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Behind the Scenes / LINE changing students’ everyday life

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Junior high and high school students are using smartphones more and more. High school students in particular, according to a Cabinet Office survey, use the internet via smartphones for 170 minutes per weekday on average.

What are they doing during these long hours? How should we deal with smartphones? Daisuke Fujikawa, a professor at Chiba University who is knowledgeable about how young people use media, was asked to share his thoughts.

The following is an excerpt from an interview by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: According to a Cabinet Office survey, junior high school students use the internet on their smartphones for 124 minutes per day on average, and high school students use it for 170 minutes. How are they using their smartphones? Why do they spend so much time on them?

Fujikawa: Smartphone use suddenly surged in 2013. Many young people switched from conventional mobile phones to smartphones, and within about a year, the paradigm had changed. A huge factor was the spread of LINE (see below), which can be used to exchange messages with multiple people. Communication among friends went from email to LINE, and people replaced their mobile phones with smartphones in order to use it.

Boys mostly use smartphones to play games, watch videos and so on, while girls mostly use them to interact with people via LINE and such. When they have extra time on their hands, they all watch videos. With LINE, they tend to stay on it if someone responds. A person with weak self control won’t be able to stop.

Just like when televisions and personal computers appeared, new media can easily lead to prolonged usage. With videos, all you need to do is watch, which is easier than reading books. All these factors add up to stretch the time people spend on their smartphones.

Disrupted lives

Q: If smartphones are so time-consuming, they could become disruptive. On the other hand, there is data indicating that overall learning time is increasing and academic ability is improving. How are we to see this?

A: The improvement of academic ability is just in overall terms. If you focus on individuals, a survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry clearly shows that those who spend less time on smartphones tend to have better grades, and that those who spend more time on their smartphones have lower grades. The difference here is probably whether you devote your time to studying or to smartphones.

In the first place, hardcore users have pretty disorderly lives. It is not easy to place the cause and effect in all of this, but it should be considered a problem pertaining to social inequality. When a family is poor, the parents can’t do much for their children so they often end up giving them a smartphone and leaving it at that.

Q: What would be the impact on health?

A: Impact on vision is often mentioned, but smartphone users can suffer from insufficient exercise and sleep due to the time they lose. Overall sleeping hours have not decreased, but heavy users tend to lack sleep.

Various data will tell you that 10 percent to 20 percent of total users are in danger of having disruption in their lives. The majority, however, are aware of the problem and children are disciplined to properly manage their time. I don’t see a precarious situation here.

Addiction a concern

Q: Even so, people are spending much more time on their smartphones overall. Addiction is a concern.

A: Smartphone addiction and longer hours on smartphones need to be differentiated. When you become dependent, you will be distressed, anxious or irritated without your phone, and your life will be affected by it. You won’t be able to get up in the morning nor have spare time to study, you won’t speak with your family, and some will experience social withdrawal. While time management is necessary to prevent addiction, the first priority is understanding your real life problems. If you are being bullied or have other problems, and your real life is not comfortable, it will become more difficult to distance yourself from the internet.

Being left out

Q: Cyberbullying is still quite serious.

A: There was a dramatic increase around 2007. There were incidents involving ‘underground’ school websites and other matters, but damage from such incidents decreased as public awareness expanded. However, it has been on the rise again since around 2013, when smartphones spread. The main factor was the spread of LINE.

You can have closed communications with several people on a daily basis using LINE. But for junior high and high school students, it can easily lead to cyberbullying. People can get caught up in bad-mouthing someone, and deciding who will be included in a group can lead to someone experiencing exclusion. In the past, people could patrol the internet, find underground school websites that became places for bullying and then inform schools or cut off access to those websites. However, these measures are useless with LINE. Cyberbullying can be invisible to adults. Therefore, we can only promote education and public awareness so children themselves can take action and not become bystanders.

Used in learning

Q: Recently, smartphones have become indispensable in school classrooms and at home as a tool for studying. How should young people use smartphones?

A: Smartphone services have been launched where, for a very low price, you can endlessly watch videos of classes given by famous instructors at exam-preparation schools. There has been a rapid increase in the number of students preparing for exams by watching these videos. If this is the case, staying on phones to talk to each other longer is fine.

While studying at home, you can ask your friends questions via LINE. At times, you can study in groups as you do in class. Collaborative learning can be done anywhere. Disadvantages have drawn most of the attention, but we should not forget that there are also many advantages.

Daisuke Fujikawa, a professor at Chiba University

Fujikawa left the University of Tokyo graduate school after completing his coursework. He has a master’s degree in education. In 2010, he became a professor in the education department at Chiba University, and in 2015 became the vice dean of the department.

He is knowledgeable in areas such as media literacy, bullying and classroom management. His recent publications include “Jissen! Sumaho Shugyo” (Try it! Smartphone training) published by Gakuji Shuppan Co., which is based on discussions with six members of the pop idol group AKB48.

Published : March 29, 2017

By : Makoto Hattori / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer The Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN