I’m behind on everything because I’ve been moving, but I can’t possibly let Harrisburg University’s week-long social media blackout pass without a comment.
I don’t know about you, but regardless of what justifications are put forth, this has “curmudgeon” written all over it. Not necessarily old curmudgeon–the originator in his forties–but a curmudgeon nonetheless: “I made do without Facebook when I was your age and so can you!”
It’s an experiment, says Eric Darr, the professor enforcing it. A learning experience. At the end, students will write reflective essays about the experience (I’m sure they’re delighted about that). But it’s hard to believe it’s a lesson rather than a punishment, given that it’s forced. Students don’t have the choice to participate. To make it a shared experience, Darr says, and to avoid the confusion of students not participating trying to get a hold of students who are. If only there was a sort of shared personal website where someone could alert friends and acquaintances that one was going to be offline for a week.
Darr, along with a lot of over-35s, thinks that young people are becoming addicted and need to learn how to cope without social media. Hogwash, I say. There will always be new technology and it will always displace old ways of doing things and lifestyles will always change as a consequence. It’s always possible to wean oneself off these advances and, yes, it requires adjustment, but who cares?
Because the same logic could be applied to cell phones or regular phones or email or all computers or all typing devices or written language as a whole or cars or wheeled transportation in general or just about everything else. We could go for a week without any of these. There are even arguments to be made for doing so: the ancient Celts swore that writing ruined your memory. We’re now addicted to writing and can’t remember a thing we didn’t make a note of.
When I was growing up in the days before e-commerce, my parents booked all our airline tickets over the phone. By the time I started booking my own flights, online was the norm. I remember realizing that I didn’t know how to book plane tickets over the phone–not that I expect it to be difficult; I’ve just never done it. This was quickly followed by the realization that it didn’t matter: I knew the correct current procedure, and the phone method was just one of a thousand slightly obsolete ways of doing things, not particularly better or worse than any other possible way of booking plane tickets, not even interesting enough to be a trivia fact, let alone worth actually doing.
And life without social media isn’t even that different! I could see how it could be beneficial, if nerdy, to maybe live like pioneers for a week, washing your clothes in a tub and all the rest, because you’d be forced to actually make drastic lifestyle changes. But having to text or email your friend instead of IMing him? Not that different.
Fact is, Darr would probably never think of having a week-long fast from telephones or cars. The very idea would strike him as silly. He grew up with these conveniences and he knows that they didn’t make his generation a bunch of indolent imbeciles. But like many middle-aged people, he understands the technologies of his time, knows how to navigate life with their aid, and doesn’t quite see the benefit of this new stuff–though its downsides are clear enough to him. Quite possibly he holds a lingering resentment against these newer, more convenient ways of doing things, since they weren’t available to him at that age. It’s a common sentiment, hence the eternal narrative that the next generation is growing up lazy because they’ve never learned how to work*.
Remember, I don’t even use social media. My last Facebook update was changing my status from “single” to “married.” But plenty of generations of new technologies and conveniences have gone by without the world imploding in an ADD-generated singularity. Life changes. It’s not a threat, it’s not the enemy, and you might as well get used to it.
*There are reasons to think that this might actually be happening, but they are social, not technological. Hiring a maid is a lot more likely to make you lazy than buying a washing machine.
Picture from Failbook (yes, I changed the picture; this one just seemed so appropriate).