Staying connected through texting and social media has become an integral part of everyday life for many college students. But just how well would they function if their smartphones were suddenly shut off and they had to avoid all social media?
That’s what Townson University near Baltimore, Maryland wanted to find out. So they created a new elective college course called “Alone Together: Finding Intimacy in the Age of Facebook.” The goal of the course is to get students to put down their phones–no easy feat–so they become more aware of the impact social media has on how they live their lives and interact with others off-line.
Today contributor, A. Pawlowski, writes about the class and this observation from Professor Andrew Reiner: “We’re disconnected in many real ways when we’re offline.” He shares what he sees as some surprising results since first suggesting his students go on a “social media cleanse” for even a short time. He found that some students are so uncomfortable with the thought of giving up their phones that they actually bring them to bed at night. Others admit to regularly “fake texting” while in public. That means they are “pretending” to send messages, so they don’t actually have to interact with people face-to-face. Reiner explains the phenomenon this way: “It’s completely predicated on the idea of not wanting to seem like either you don’t have any friends or you’re out of the loop. It’s completely so that you look like you’re connected…and you’re not a loser.”
Reiner encourages students to practice eye contact with others while in class. He’s aware that it’s all too common for students to be so focused on their phones while walking on campus that they don’t even stop to say hello to friends and classmates.
He also gives his students an assignment that requires them to eat alone in the dining hall or another public setting without the ability to use their smartphones as a social crutch. While some students tell him this is the toughest assignment of all, Reiner hopes in the end they will learn more about themselves and how to better communicate person to person.
Would you consider taking a break from your smartphone and social media? How do you think a “social media cleanse” could benefit you?