‘Media Cleanse’ Bans Cell Phone Use for 24 Hours

December 13, 2017
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Class Project Illustrates Often Detrimental Role of Social Media Obsession

A class of Wilmington College students gained firsthand experience of how the nation’s obsession with social media is, by some measure, preventing them from living their lives both in person and in the present.

PICTURED: Junior Jason Altmayer checks his phone.

Dr. Audrey Wagstaff had her Media for Social Change class participate in a 24-hour media exclusion project in which they not only refrained from watching television, playing musical devices and listening to the radio, but also they could not speak or text on their cell phones, surf the Internet or engage in social media applications.

That’s right — no texting, Tweeting, Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. No Android, iPad, iPod or iPhone.

Wagstaff, associate professor of social science, shared excerpts from her students’ journals in which they reflected upon feelings and reactions both during and after the daylong media blackout.

She believes their responses are very telling and may lend insight into a possibly detrimental impact from social media on student quality of life and educational performance.

One student, who at first felt like “a hopeless dweeb” as the only one among his/her friends to not stand mesmerized by their phones, admitted the exercise — a “social media cleanse” — significantly increased his/her motivation.

“I felt more inclined to go out and walk around campus, mingle in (the student center) or visit a coffee shop,” the student said. “I intentionally found different ways to spend my time so that I wouldn’t be sucked into the media-filled cesspool of my apartment.”

The student felt better able to address the list of responsibilities that had been piling up, including tacking a 10-page research paper for which, “I felt creatively empowered. By dragging my attention away from irrelevant time-wasters such Twitter, I was able to spend my day being noticeably more productive.”

Another student visited Clifton Mills with no cellphone in hand.

“It was absolutely stunning. We passed one beautiful display of Christmas lights after another,” he/she said, noting that, as they walked, hundreds of persons were taking pictures of the displays with their phones.

“I came to a realization at that moment that I know I will never forget for the rest of my life. I would rather live in the moment no matter where I am or what I’m seeing compared to worrying about taking pictures of every last detail. I’ll break phones and lose pictures, but I know that memories last a lifetime.”

Another student observed an annoyance that he/she likely engaged in prior to the media exclusion when several friends were hanging out in his/her dorm room. “As I was talking to them, I noticed they were not looking me in the eye, rather they are looking at their screens.”

The project “illuminated” to another student how, without media, “I can feel incomplete and experience isolation.” The student now better realizes the major role of media in daily life.

“Media infiltrate every empty space in our society, and when I became separated from the tangible forms of media, I felt fragmentary,” he/she added, noting that lacking the means to instantaneously communicate with others far away resulted in feelings of loneliness and seclusion. “Now that I have become self-aware of my dependency on media, I can make conscious strides to slowly disconnect and really experience life in the manner it was meant to be lived – in the flesh, not on a screen.”

Another student proclaimed he/she would no longer be obsessed with his/her phone.

“It’s a nice thing to have, but I don’t use it constantly like I used to. When I eat at the (student center) with friends, I find myself more engaged in the conversation,” he/she said, adding that the student previously used the phone as a crutch to distract him/her from “things that I don’t want to think about (but maybe should).

“I think people become stressed out from their devices because the ‘Internet of Things’ allows people to focus on so many things at one time, which creates this catastrophic culture and increases the stress level of individuals in society.”

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