Considering a New Year’s Resolution to cut back on Facebook time in favor of real face time with friends and family? A one-week blackout of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and instant messaging at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania prompted students and faculty to reflect on – and in some cases, change – their usage habits.
1. Stress of the ‘Facebook Twitch’
One-third of the Harrisburg students responding to a survey said they felt less stressed during the blackout week this fall. Some realized that they normally feel compelled to check and update their Facebook pages, and the week felt like a vacation.
“They jokingly called it the Facebook twitch,” says new-media professor Charles Palmer, but by the end of the week a number of students felt relieved from that itch to go online constantly.
2. 20 Hours a Day Might Be Too Much
“Left unchecked, [social media] can take over your life,” says Eric Darr, executive vice president and provost at Harrisburg University. Forty percent of students said they normally spend between 11 and 20 hours a day using social media.
The university wanted to spark a dialogue – not pass judgment on – social media uses. Future student orientation sessions will include suggestions about striking the right balance, he says, but more research is needed before the university puts out particular guidelines about usage in classrooms.
Some students have already started setting their own limits in response to the blackout experiment. In the recent final-exam week on campus, a number of students voluntarily turned off their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts to focus on studying.
3. Oh Right, Homework
When they were encouraged to take a break during the blackout, 21 percent of students used the time to do homework. About a quarter of students said they concentrated better in class and found lectures more interesting. Ten percent spent more time reading online news. Six percent ate better and exercised more.
4. Face-to-Face Friending Has Its Benefits
Discussions during the blackout week prompted students to find common interests, and spawned a photography club and a diversity club. “It prompted friendships between students that weren’t happening prior to the blackout,” says professor Charles Palmer.
Professors noted that during in-person discussions, students quickly mastered a set of biology concepts that had confused them for weeks when discussed over social media.
5. Social Media: Not One-Size-Fits-All
A number of students and professors discovered that by trying to do too much on one social media site, they missed out on the advantages of other tools.
Business students, for instance, had tried to collaborate on assignments on Facebook before the blackout week, and discovered much better ways to manage their projects when forced to look for alternatives.
Professor Palmer realized that what he missed most when cut off from social media were the insightful responses from professional counterparts via Twitter posts. So when he went back online, he scaled back his Facebook usage and spent more time forging those professional connections on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Likewise, a number of students who hadn’t explored much beyond Facebook discovered that they’d have a better chance of finding future jobs by maintaining a professional presence on a site like LinkedIn, rather than simply highlighting their accomplishments alongside whimsical, social posts on Facebook.