New York City College of Technology second-semester freshman Joell Gomez is exceptionally polite and highly attentive – qualities nurtured by a loving mother who came to America from the Dominican Republic before Joell was born and taught her children well.
While it’s also fair to say that Joell is on the quiet side, he firmly believes that face-to-face interaction between people is preferable to the rapidly growing use of smart devices for everyday communication. His older brother, well aware of Joell’s preference, encouraged him to take a speech course during his first semester at City Tech to strengthen his oral skills.
According to City Tech Department of Humanities Adjunct Lecturer Gail Leinwall, Joell was a terrific student, one who applied himself in an exemplary manner to every aspect of the speech course she teaches and went on to take first place in the department’s Annual Speech Competition in December 2013.
In round one of that contest, Joell competed again 39 other students before a panel of 21 judges and was selected to go on to the final round where he took first place in a competition judged by Provost Bonne August, Arts & Sciences Dean Karl Botchway and Humanities Department Chair Ann Delilkan. That win took him to a CUNY-wide Student Speech Competition sponsored by The University’s League of Active Speech Professors and held at Kingsborough Community College in February 2014. He participated in the contest’s “Persuasive” category, where his presentation, “Disconnect,” earned him the Bronze Medal.
At the two competitions, Joell effectively argued that while smart devices are rapidly changing the way we interact, they are doing so at a price. Suggesting that our attachment to such devices has become a kind of addiction, he began by citing a Daily News article that reports that the average smartphone owner checks the device 150 times a day, or once every 6.5 minutes. He added that an hlntv.com study says that nearly three-quarters of American users are within five feet of their devices most of the time, and that a poll conducted by Time magazine reveals that 50 percent of those surveyed admitted to sleeping with their devices next to them, a practice that contributed to interrupted sleep.
Joell went on to ask the judges to picture themselves waiting to cross a street. “As you’re waiting, you take out your smart device to check a text, or perhaps to check your Facebook/Instagram. Without even noticing, you begin crossing the street while looking down at your device. Next thing you know, you’re waking up in a hospital bed. Turns out you were hit by a car.”
Joell next cited a study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington that shows that pedestrians who text are four times less likely to look before crossing the street, to cross in crosswalks or to observe traffic signals. He noted that more than 300,000 people are injured and 3,000 killed each year in accidents involving distracted drivers.
Joell reported that another study from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that 47 percent of the heaviest smart device users have subpar grades consisting of C’s or lower, are more likely to say that they are bored or sad or to get into trouble, do not get along well with their parents, and aren’t happy in school. With respect to social life, Joell observed that while he thought parties were for dancing, meeting new people and having a good time, too many people at parties he has attended spend the entire evening on their smart devices.
At the end of his presentation, Joell asked that people increase their disconnect from the world in which the overuse of smart devices has put them. “There’s a life out there that can have much to offer,” he concluded, “if you give it a shot.”
Joell was shocked to have won the City Tech competition and didn’t think he had a chance in the CUNY contest. “At Kingsborough,” he says, “the other students were very good in terms of the quality of their arguments and excellent speaking skills. I was completely surprised to be named the Bronze Medal winner, but more than surprised, I was humbled.”
Noting that Joell exhibits a very positive perspective on new situations and people, Leinwall says that while his manner is a bit reserved, he worked hard in her class to develop his oral skills and to master the art and science of public speaking. He is an intelligent young man, she adds, who came to her class with the talent to succeed; she just helped him acquire the tools. At the podium, Joell is a force to be reckoned with, and the students, faculty and staff of the Humanities Department are very proud of him, and Leinwall proud to have been his instructor.
As Joell, a liberal arts major, completes his freshman year, he hasn’t yet decided on a career path. “I love math and am very good at it,” he says, “so maybe I’ll change my major to finance or accounting and become a professional accountant or financial advisor.” Better watch out, PricewaterhouseCoopers!