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Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks
Think Twice

Credit: Amanda Suarez , Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks

While giving a marketing presentation to a Wharton class last Monday, Ali noticed some very peculiar student behavior. Instead of looking up at her, the majority of students were looking down, under their desks, into the depths of their laps.

Why? Penn students have found the happy place for hiding their in-class cell phone usage: beneath the desk and betwixt their legs. What’s funnier though is that we think we’re being really frickin’ stealthy when we do this, but — and yes, we’ll throw ourselves under the desk too — we’re here to tell you that your professor is not fooled by your seeming interest in your nether regions.

Professor Keith Niedermeier establishes from the beginning of his 245-student Marketing 001 class that the use of all electronic devices, even computers, is not allowed in his class. As Niedermeier explains, “It’s funny to me that people think they’re invisible in the classroom when it’s quite the opposite.” Any behavior — beyond eyes on the prof or note taking — like “texting, sleeping or reading the newspaper stands out like a sore thumb. If you’re doing it, I totally see it.”

And it’s not just our professors who are on to us. The opening of the Mask and Wig fall show this weekend reminded us to silence our cell phones before the performance began, as is common. But the Wiggers closed their show with an NSA-style slideshow of us culprits in the audience each night who just couldn’t keep it in our pants (our phones we mean). Thank you Mask and Wig for calling us out! We could all use a jab to our egos, and we promise that neither you nor your virtual side-conversation is as important as you might think.

Much like grinding, this taboo texting (your mama won’t let ya do it at the dinner table) has become accepted and expected. The class(ic)-crotch text started freaking us out, for a number of reasons. First, cause like, science.

We’ve read too many articles regarding just how disconnected our hyper-connected generation is because of the phone, but what about the physical harm cell phones could cause us — our phones have only become more powerful since the Razr, but are they more dangerous? How much radiation does it take to Snapchat your 100 besties?

A study published in August by the Environmental Working Group Science Review noted that men who carried a phone in a pant pocket or on their belts had 11 percent less mobile sperm than men who did not. And while we’ve seen no conclusive studies on human women, a study showed that newborn female rats exposed to cell phone microwaves in Turkey had less-developed ovaries than the control group.

Then again, bioengineering professor Kenneth Foster thinks this is all rat poop. “The literature in this field is very mixed and murky in places,” he wrote in an email. “If you cherry pick, you can put together a scary story.” No one has proved that cell phone radiation is a threat to our fertility or can cause brain cancer, Foster explained, noting that the biggest hazard related to cell phones is texting while driving.

Foster is probably right that the danger is overstated. While we probably don’t need to throw our phones away tomorrow, we should keep our phones out of our laps while we’re in class — just in case. There’s valuable stuff to be learned there, too.

We keep pushing boundaries, trying to get away with a clandestine text here and another there, but as we cheat the professor’s rules we’re cheating ourselves. As Niedermeier explains, “You’re impeding you own ability to take in information.”

So when in class, try to move your phone off of your desk and into your bag. Crazy, we know. It might be seriously therapeutic to tap out or even let your phone die sometimes. Hayley does this all the time (sorry, everyone!). It’s kind of liberating to feel like you aren’t accountable for the texts, emails, Instagrams, IMs and tweets flooding to your phone.

Remember that you control your electronics. They shouldn’t control you.

And, as Foster recommends, “Just don’t stare at your crotch in class.”

Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College seniors from New York and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. respectively. You can email them at or follow them @haybethbrooks and @alikokot. “Think Twice” appears every other Wednesday.

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