Earlier this month, Pennsylvania's Harrisburg University of Science and Technology began a weeklong ban of social media. For days, students struggled to cope with the lifestyle changes: Having no access to Facebook, Twitter, and other services on campus was like trudging through the desert without water. The blackout has since ended: Somehow, above all odds, the students survived.
"When we first started, there were quite a few angry students," says provost Eric Darr. "I got some rather energetic calls from people around the country, saying things like, 'Stop the madness!'"
Upon the week's end, students responded to surveys, wrote essays, and participated in focus groups to discuss their experiences going cold turkey on social media. According to Darr, around 68% of the student responses were positive, demonstrating that most found the ban enlightening and revealing. However, the rest of the responses were negative: Some called the ban a "publicity stunt" and some "were not so eloquent in terms of what was said," Darr chuckles.
"One of the principal things we observed was the students' realization of how stressed they were over checking status updates on a variety of social media sites," he explains. "They weren't even aware of the stress they were under."
So has social media become too influential on our lives? At least one alarming statistic from the survey indicates so. According to Darr, about 15% of students said they were spending between 11 to 20 hours on social media sites—per day. How does one even have time to sleep with all that tweeting and Facebook updating?
"I'm sure that we have some students who are clinically close to addiction, though perhaps these are people who would be addicted to whatever anyway," says Darr. "That aside, it's clearly the case that this set of technologies has the possibility of taking over our lives."
And Darr says the school is planning to do another blackout at some point, and that a group of students has already volunteered to continue the ban for an entire month. Darr even suggests it could be beneficial to go one step farther and implement a ban not just on social media but texting and email.
Isn't that going too far?
"I don't know," Darr says. "Some people would say we've already gone too far."