Sept. 27, 2010
by Mark Ollig
Could you go without using your favorite Internet social media network, like Twitter or Facebook, for one week?
This columnist would probably go through some sort of online social media deprivation withdrawal.
Two weeks ago the University of Science and Technology in Harrisburg, PA made a decision to restrict the 800 students and teachers from using any Internet social media networks while on the college campus grounds.
Senior academic administrator Eric Darr said this was not a punishment, but rather an experiment in an attempt to get students and teachers to understand – through the use of critical thinking – the amount of time online social media usage takes up.
The decision caused a good deal of disagreement and bantering over the very same social media networks which were being blocked.
The Internet blogs and tweets were not very kind, with some saying how it is “a terrible thing and an infringement upon people’s rights,” said Darr.
“By-and-large, the students are supportive of the whole exercise and don’t get worked up over it,” he said.
One student, Ashley Harris, 22, stated the restrictions have allowed her to focus more on homework, instead of having to use her laptop for both social networking and her school lessons, while on the college campus.
“I feel obligated to check my Facebook. I feel obligated to check my Twitter. Now I don’t, I can just solely focus.” Harris said.
While on campus, any student or teacher attempting to access any of the popular social networking sites would see a “This domain is blocked” message.
They could also forget about sneaking around it by using Instant Messaging (IM), because IM was also blocked.
Excluded from the ban were e-mail and other “non-social” networking websites, such as search engines.
After all, it could almost be considered cruel and unusual punishment if the college were to ban everyone from the all-powerful and all-knowing Google.
The reason for this denial of on-campus social media networking access is due in part to a ComScore Inc. report which said people in the US spend more time using online social media networks like Facebook and Twitter than they do researching for information using search engines such as Google.
On Wednesday – during the middle of the online social media network blackout – the university was hosting – ironically enough – a “social media summit.”
The guest speaker that day was Sherrie Madia Ph.D., who is Director of communications, external affairs at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Madia also happens to use Twitter.
With no Twitter access on campus, this overly Twitter-obsessed columnist was very curious to learn what she thought about the university’s experiment, so I contacted her directly.
I sent her an e-mail (and a tweet message) asking what her feelings about the university’s experiment and being denied access to Twitter were while on campus.
The following is Madia’s message she sent to me:
‘This was an outstanding opportunity for all of us to pause to consider, “Why is it that we are tweeting, posting, updating, and checking in – in the first place?’
With regard to the lack of access to Twitter, the audience was actually able to focus on the panel discussion, as opposed to having to focus on being content creators. As presenters, we weren’t faced with the prospect of cheeky tweets throughout our performance, which can detract from the focus of a presentation.
Of course, media were presented with the insufferable delay of having to wait until the session ended to offer commentary (Note: Not a knock on the media; we are all now guilty of having anything other than instant feel like a test on our patience).
“The questions from the audience came just the same – no tweets required – particularly because they were seated just yards away. We were humans talking to humans without the aid of technology. Imagine that!”
The University of Science and Technology is a private not-for-profit school founded in 2003. It is located in a 16-story building in Harrisburg, PA.