Recently my research writing students participated in an experiment: they all went for 24 hours without digital screens. The assignment (inspired by my friend Amanda) asks students to limit their use of technology in order to promote the process of inquiry: noticing the world and asking questions about it. My students were given two options; they could choose 1992 (no email, social media, internet, GPS, texting, using phones for anything other than making actual phone calls, etc.) or 1922 (no phones, televisions, or any other screens). I asked my students to keep track of how often they were tempted to reach for their phones, and they each were required to write a short paper reflecting on their No Digital Day.
When I distributed the assignment in class, I heard a lot of muttering as students shot me dirty looks. Several students proclaimed that they would never be able to go 24 hours without their phones, and one student said he would die if he couldn’t text his friends for a day. Nevertheless, I asked them all to give it their best shot.
Despite the grumbling, the majority of my students found their No Digital Day to be extremely rewarding. They described days of socializing with friends, reading books, productively doing housework or homework, and engaging more actively with the world. One student wrote that he spent his No Digital Day playing board games with his friends; another said that she actually talked to her family at dinner instead of looking at her phone the whole time.
Although there were a few students who described their day without digital screens as inconvenient (if not pure torture), most students said that they would go screen-free again, and for longer periods of time.
As for me, the experience confirmed many of the things I’d already suspected about my own use of technology: despite my involvement in numerous social media sites, I feel more connected when I get away from Facebook and actually talk to the people I care about. I am more productive and happier when I feel like a participant in life, rather than an observer. And without the constant distraction of those screens, I am free to think my own interesting thoughts. It makes me wonder: how would we all fare if we spent less time online and more time in life?
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