... like Robinson Crusoe, they're primitive as can be...
Danna L. Walker, an associate professor of journalism at American University, assigned her students to one day with no electronic media as a required assignment for an Understanding Mass Media course.
A couple of exerpts:
"Can we eat?" someone asked, to laughter.
IN RETROSPECT, PERHAPS THAT LAST QUESTION WASN'T AS RIDICULOUS AS IT SOUNDED. Eighteen- to 20-year-olds know in their hearts that electronic media are nearly as dear to their lives as physical nourishment. They have vague memories of a time before iTunes, personalized ring tones, Facebook, Google, Rocketboom, "MySpace: The Movie" and www.i-am-bored.com. But like their contemporaries, the Olsen twins, whom they watched grow up in the media, they are no longer innocent. They have tasted the pleasures brought by binary code, and, like most of us, they're not into deprivation.
Could my students, in fact, survive "the grueling pain that was the 24-hour, e-media fast," as one self-described iPod and computer addict would later write in her paper?
BACK IN WECHSLER THEATER AFTER SPRING BREAK, with my students' ordeal over and their papers written, I asked them to tell me what had occurred in their lives for 24 media-free hours.
"What was good about it?" I asked, somewhat hopefully.
"Your cellphone, like, it always rings at the most inopportune times, so it was nice for a day to not have it constantly ringing," someone piped up.
Said another: "The peace and quiet. I realized how I depended on e-media because I don't pick up a newspaper. The way I get my news is either talk to people or watch TV."
"Every single one of these people in here," one student said, looking around the classroom, "we can't deal with silence anymore. We always have to have at least two things going on, whether it's the TV or the computer or iPod or cellphone."
On they went, as I scribbled down their comments.
"I really felt productive. I thought that I would just be, ah, no stress. But I was nonstop all day, cleaning, cooking, weed-whacking, yardwork."
Two students spent extra time with their mothers. They wouldn't elaborate in front of their peers, but one wrote later in his paper: "My mother is thrilled that I'm doing this fast. To her it means I get to spend the day with her. I bite, and we walk into town for some brunch. I draw out the brunch as long as possible."
Many students said they got out more than usual. If they heard someone leaving from across the dormitory hall, they jumped at the chance to join in. A lot of them said they got more sleep, some luxuriating in a rare afternoon nap, and enjoyed reading a book.
They had to be creative about everyday activities. "I actually had to go out and get a newspaper, which I don't normally do," one student said. "It wasn't that bad, but I almost felt like I wasn't getting all the news" without Internet updates.
"I realized I couldn't be around any of my friends because they weren't willing to do this with me. They would blast the radio if I was in the car or try to make me play video games," said another.
Some had their friends hide their cellphones, and one put Post-it notes around saying, "NO TECHNOLOGY," to avoid reflexive TV and Internet use.
Read The Longest Day