The web-based technology known as social media continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Some sources claim that Twitter averages around 40 million tweets per day, and straight from the horse’s mouth—the horse being Facebook’s statistics page, of course—there are over 500 million active Facebook users around the world. Half of those active users log on daily and it’s been calculated that people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook.
College students are among Facebook’s biggest fans, updating their status several times throughout the day and using the site to chat, email and locate friends on campus. Some professors even create Facebook groups as a place to answer questions and post class announcements, since students are so accustomed to the site. This leads some people to wonder: what would happen if college students gave up Facebook? Could college students give up Facebook?
The Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania decided to find out.
The school banned the use of all social media and online communication—including Facebook, Twitter and instant messengers—for one week during the month of September. Students and staff were allowed to surf the internet, use email and communicate via text message.
Although the private school’s 800 students initially felt otherwise, Harrisburg University’s “social media prohibition” wasn’t designed to be a punishment but rather an experiment to make students more aware of their behaviors.
In all honesty, students could have accessed social media sites through smart phone applications or taken their laptops to local off-campus businesses that offered free Wi Fi. Critics of the study instantly pointed this out, but Provost Eric Darr reminded them that point of the study was not to prevent access to social media but to get people to think critically about its role in their lives.
Forty percent of participating students admitted that they typically spent between 11 and 20 hours a day using social media. Faculty and staff also reported spending up to 20 hours a day with the tools.
The results of Harrisburg University’s social media study were published on December 10, 2010 and Darr told the Associated Press that "Even though people initially were angry … even the most cranky student had to admit some good came out of it.”
The statistics released by the school were based on in-house surveys conducted before and after the social media blackout, with additional information gathered from focus groups, e-mails and personal conversations. One-quarter of students and 40 percent of faculty and staff responded to the surveys.
Results found that:
• 33% of respondents reported feeling less stressed because they were unable to use social media
• 25% reported better classroom concentration
• 23% percent found lectures more interesting
• 21% of students used their normal social networking time to do homework
• 10% read online news as opposed to using social media
• 6% reported eating better and exercising more
ABC News reported similar findings from college students that decided to give up social media in April 2010.
Eric Feld, a graduate student in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, deactivated his Facebook page in January. “Believe it or not, life is just fine without Facebook. I have noticed that I have become more productive, and I feel like I am performing better with my classwork,” he told reporters.
Sadie Cooke, a junior business major at Clemson University, decided to give up her Facebook account in June 2009. “I was consumed with it,” she said. “I checked it too many times every day, to the point where I would lose count.”
Darr acknowledges the results of the Harrisburg University study are far from scientific, but also feels that social media “can take over your life.”
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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