Fun, the buzzword

It's trendy and a rage with college students. Cell phones are in and all set to bring in a new wave of friendship

BUNKING CLASS involved some work once upon a time. The privilege of lolling about the canteen and stuffing your face with greasy samosas had to be earned with plenty of scheming and plans woven with streaks of genius. Students perfected the "yawn, stretch and throw" technique to pass notes, wore down the knees of their Levis crawling behind desks to pass on messages and acquired minor degrees in aeronautics to learn how to propel intelligent paper rockets bearing good tidings.

Today, they just whip out tiny cell phones mid-lecture and type out SMSes, earnestly watching their professors with thoughtful expressions all the while. And before you can say, "R U coming 4 T? :o)", they've gathered 12 friends from different classes and are giggling delightedly around their favourite canteen table as their lectures drone on blissfully uninterrupted.

Welcome to the `wonderful new world' of technology.

You can't throw a stone in most city colleges these days without knocking a Nokia out of the hands of a frantically gossiping student. If they're not talking into their phones, they're SMSing. IF they're not punching out messages, they're comparing and composing ring tones. Or playing games. Or, just fashionably waving their cells about.

"There's no clear policy on mobile phones yet," says Rita Cherian, Principal of the Women's Christian College discussing how WCC, like most of the city colleges, is unclear about how exactly to deal with the current cell phone rash. (Most lecturers agree that the number of phones on campus have multiplied drastically over the past one year.) Dr. Cherian, however, does admit that cell phones are useful today, provided they are used sensibly. Indhrani Sridharan, Principal of Ethiraj College agrees with this point of view, "This is the age of communication," she says and talks of how working parents find it easier to keep in touch with their children through mobile phones. But both Principals agree on one point - Cell phones MUST be kept off when students are in class.

That, however, is evidently not happening. "Oh, everyone uses their cells in class," says a dude from Loyola airily. (He hastily pleaded anonymity after making the statement though.). "Yeah, guys just get under their desks and talk on their phones. If they're sitting at the back in a class of 70, who's going to pull them up?" his friend sniggers. They say that practically 98 per cent of their class carry mobiles and "deadly" ones at that. And `everybody' communicates by SMS, in class and out of it.

Fun, the buzzword

"Note-sending has become redundant", laughs one professor. She adds, "In the IIMs the students chat with their laptops. Students will always find ways to pass comments and that's ok as long as there's no nonsense in class."

However, not everyone's that relaxed. "It's incredibly irritating", says another professor, who's been repeatedly distracted by obnoxiously peppy ring tones mid-lecture. "SMSes are just as bad", added her colleague addressing an amused staff room, "In the beginning I simply could not figure out the beeps. I thought it was a watch alarm, then I began to wonder whether someone was carrying a clock... It's only after a while that I realised the students were using their cells!" So how do they deal with truant mobile-addicts?" Apparently, "just one withering look usually does the trick." Another method some lecturers are adopting is making the increasingly common (and regularly ignored) "please turn off your cell phones" announcement before class begins.

It's the same story in MOP Vaishnav College. "We aren't allowed to talk in class or allowed to SMS. The phone shouldn't ring inside the classroom, we are told. So most of us keep it on silent mode," says a student.

The mobile ban extends outside the classroom as well at MOP. "You are not allowed to drive to college, talking on mobile phones. There are the student council members checking for such offenders at the gate".

In fact, when the Road To Safety On Road campaign organised by II MA students was kicked off on Monday morning by G.U.G.Sastry, Joint Commissioner Traffic, one of his 10 commandments to the students was: Thou Shall Not Use a Mobile Phone while Driving / Riding.

The biggest test for college authorities, however, are during the tests and exams, when invigilators take special care to ensure that mobile phones are not allowed inside the classroom. "With SMSes, it's only easier for those indulging in malpractices. We even ban students from going to the bathroom, lest they make a helpline call for the answers from there," says a lecturer, not too keen to mention the name of the college. "It's not just our college. It happens everywhere. We have to be alert to such changes that make students lazier than ever. It would be a good idea for colleges to have an official policy of not letting students bring phones to college, not just the classroom. Distractions are plenty".

A student from Stella Maris College wishes that were the case. At least she wouldn't have lost her camera phone. "It was a gift. Don't know where I left it," she says. "The heartache it causes is too much to take".

For the boys on campus, a phone is their biggest asset. "Its easier to ask the girls out with a phone. It's easier to flirt with SMSes, there are so many smart liners floating around. If nothing else works, the funny forwards keep a bond going," chuckles a student from a co-educational engineering college.

The `missed calls' code is one of the most common techniques used on campus, incidentally, by the romantics. "Every time I miss her, I give her a missed call. And she returns the missed call to say `I Miss You'. It keeps the romance going".

And phones are also a boon for the workaholics on campus, who slog it out for festivals. Preetha, President of Ethiraj College Union finds mobile phone "very useful for culturals, especially for contacting sponsors and organising stalls". Every body from the Union and all class representatives carry phones. "We take the 325 prepaid card and use the `missed calls' code to convey specific messages".

The hostelites are the other tribe that worship the mobile phone. "The hostel lines are busy all the time and besides who would want to queue up outside the STD booth with half a dozen people waiting at any given point of time. Long distance calls on the mobile are cheap".

But can our colleges afford to keep the mobile generation engaged? Well, that's a call for the policy makers to take.


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