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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Four days and four hours

What activity that you currently enjoy --no love very much-- would you willingly give up for 100 hours in order to experience living without its influence? Just for the sake of curiosity or if not that for rediscovering something you lost. Not sleeping or eating? How about talking or walking? 

How about temporarily  stopping something that borders on the addictive, such as using electronic media? 

This semester I revived an extra points opportunity for students in my face to face classes to try living in the natural world without the influences of media for 100 hours.

Addiction to media's dopamine-delivering-drip of texting and tweets is a commercially encouraged and legal addiction.  Socially acceptable as it may be, I see our dependence on media as handicapping to both myself and to my students. To pull back the veil of media's intrusion of our natural senses, I asked my students to earn extra points by voluntarily refraining from all electronic media use, except for academic or employment purposes, for 100 hours, or the equivalent but less scary sounding four days and four hours. 

Here are the reflections of one of my students this semester who agreed to let me share her AdobeSpark video about her experiences.    

Some history. Ten years ago I regularly assigned this project to hundreds of my students as a requirement of the course I teach, Introduction to Mass Communications. The results were revealing. Most were unable to complete their project without falling back, usually without thinking, on phone or Internet use. Television watching was easy to give up, they said, and the hardest was listening to music. 

Mistakes were allowed. "Get back on the horse," and continue, I told students when they discovered they had slipped. I understood how hard it was to do. I did the project along with the students and found myself numerous times, many minutes into cheating without noticing, using the phone or listening to the news on the radio during the commute home.

Even with stumbles, many students reported deep insights about their relationship to siblings and parents and romantic partners after completing their abstinence from media. They said they came to understand that media use had made them blind to the people around them and their need to communicate. 

I remember the student who was roommates with his brother and his brother's wife. He found out that his brother missed his friendship with him even though they lived under the same roof. I remember the student whose grandfather couldn't reach her on the phone and rushed to her apartment to see what was wrong because she didn't answer her phone like she usually did. He sat down, talked to her about his past and revealed that he was an orphan when he was a child and had been adopted. "Why hadn't you ever told me this?" the granddaughter asked. "It's that you are always so busy using the phone, I never wanted to bother you," he told her. The student was unaware she was sending that signal by always clutching her phone. There was the student who reported losing the buzzing in his ear when he stopped using media, and the one who discovered during a walk in her neighborhood a little girl her daughter's age who she had never seen living a few doors down from her home and now the kids are playmates. 

After a few semesters I noticed the push back from students was getting harder. Their use of media was increasing during this time if they were similar to all Americans ages 8-18. In 2014, screen time accounted for more than 10 hours a day. 

Realizing I was working against a Goliath, I cut back the time off from media requirement to 48 hours to make it easier for the students to complete the project and get most of the benefits. I don't know whether I should make it a required assignment again. There are loads of reasons to do so and loads against it. I do know such an experience has great value to many, including myself. 

Here is an entry from the journal submitted by the student who completed the assignment and the reflections in the Adobe Spark linked above. "My opinion on this challenge was that everyone should try it at least once, and even longer. It's nice to just disconnect from the digital world that we've created especially with how much negativity it can sometimes bring. We have the real world for a reason, so why waste our moments (not being) in reality that we could enjoy?

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