Harrisburg University provost Eric Darr wants to know if his students can live without Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging and other social networks for an entire week. According to a feature on NPR, Darr is blocking access to all social media sites on the campus network this week, not to punish students but to see how they react to losing access to Facebook and Twitter.
The temporary ban is not as restrictive as it sounds at first. Students who are desperate for social media interaction could still reach for their iPhones, Androids and BlackBerries, which give easy access to social networks. Email and texting will apparently not be restricted at all. But Darr wants students to examine why social media has become such an integral part of their lives, he told NPR in a feature that aired Sunday.
"If someone feels the need to borrow their friend's phone to go check Facebook, it'll be interesting to ask the question at the end of the week: Why did you feel the need to do that? What compelled you to do that?" Darr said, according to an NPR transcript. "We're not trying to stop all access to these sites. We're trying to at least put in a hurdle and make it enough for people to think about it."
Harrisburg is an interesting institution for several reasons. Known by its full name, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, the college was founded in 2001 to "address Central Pennsylvania's need for increased opportunities for study leading to careers in science, technology, engineering and math." Harrisburg was thus founded just three years before Facebook. The college, which awards Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees, has 569 students and average class sizes of 12 students.
Three Harrisburg students joined Darr on the NPR program, and expressed various levels of enthusiasm about the social media experiment. "It might be a relief," student Ashley Harris said. "I'm going to commit, and I'm going to see what it's like for a week if I talk to people face to face more, if I connect more. I might get some homework done."
Harris said it will be difficult, though. "I'm going to have a hard time not being able to tell people where I'm at, being able to find people. I use Facebook and Twitter to find people at school, to see where they're at, where they're studying," she said. Student Oluyemi Afuape said, "I think the program will be OK. Most of us, we can deal with it. Some of us can't."
Student Giovanni Acosta noted that constant access to social media can get annoying and even interfere with sleep. "I personally had to cut off Facebook during my sleep time because I have it straight to my phone," Acosta said. "So when somebody texts me or sends me a Facebook status or a tweet, my phone rings, and at 3 in the morning, that's not too pleasant sometimes if you're trying to go to sleep. So I set a time limit. So between 3 and 6 in the morning, it just cuts off my phone. I can actually sleep between that time."
The students might revolt if they were asked to stop texting each other, however. "That's something scary to imagine, actually, no texting," Afuape said. "I couldn't do it. No. That's not even a question," Harris said.
Darr told NPR that he decided to impose the week long ban after noticing his daughter's reliance on multiple forms of electronic communication. "Sixteen years old, Facebook, iTunes, IM windows up simultaneously, having multiple conversations on her iPhone with friends and then kind of witnessing some of that same behaviour in the students at Harrisburg University and thinking, you know, what if that wasn't there?" Darr said.