Zen and the Art of Social Media Blackout

In May, when I decided to disconnect from checking social media and email over 500 times a day to write Disconnected: Technology Addiction & the Search for Authenticity in Virtual Life, I had no idea how contemporary the idea of disconnecting from social media would become.

Give me your Droids, your iPhones, your Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates, your text messages, your Google Chats! Let’s see what happens to life as we know it if we take a time capsule way back into the mid-1990’s, stop clicking on our mobile devices, and start engaging more with the real world and real people around us. It sounds like such a trite experiment, and yet it’s one of those compelling exercises that can really help us understand the concept of mindfulness – the ability to live in the moment, slow down, and appreciate all that is for what it is. At least that’s what it did for me (as soon as I could compel myself to actually follow through to see what would happen – technology detox is NOT easy and I am a self-admitted addictive multitasker).

Like the experiment being run at the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania university that’s garnered so much press this month, my personal exercise was more of a brownout than a blackout. Face it – life totally without technology can be impractical and unproductive in many ways, especially when you have a job that relies on it. But how much is too much? That’s the trick I wrote about in my book… avoiding technology asceticism (blackout) while setting pertinent Rules of Engagement that limit social media technology use (brownout) to promote mindfulness. It results in you using technology rather than it using you.

So what’s going on in Harrisburg? According to Paige Chapman at the Chronicle on September 9, 2010:

Professors have experimented with assigning technology fasts for their students—by discouraging gadget use for five days, for example, or rewarding extra credit for a semester without Facebook.

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is going one step further with a “social-media blackout.” Starting Monday, the Pennsylvania institution will block Facebook, Twitter, AOL Instant Messenger, and MySpace on the campus network for a week. Faculty and staff members will be affected as well as students.

“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.”

Here are some more of the links I’ve found over the past few days on the social media blackout concept. I’m listing them here for personal reference, and plan to grow it as I find more interesting links on the topic, but you might find the list useful too.

By the way. many people have asked whether my 42-day experiment resulted in a long term behavior shift… and the answer is YES, it did. Now, I only check my Droid, Facebook, Twitter, email and the rest about 50 to 75 times a day. This might still be considered a problem, but I’m pretty happy that I reduced my habit by a factor of 10. So are most of the people who have to interact with me on a daily basis.