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Such widespread presence of these powerful, pocket-size computers opens the door to many potential problems

Nearly a decade ago, I attended a Weird Al Yankovic concert at the Deschutes County Fair. A master of putting a humorous spin on pop culture and current-day trends, he at one point encouraged people in the audience who had a cell phone to get them out and fire up the device's flashlight. He then launched into a little song with a chorus that proclaimed, "We all have cell phones."

The image of roughly three quarters of the audience hoisting their phones was seared into my brain that day in 2010. What was once a device for the affluent had become so common that, as Weird Al put it, we all had one.

The reason I bring this up is that the same phenomenon has taken place at the local schools. It may come as no surprise that probably 98 percent of Crook County High School kids bring a cell phone to school on a regular basis. Perhaps it might raise an eyebrow to learn from Crook County Middle School Principal Kurt Sloper that about 90 percent of his students carry one. But I'll admit it shocked me to learn from Barnes Butte Elementary Principal Jim Bates that roughly 40 to 50 percent of his K-5 students bring a cell phone to school.

Each school's leaders pointed to the benefits of kids bringing cell phones to the school building. They can contact parents before or after school, which helps families who are making afterschool plans on the fly. And at the high school level, teachers can incorporate them into a classroom lesson, and students can use them for entertainment or social interaction during lunchtime or passing periods.

But such widespread presence of these powerful, pocket-size computers opens the door to many potential problems, particularly for highly impressionable elementary school students. Educators at all of the schools must be on the guard for cyberbullying, or hurtful texting and social media messaging, and while compliance is good when it comes to keeping cell phones turned off during school hours, administrators still have to occasionally deal with kids who have bent or broken the rules and confiscate their device for the day or longer.

Bates added that his K-5 students have found ways to engage in social networking through gaming apps, and unfortunately, the majority of the interactions between students he has encountered have been negative.

The schools seem to have made the best of an ever-evolving situation, but one thing is clear. Electronic devices are becoming a greater part of all of our lives by the day. Had Weird Al performed his cell phone song in 2019, how little of the audience would be without a device? Would anyone be without?

With that comes a growing concern about screen time and retreating into the internet and social media sites in lieu of classic human interaction. I have seen many couples or families sitting at a restaurant table engrossed in their smartphone, rarely looking up or speaking to their dinner guests. If it happens there, during a special occasion, how often is it happening at home?

I'm as guilty as anybody. I never leave home without my smartphone, and I have to make a conscious effort to leave it in my pocket. I let my kids borrow it for entertainment while they wait for a meal at an eatery or sit in the cart at the grocery store.

But all of these actions are done with a twinge of guilt. Mass media reports often highlight the excessive amount of screen time among kids and adults, and I think they have merit. Ours is a society that has seemingly become addicted to the cell phone.

So what do we do about it? Maybe it's time for us and family members to unplug — not permanently, but often enough to have those valuable human-to-human interactions with family and friends. Not only are we in a position to make a healthy decision for ourselves, we can set an example for the children around us, who I believe still take their cues from what their authority figures do.

It's naïve to think these devices are going to go away or that people will grow tired or oversaturated by them. Much like those who go on a diet, let's consume electronic devices less and interact face-to-face more.

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