University Declares A Week Without Social Media What if one day Facebook, Twitter and Instant Messenger just weren't there? Harrisburg University will face just such a reality this week when it enforces a campus-wide social media blackout.

University Declares A Week Without Social Media

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GUY RAZ, host:

This week, students at Harrisburg University in Pennsylvania will take part in an experiment. The provost of the school, Eric Darr, has decided to block all social media sites on the campus network for an entire week. That means no Facebook, no Twitter, no instant messaging programs, nothing.

And Eric Darr says he got the idea while watching his daughter.

Mr. ERIC DARR (Provost, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology): Sixteen-year-old, Facebook, iTunes, IM windows up simultaneously, having multiple conversations on her iPhone with friends and then kind of witnessing some of that same behavior in the students at Harrisburg University and thinking, you know, what if that wasn't there?

RAZ: Now, Eric Darr says he isn't doing this to punish students. He sees it as a kind of academic exercise. And at the end of the week, students will have to write essays about life in social media exile.

Mr. DARR: Critically, how does one examine how you use tools and technologies? We could have taken the approach, think about it. Well, that's sometimes hard to do. Often, there are behaviors or habits, ways that we use technology that we may ourselves not even be able to articulate because we're not aware of them.

RAZ: That's Eric Darr, he's the provost at Harrisburg University in Pennsylvania. I'll hand over the story now to Brent Baughman. He is one of our producers.

BRENT BAUGHMAN: I talked with a few students at the University about this.

Ms. ASHLEY HARRIS: Hi, I'm Ashley Harris.

Mr. GIOVANNI ACOSTA: Giovanni Acosta.

Mr. OLUYEMI AFUAPE: Oluyemi Afuape.

Ms. HARRIS: I'm a senior.

Mr. ACOSTA: Junior.

Mr. AFUAPE: A student at Harrisburg University.

BAUGHMAN: They're all friends.

Mr. ACOSTA: Yes.

Ms. HARRIS: Yeah, we all know each other.

BAUGHMAN: But they've got mixed reactions about the experiment.

Mr. AFUAPE: I think the program will be okay. Most of us, we can deal with it. Some of us can't. I don't know with Ashley.

Ms. HARRIS: I'm going to have a hard time not being able to tell people where I'm at, being able to find people. I use Facebook and Twitter to find people at school, to see where they're at, where they're studying.

Mr. AFUAPE: I'm not a big fan of Facebook or any of those social networking sites. I think I'll be fine. I can't say the same for the rest of the students. But me, personally, I'll be okay.

BAUGHMAN: It's hard to nail down exactly how often students use these tools and exactly how much of their time will change this week. That's because they're more or less constantly connected.

Mr. ACOSTA: I personally had to cut off Facebook during my sleep time because I have it straight to my phone. So when somebody texts me or sends me a Facebook status or a tweet, my phone rings, and at 3 in the morning, that's not too pleasant sometimes if you're trying to go to sleep. So I set a time limit. So between 3 and 6 in the morning, it just cuts off my phone. I can actually sleep between that time.

BACHMAN: Ashley, Gio and Yemi all said that one reason the blackout won't be so bad is that they have other ways to connect with each other, their own smart phones, for example.

And provost Eric Darr says that will be part of the experiment.

Mr. DARR: If someone feels the need to borrow their friend's phone to go check Facebook, it'll be interesting to ask the question at the end of the week: Why did you feel the need to do that? What compelled you to do that?

We're not trying to stop all access to these sites. We're trying to at least put in a hurdle and make it enough for people to think about it.

BACHMAN: Students will have ways around those hurdles. Off-campus students will keep their unrestricted access, and everyone still has email. But I asked Ashley, Gio and Yemi what it might be like if they couldn't use that most popular form of communication: the text message.

Mr. ACOSTA: Wow.


Mr. AFUAPE: That's something scary to imagine, actually, no texting.

Ms. HARRIS: No, I couldn't do it. No. That's not even a question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HARRIS: It might be a relief. I'm going to commit, and I'm going to see what it's like for a week if I talk to people face to face more, if I connect more. I might get some homework done.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: The voices of students from Harrisburg University. They spoke to our producer, Brent Baughman.

Another perspective on social media caught our eye this past week. This one came from Jaron Lanier. He's a computer scientist who appeared on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people of the year.

Now, back in the 1980s, he was a pioneer in the field of virtual reality.

Mr. JARON LANIER (Author, "You Are Not A Gadget"): So I'm not a technophobe. I adore technology. I describe myself as something of a devoted technologist. I'm geeky. I'm nerdy and proud of it.

RAZ: But Jaron Lanier is also an outspoken critic of social media. He calls it a network of fake friendships and digital Maoism ruled by a mob.

So we asked him what he thought of the experiment at Harrisburg University.

Mr. LANIER: I have mixed feelings about it. A prohibition might be extreme. What I'd prefer to do is to have a system in place where a student has to devote a penny to charity for every access to a Facebook page or for every tweet.

I'd like them to have to pay for it because that would create awareness. They'd be aware of how much they were doing, making the use of it into something that's more conscious and more considered.

RAZ: You call Facebook and other social networking sites, and I'm quoting you, anti-human software.

Mr. LANIER: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: Can you explain what you mean by that?

Mr. LANIER: I mean, basically what's happening is you're representing yourself on a database. Then you live according to that database. You fill in checkmarks saying this is what I'm interested in, this is who I am, this is the music I want to hear, and you become a caricature of yourself.

And I do think that's anti-human because I think the core of being human is having the right and the responsibility to invent yourself, and if some company off in the distance, particularly one that traffics in advertising, becomes in charge of that for you, you've really given up something of the core of yourself.

RAZ: You say you have hope for the post-Facebook generation. How would that happen? What would it look like?

Mr. LANIER: What I'm really hoping is for a renaissance of the most positive sense of American reinvention in which a new generation of young people say, no, we are individuals. We invent ourselves. We invent our own taste. We decide what friendship means, and furthermore, we intend to make a living because we're not subordinate. We're Americans.

And I'm waiting for a generation, and you know what? I think they're here.

RAZ: That's Jaron Lanier, virtual reality pioneer and most recently author of the book "You Are Not a Gadget." He joined me from UC Berkeley's graduate school of journalism.

Mr. Lanier, thank you so much.

Mr. LANIER: Oh, thank you.

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