Social Media Blackout
At Information Commons, we are asked to complete reflections periodically throughout the semester. The second reflection this year asked us to read an article on a social media blackout and then experience a time of unplugging ourselves.
Read this article about how Harrisburg University challenged their students to unplug from social media. First, reflect on how you think a social media withdrawal would affect your daily routine. Then, actually complete a self-imposed “unplugging” from one or more social media networks that you typically use. Fully disengage from your iPhone, Facebook, Twitter, or other social tools. How long were you able to stay unplugged? What was easiest and hardest about disengaging? What did you learn in the process? What alternatives to completely unplugging might be a good suggestion for your peers as they learn to balance social engagement in online and real-world environments.
When I was a teenager, my youth group at church would do a media fast every year. We would dedicate anywhere from one to three weeks of time where we unplugged from all media types, including internet, television, gaming systems, and phones. Our decision was that instead of dedicating time to do these recreational things that often consume our waking hours, we instead were going to dedicate time to reading our Bibles and praying. So ever since I was in seventh grade, I have gone through a social media “blackout” once every year. I can’t say that our media fasts were life altering in the sense that I never re-acquired my social media “addictions”. Usually, as soon as the fast was over, I would go back to my normal media use. But it has given me a new perspective on how I spend my time.
I wasn’t born in a time where instant entertainment was the norm. Yet by the time I had reached middle school–the prime of social awareness–the new millennium had ushered in it’s barrage of entertainment and social outlets. For the majority of my “social life”, as I shall call it, I have owned a cell phone, had access to high-speed internet at home, and been a member of at least one social media group. And just like every other human being who hasn’t grown up in complete solitude, I have soaked in the society around me. Social media and instant entertainment have become expectations of life for me. Not that I allow them to consume or define who I am, but I am constantly connected to the world outside of my four walls in some media-related way.
Realizing that makes me both cautious and grateful. Cautious because I don’t want entertainment to become an addiction that I put before the important things in my life. Grateful because it has allowed me to add to my learning, keep connections that would otherwise not be possible, and engage with the world at large. On a large scale, I feel that social media is beneficial for my life. On a small scale, I can see it’s negative affects and what I need to change about my habits.
For this reflection, I decided to unplug for just one day. The day I chose happened to be really busy, so it wasn’t that hard to do. Most of the day I was either in class, working, getting ready for church, in church, or with friends. I found that having a busy schedule translated into less time thinking about missing social media, but I still had my moments where I almost got onto Facebook or Twitter until I remember I was unplugging. I have to admit, after sitting in a car for 45 minutes and then realizing it was fifteen minutes after midnight (thus the end of my blackout), I promptly checked my Facebook.
The one thing I am always reminded of when I unplug is how much social media and entertainment permeate my life. I often get into the habit of checking my Facebook page as I stroll to class, spending time on Pinterest when I have an hour break, or reading posts from the blogs I follow when I’m waiting for something. There are few other things in my life that I dedicate so much free time to beside my social media craving. And now it makes me wonder, what if my every free moment was filled with a craving to pray or read the Bible? What if I used my times of wait to meet someone new I’m standing next to or catch up with an old friend. What if I used Facebook as a way to develop connections with people instead of just using it as my personal news channel for what’s going on in other people’s lives. Social media has made parts of my life so un-interactive. And what would happen if I changed that?
I think initiating a campus-wide social media blackout would be a great experience for everyone. No matter how hard it may be for some people to pull the plug, in the end I think everyone would learn something from it. But I have also begun to understand the importance of having personal media blackouts throughout my day, every day. I’ve never been someone who is attached to my phone, in fact, I often leave it places and have several missed calls and texts. But my computer almost never leaves my side when I’m at home or in my apartment. This week, I started to realize how distracting my computer is for me during homework or study times. So, I started using computer time as a reward for finishing homework. Once I complete a reading or problem set, I reward myself by checking Facebook or pinning for a few minutes. I think a similar plan like this would be beneficial for a lot of college students to adapt. Make yourself unplug during the times you need to be focused and see how much more productive you can be.