Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror Carihi students flock to the device drop-off station manned by student volunteers Zachary Howse, Jade McKenzie and Almut Hellwich Wednesday at lunch to get their phones in and receive their entry form into the prize draw.

‘We can’t ignore the things we’re losing’

For an hour a day, Campbell River students encouraged to give up their phones

Yes, Carihi’s Zoe Tehennepe is one of those teachers who will confiscate your phone if she sees it.

She also launched a campaign called “Ditch The Device,” which ran this week at the school. The event saw hundreds of students voluntarily give up their electronic devices over their lunch hour for three days in exchange for entries into prize draws.

But no, despite appearances, she doesn’t hate cell phones.

“I’m not anti-phone. I’m not anti-technology. I’m not some weird Luddite,” she says.

She does, however, think we need to at least look at the negative aspects of having these devices permeate so deeply into our lives. Day after day she sees students shuffling through the halls like zombies, staring at the phones in their hands and ignoring the world around them.

“There’s nothing wrong with phones,” she says. “It’s not the devices themselves that are the problem, but our attachments to them. They are a wonderful educational tool. They are great for communication. But I don’t think it’s okay to look at all the positives of phones and ignore the things we’re losing because of them.”

Those things we’re losing when we spend too much time staring at a mobile device, Tehennepe says, are pretty important.

“It’s things like normal social contact, you know? Looking people in the eyes when you talk to them, giving them your undivided attention and actually caring about what they’re saying. What we’re losing is, in some ways, the meat of life. It’s looking around you, making a new friend, talking to someone about their shoes. I think we’re gaining a lot of stuff, but we can’t ignore what we’re losing.”

So she came up with the “Ditch The Device” campaign as a way to engage the students in that conversation. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, booths were set up around the school where students could drop off their phones at the start of the lunch hour and pick them up before their first afternoon block. In doing so, they earned an entry into a draw for some pretty amazing prizes.

“I wanted the prizes to be really experience-based,” Tehennepe says. “I want them to get out there and check things out, because that’s what this whole thing is all about. It’s about experiencing life.”

The prizes donated for the campaign include a helicopter tour from 49 North, season passes to Mount Washington, whale and bear watching tours from Eagle Eye Adventures, a tent and camping chair from Canadian Tire, a brand new mountain bike from Spokes, a fishing package from River Sportsman, a 12-pack of passes to On The Rocks Climbing Gym, a Dakine backpack from Intersport and a kayaking excursion from Quadra Island Kayaks.

There is also an educational aspect to this project, obviously. It wasn’t just about getting them to hand in their phones for a chance to win a prize. Tehennepe managed to get almost half the students in the school to answer a survey about how they feel about their cell use and think about their answers.

“Almost a third of the kids admitted they feel addicted to their devices,” Tehennepe says. “Two-thirds of them said they are offended when someone is looking at their phone while you’re trying to talk to them – and they all do that all the time. That tells me that they’re at least acknowledging they are walking around offended a lot of the time and hopefully it will get them thinking about maybe not engaging in that behaviour. If it offends them, why do it to others, right?”

But what happens if this whole thing doesn’t change anything? What if this zombie-shuffle of kids staring at cell phones as they move through the world just continues unabated?

“It’s just about awareness. I don’t expect anyone to smash their phone in the street or decide to start leaving it at home all of a sudden because of this,” Tehennepe says. “But if one person realizes that this isn’t the way they need to be all the time, and maybe goes for a walk without it once in a while, then it’s worth it. And there will be more than one. I guarantee you that.”

At least one student has already decided he’ll change his bahaviour going forward because of the campaign. Grade 12 student Mitchell Rogers says he realized in giving up his phone over his lunch break on Tuesday, “that I don’t really need it. I mean, I just have it to do Facebook and stuff, but I don’t need it all the time, so I’ll probably put it down a bit more.”

And he’s not just doing it because he won scuba diving lessons from Beaver Aquatics.