Foreword: While I am definitely not attempting to argue any sort of complete and total immersion in media, or the recoding of your entire life into 0s and 1s, I want to make the case for how schools imposing “social media blackouts” is problematic not just for the student, but for their family and network as well. I definitely believe in turning off media, as I wrote “Ode to ‘Death to Distraction‘” in response to MCDM Director Hanson Hosein’s post under the same name.
What got me started on this thought process was an article posted by the Chronicle of Higher Education about a blackout at Harrisburg University. The first problem I had with this was the way that students were being rewarded extra credit for not using Facebook. Furthermore, the provost claimed that students essentially don’t know how to live without Facebook.
“Telling students to imagine a time before Facebook is like telling them to imagine living in a world with dinosaurs,” said Eric D. Darr, Harrisburg’s executive vice president and provost. “It’s not real. What we’re doing is trying to make it real.”
What’s wrong with Darr’s comment above is that telling students (or anyone for that matter) to go to a time without Facebook is equivalent to telling them to stop using the internet. Facebook (as well as Twitter, MySpace and many other social networks) have created connections and channels of communication that we use for every day communications, especially as many of them are easier to use and less expensive than many SMS and voice communications.
I use Facebook to keep in touch with my relatives overseas because it has provided us with a clean and easy platform by which to share photos, videos and stories, at little cost to us. We still talk on the phone, over Skype, and send packages, but why should I print out 5 copies of each picture of a recent vacation that I want to share with my grandparents when I can simply upload the album online and share it that way?
I will contend that Facebook has been primarily viewed as a distraction by many educators, and I will include myself in this at times, but what the universities fail to acknowledge by “blacking-out” Facebook on their campuses is the way that families and friends use Facebook to communicate, not just waste time.
While Harrisburg is only blocking access to social media via their own networks for a week, I get almost as much news from my Twitter lists as I do via RSS feeds, so why is Twitter blocked but my RSS isn’t? Soon after I started jotting down ideas for this post, I saw that Mashable shared another take on the situation, (or at least different quotes from Darr).
I’ll give credit to Darr for wanting students to reflect on their use of social media as far as a tool rather than a toy, but from the perspective of someone who was deeply involved in a number of student groups on campus during my undergraduate years, social media provided the channels where most of the information was distributed. Cutting off those channels on campus will be an interesting experiment for those students.
Note: The image above is property of DRXIV and was used under a Creative Commons license.