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Tech free for 24 hours

By Tim Cigelske, Comm '04

Could you give up your phone, computer, social media, iPod, television, radio and all other electronic communication devices for 24 hours?

Dr. Scott D'Urso, assistant professor in the J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication, undertook this challenge himself and issued that assignment to the 28 students in his Communication Studies class.

Ironically, the title of the course is New Communication Technologies in the Workplace. But D'Urso wanted students to gain perspective about using technology consciously.

"I hoped that students would consider being in control or being controlled by our daily communication technology," D'Urso says. "I think they were successful in understanding that concept."

In a class discussion after the project, students reported feeling disconnected from friends and family, worried that they might be missing something, or frustrated that they weren't able to complete tasks or homework that they would under normal circumstances.

Though they admit that much of this anxiety was in their heads, some saw a real impact.

One student said she overslept by three hours when she didn't have her cell phone alarm clock. Another said he didn't know how to dress in the morning because he couldn't check his weather app. One student reported missing a practice because he didn't receive a text message that the time was changed, and another showed up to the wrong location for class when she didn't get an email about a room change.

They also reported benefits, like more in-depth face-to-face conversations partially because they had to catch up with daily events that they didn't see posted on Facebook. They were also forced to find new activities to replace time spent with electronics. 

"Let's just say my roommates want me to do this no-technology thing more often," says junior Courtney Opie. "I cooked a pretty nice dinner for them and cleaned the whole apartment."

Then after completing five loads of laundry, she started knitting.

"Very grandma of me, but what else could I do?" Opie says. "Staring at the wall seemed to be the only other option I could think of, and sadly that came in a close second to the knitting."

Students also resorted to more analog technologies to communicate with peers. Some left post-it notes, and one student threw rocks as his friends' apartment window to get their attention. Turns out, they weren't even there.

"I just sat down on their doorstep and waited 10-15 minutes until they got home," says senior Drew Brown. "They told me they tried calling to say they were going to be late, but without a cellphone to use, it did me no good."

But despite their reluctance to try this exercise again anytime soon, students agreed that it was a valuable practice that everyone should try.

"People might go crazy," Opie says, "but then they could realize how much technology controls their everyday lives."

Read Dr. D'Urso's account of his own technology-free day on his blog. Yes, he recognizes the irony.


Comment by Gary Branger CPS 03 GRAD 10 at Apr 23 2011 02:06 pm
Inspired by this story I went tech free on Good Friday. I need to do that more often. Being home made it easier and harder. So here is the marginally funny story of the day. Time Warner field tech was trying to call the house at 0810 because we had an Internet outage the night before and they scheduled someone to come out. I'm not answering the phone and my 12 yo daughter can't find a phone in our house with a charged battery so she can answer it for me. Guy ended up coming to our house (knocked on door) to tell us there was a major outage in area they repaired it last night. (had to be there).
Definitely more productive without the electronic distractions. Had conversations with my sons about college 1st with youngest - "we need to make sure you're better prepared than your brother is,.." then with oldest - "You need to come with a plan to fund your first year, let us know where you need help. You own it, we're here for you."
Most importantly my mind was less distracted meditating on the spiritual meaning of the day. Will certainly make this a yearly tech free day and look to add more throughout the year.
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