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Opinion: Exploding Smartphones and Why NYIT Should Teach People How to Accurately Write About Them

By Joseph Tapia

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I’d bet my right kidney and left eye that at least 70% of the people you know leave their phones to charge overnight before sleeping. Some might even keep their phones close to themselves, perhaps due to the great phone addiction that most older folks claim our generation suffers from. Or maybe because of the terrifying thought of missing an important work-related message. Regardless of the reason, I can say with certainty that some people out there charge their phones overnight and keep it close to them. But has it ever occurred to them that doing so could be…fatal?

Picture this: You finally arrive home after a long day of studying or working. You find that you are nearly out of energy. You are not alone in this, as your phone’s battery has dwindled to a mere 5% after extensive use. Thus, before you stumble to your bed and allow yourself the comfort of sweet slumber, you make sure to plug a charger into your phone and leave it right next to you.

You drift off into sleep and soon enough you awaken - not to the melodic chirping of birds, the beautiful sunlight beaming through your bedroom window, nor the unending horns and sirens of the city or the abysmal dread-inducing sound of your alarm clock - to a searing pain and horrific ringing in your now warm, wet, and ear. Before everything goes black, you notice your ear has turned crimson. You then catch the scent of burning plastic and turn to see your charred and mangled phone…the catalyst of your untimely fate.

Quite the horrific story, yes? It is now that I regret to inform you, dear reader, that this story is not just a story, but a very real possibility. In 2019, an article by Will Stewart was uploaded on the British news website Daily Mail detailing the horrific smartphone malfunction that took the life of a 14-year-old girl. The article stated: “A schoolgirl died after her charging smartphone exploded on her pillow while she slept. Alua Asetkyzy Abzalbek, 14, went to bed listening to music in her village home in Bastobe, Kazakhstan…next morning she was found dead with the phone's battery having exploded close to her head.”

The news of this tragedy was delivered to me by my grandmother when she saw me using my phone while it was charging and then ordered me to stop. She showed me a Facebook post with a link to the story. I gave it a quick read-through. From then on, you can bet that I followed the warning of my wise elder and stopped using my phone while it was charging to ensure the same wouldn’t happen to me, right? Wrong.

After actually reading through the article, I came to realize a crucial detail. The actual brand to which the charger belonged was not mentioned. I looked up possible causes for an exploding smartphone and found that one of them was cheap, “shady” chargers that were bootlegged by a company that wasn’t Apple.

That day, I learned the importance of reading beyond headlines and deepened my understanding of how the news influences our views on technology among other things. This brings me to the goal of this article: to show how good journalism can be the best friend of technology and its advancement, and how that makes it an asset to NYIT.

New York Tech’s slogan is as follows: “Makers. Innovators. There's a place for you at New York Tech.” In light of the recent shutdown of NYIT’s Communication Arts program at its Old Westbury campus, I found myself wondering what place journalism has in a college whose name (and recent actions, in my opinion) implies a strict focus on technology.

The answer to this question lies in the history of how technology was and is currently viewed by Americans.

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Take a look at this image. This is an old anti-electricity cartoon created only a couple of years after electricity was introduced to society. Accidents with electricity were more common back then, so the mass fear of electricity was fairly understandable. In fact, this cartoon may actually depict a real-life accident, according to a fact check from a blog known as that’sNONSENSE.

The blog states: “It is likely that the man in the wires is a depiction of John Feeks, a linesman who died in Manhattan after touching a high voltage line in 1889. Reports at the time claim his burning body was tangled in the lines where it remained for around an hour in front of a crowd of onlookers before firemen eventually brought him down.” Stories such as this one, and the one about the exploding smartphone can influence people’s views on technology quite a bit, sometimes for the worse.

The creator of this cartoon is unknown, but one can safely assume that they had the mindset that electricity - something we currently rely on to live our lives - was akin to a demon in its potential for danger as implied by its given name: The Unrestrained Demon. This cartoon made rounds across the internet during the pandemic when conspiracy theories about vaccinations and 5G cell towers began to run rampant. These wild theories were spread about by none other than the greatest enemies of any decent journalist (aside from the CIA, of course): misinformation and ignorance.

Journalism, specifically good journalism, is the archenemy of misinformation that would give rise to brash action from the masses if left unchecked, and the bane of ignorance that leaves us all in the dark. It is my belief that the mission of journalism as a college major is to cultivate the next generation of good journalists by showing them how to give a rational and fair view of what they research and write about so that their readers receive what they deserve: the truth.

In the condemnation of a journalism program, New York Tech filters out potential talent from the school. For example, Karine Jean Pierre, the Press Secretary of the Biden Administration. For those who don’t know, a Press Secretary’s duties consist of ensuring that the agency they represent has its goals and achievements accurately conveyed to the media. It’s kind of like journalism but focused on reporting on what you work for. She’s a New York Tech Alumni. If the college had a program more suited to her talents, maybe she would’ve stayed with NYIT. In turn, New York Tech would’ve gained more publicity.

As I said before, journalism can be the best friend of technology and its advancement. With a journalism program, New York Tech can connect future makers and innovators with future journalists who not only see what they seek to make and innovate but also personally know the faces and minds responsible for what will be made and innovated. When these future journalists find themselves reporting about a recent technological breakthrough, their connection with the people or person behind it will allow them to do so with accuracy and understanding.

In doing so, they help ensure that the world is not robbed of breakthroughs and innovation via some brash action motivated by misinformation and ignorance. That is, in my opinion, the place that New York Tech has for journalism…and the reason why we should learn how to accurately write about exploding smartphones. And, well, any news relating to technology, whether it be mishaps or breakthroughs.

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