By Kendal Conner
It is the day before the big paper is due. All that remains is some final research before it is ready for print. As you sit down at your computer, you give yourself a 30-minute deadline. You log on, pull up the Internet, and almost unconsciously, your fingers type in one word: Facebook. All of a sudden, you find yourself lost in the world of social media and gradually that 30-minute deadline turns into two hours.
I am confident in assuming this scenario is not uncommon for most university students. I even venture to say many of us have become prone to checking our social media sites so often that we do not realize how much of our time is actually consumed by this simple task. The truth behind this concept was recently researched by one university in Pennsylvania that decided to block all social media sites from its campus for one week in order to study the students’ response.
Harrisburg University of Science and Technology blocked social media such as Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging and all other outlets, excluding e-mail, from Sept. 13-17. The private, 822-student institute was able to blackout social media from campus by putting a block on its campus’ IP address.
Eric Darr, provost and initiator of the experimental blackout, quickly found that students were overcoming this lock by simply using their smart phones to gain access or by walking to a nearby hotel lobby and using their free Internet. Darr even initially faced some protest toward the ban as students labeled it an intrusion upon personal freedom.
Although statistics and other results are still being concluded from the blackout, the university has already seen a change in students’ attitudes. Some students said the ban actually helped them increase their focus and allowed them to be more efficient in their work. Darr said in an interview with the “New York Daily News” he believes one conclusion can already be drawn from the blackout week: Many students have a real addiction to their social media sites.
This assumption should come as no shock to most college campuses. On any given day, I can walk down the hallway to class and be nearly struck down by someone with their head buried in their phone, checking Facebook.
Then, while in class taking a test, I am assured to be interrupted numerous times by the sound of a cell phone vibration alerting its owner of a Twitter update.
Next, as I walk back into my apartment after class, I am almost guaranteed to find one of my roommates sitting on her bed, seemingly talking to her computer screen, while Skyping with her boyfriend.
Finally, as I turn on my own computer to begin homework, I am sure to be bombarded by multiple Facebook messages from organizations I am involved in reminding me of important meetings and events.
For a college student, social media is becoming unavoidable. It is a part of every avenue of our lives. Social media can at times appear to be a necessary evil, allowing for better communication, event planning and organization. However, it can also quickly become an unconscious dependence. I have to remind myself of this daily. Even as I sit here writing, I have attempted to check Facebook three times and have had to consciously stop myself and shut down the Internet.
As a communications major, I do realize the great value of social networks in our society. These networks have transformed the way we conduct business, keep up with friends and family, and even the way we interview for jobs. Nevertheless, I think Harrisburg University’s blackout experiment has given good insight into the dangers of this emergent social world.
Maybe it is time we all take a step back from our social media for a while, whether it is for a day, a week, a month or even a year.
Maybe what we all need is to take heed of the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 13:5. Let us examine ourselves, test ourselves. Let us see what our investment in social media really is. Is it for our professional career, our educational career or our personal communication?
Or does it stem from an addiction: An addiction to the connectivity, the updates, the news feed and even to what many of us have so affectionately termed “Facebook stalking?” Maybe it is time we stop and take a look at our motivations with social media and whether or not our investment is worth what it costs.