Passengers on the 28 Muni inbound. (Olympia Zampathas/ Xpress Magazine)

Passengers on the 28 Muni inbound. (Olympia Zampathas/ Xpress Magazine)

The next time you are sitting in a classroom or stuck on an overcrowded Muni vehicle, silently cursing it for threatening to make you late to class yet again, take a look around. How many people are staring at a laptop or, more likely, a smartphone? Chances are, it will be several of them. Technology use is pervasive among college students, and that can have its pluses and minuses.

Many students utilize technology to do their schoolwork—to access documents provided by teachers, to do research, to write papers, and so on. To most, the right technological device is essential to getting work done. Eighty-five percent of students surveyed for the 2012 EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology rated a laptop as very or extremely important to academic success, making it the highest ranking device. Only 37 percent rated a smartphone the same. Three out of four college students say they could not study without technology, according to this infographic released by OnlineEducation.net in 2011. That tidbit might be best taken with a grain of salt because a site dedicated to online-only colleges would probably be inclined to pump up technology's importance, but there is no denying the valuable role technology often plays when doing your homework. After all, when used properly, the Internet can provide a wealth of information much faster than it could be accessed by any other method.

Technology use can also be a major hindrance to students, however. All the quality information the Internet can provide is useless if it is lost among page after page of outdated, misleading, or just plain wrong “information” turned up by your favorite search engine. The Web is also, of course, full of time-wasters. Fall into the black hole of Facebook or BuzzFeed, and the hours you had meant to spend working on a research paper have vanished.

Research continues to shed light on the harmful effects on people who rely too heavily on technology, particularly college students. A survey of five hundred and thirty-six undergraduate students found that as their use of technology increased, their anxiety levels went up and their academic performance, as measured by GPA, went down according to the 2013 article, “The relationship between cell phone use, academic performance, anxiety, and Satisfaction with Life in college students,” published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior last year. In a study published in the same journal in August, one hundred and sixty-three American college students were required to spend set stretches of time without using their smartphones. Half of the group were made to surrender their phones for the duration of the study; the rest were allowed to keep them but had to turn them off and put them away. The researchers found that those who self-identified as moderate or heavy users of technology “felt significantly more anxious over time.”

A new term has been coined to describe the problematic attachment many have to technology: “Nomophobia” is the strong and irrational fear of being apart from your phone. The website Nomophobia.com offers a test titled “Are you a nomophobe?”

Technology plays a significant role in most students' lives. Sometimes it is an asset as it helps you find information and get your work done faster. Using it too much, though, can prevent you from accomplishing anything and have harmful psychological effects. Go ahead and use your favorite devices for work and play, just try to not get too attached.