Imagining College Life Without Social Media

Students and educators contemplate a world without Facebook and Twitter.

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It has become ingrained in our culture: Social media networks have risen from latest trends to digital luxuries to day-to-day necessities in less than a decade. On college campuses, students use platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with friends, to collaborate with classmates, and to correspond with professional contacts. So what would happen if these services were taken away?

"I would freak out," says Michael Conley, a senior at Indiana University—Bloomington. "I wouldn't know what to do."

Conley, a self-proclaimed social media addict, estimates that he spends 10 hours a day using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, mainly for professional networking and "communicating with like-minded people."

"[Social media] plays a big role in my day-to-day activities," Conley says. "A lot of the classes I take here at IU encourage us to use social media and engage with classmates."

[See five unique uses of Twitter in the classroom.]

Conley's use of social media isn't an anomaly, though, according to a 2010 survey by Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania. The study, which garnered feedback from 800 Harrisburg students and faculty, found that roughly 20 percent of the respondents spent between 11 and 20 hours a week using social media.

This level of weekly use by students and faculty can be harmful to the goals of higher education, says Eric Darr, provost and executive vice president at Harrisburg University.

"This technology has the power to invade our lives and take over in an unhealthy way," Darr says. "Can social media be addictive? Absolutely. Can it get in the way of a student getting an education? Yes."

To further examine the role of social media in college, Harrisburg announced that it would block access to several popular platforms—such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—for a week in September. Students, faculty, and staff members hoping to post or view status updates on campus had to venture outside of the Harrisburg Wi-Fi network to do so. Darr, who notes that this is the second year the university has implemented the social media blackout, says that it was not meant to punish students.

"The technology that fundamentally impacts the way we live and work—we should understand it and study it," he says. "We wanted to take it away to understand the role it plays in education and in our lives."

[Learn how social media may be negatively impacting students.]

The weeklong blackout was met with anger and frustration from students and faculty at first, notes Darr, but by the end of the week, "anger was completely gone and there was acceptance."

Giovanni Acosta, a senior at Harrisburg University who has been a part of both social media experiments on campus, says that he appreciated the break from Facebook and Twitter.

"It's cool because you know you can't connect to [social media on campus], so there's no need to go on it," Acosta notes. "You don't have to be constantly prying around to see what the next thing is going on."

Acosta says that it was a challenge at first not to use Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis, but it eventually gave him time to "find some perspective on what's important in life."

"I think people should try disconnecting from everything and see how it goes," he says. "Just see how you feel in the end because you might be surprised."

[Read about the increased college presences on Facebook.]

While Harrisburg's Darr notes a desire to study the impact of removing social media from a college campus, some question the university's intentions.

Reynol Junco, a professor at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, says that while colleges and universities should discuss the positives and negatives of social media with students, "it's ridiculous for an institution" to block the websites.

"The reasons were wrong, because they were coming at it from a perspective of 'social media are bad' and that's not the case," Junco notes. "And, if they do believe that, that's not the way to help students internalize that."