minor advances, what is already available through other forms,” rather than truly disrupt and innovate how we consume and disseminate knowledge.

Which brings me to my third reality.  Mobile information still thrills me.  I can keep up with school, work, and friends, all from the comfort of this poolside lounge.  The thing about that is I can’t take a break from it.  Mobile learning is also constant learning.  Keeping up with the apps, trends, platforms, devices, and technology.  I bemoan and love this and my advice for others is to acknowledge both our hopes and fears when it comes to technology because we cannot fully appreciate it without a healthy skepticism and optimism.


Deloitte. (2016). How do today’s students use mobiles? Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/public-sector/articles/how-do-todays-students-use-mobiles.html#

Enis, M. (2014). “Beacon” technology deployed by two library app makers. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/2014/11/marketing/beacon-technology-deployed-by-two-library-app-makers/#_

Gagnon, D. (2010). Mobile learning environments. Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2010/9/mobile-learning-environments



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6 Responses to Fear and Loathing in the Mobile Learning Environment

  1. @katygo I am so in the same boat as you. My phone is with me constantly from the minute I wake up until I go to sleep. I see those things that say: no phones or screens before bed and say “yeah yeah, sure sure.”

    Your other reflections are strong and gave me musty to think about. You are right about content learning.

    I will say I look to my podcast times, usually while walking the dogs, is a good way to unplug but not really unplug. Does that make sense?

  2. Profile photo of Gina Martinez

    I totally understand how the mobile environment is becoming an extension of us in some ways. It is great to be able to be constantly aware of changes, updates, and more. However, I also love being able to go “no tech” for a few days. This helps me to focus on things unrelated to technology such as enjoying being poolside and just relaxing, or taking a hike with my kids and enjoying their presence. It is great to find just the perfect balance. I have found that I can take a break for a few days, but more than that is very difficulty and I find it difficult to catch up if I take a “no tech” break for too long. Great post!

    • Profile photo of Katy Go

      I recently read a Man Repeller (I think) article about taking breaks from dating apps in particular. That of course, is an entirely different can of worms however, I do like the idea of limiting time spent on certain Internet/mobile activities. I actually shuttered my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. It’s still a battle to know when and how to turn off the compulsion to check other things but I like this piecemeal approach.

  3. Profile photo of Mikayla Habibi

    Such a great read… you’re a really good blogger. 😮
    Your transition from you vacationing to being aware of changes in technology and how some changes can create anxiety was a smooth one. I feel like a lot of people can relate to you and your need to stay connected. It is definitely satisfying to take a couple days a week off from being connected. Hope you had a good vacation.


    • Profile photo of Katy Go

      @mikaylahabibi Thank you so much! I think as long as we’re cognizant, even if it’s that occasional slightly uncomfortable feeling that we might be overdoing it, we’re in good shape. Awareness is half the battle.

  4. Profile photo of Joleen Jin

    I’m kind of the opposite end of the spectrum–even though I usually have my phone with me, I don’t check it constantly and can go days without it with no attendant feelings of anxiety. There’s such a constant barrage of information now, there’s no way to possibly “keep up” with it, so I guess I don’t feel like I’m really missing anything if I don’t have access for a few days. I find myself looking at my phone when out in public and waiting in line just to give me something to do-but then I catch myself and remind myself to look around and observe the actual world around me. There’s a lot of information and connections out there that’s missed because people have their faces buried in their phones.

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