Prof dares students to fast from media
By Frank Stirk | Friday, August 7, 2009
Robert Doede challenges his students to a three-month Facebook fast.
LANGLEY, BCEvery semester, professor Robert Doede opens his Issues and Ethics course with a dare. About half of the 35 or so students in his class take it; only about four or five ever make it through to the end.
Doede's challenge: a three-month fast from Internet, e-mail, TV, iPods, video games, text-messaging, Twitter andoften the toughest of allFacebook.
"There's no real private-life development, because they don't have time for that," says Doede, an associate professor of philosophy at Trinity Western University (TWU). "And so once [the social network sites are] pulled out, they're like hollow people."
Students can earn bonus credits if they take the challengemeaning total abstinence, except for two movies of their choosingand journal about their experiences. The goal, he says, is to help them realize "how tight the grip this stuff has on them."
One student who took the challenge was 21-year-old Hannah Jenkins. In a TWU news release, she says giving up Facebook was "really difficult" at first. "When you aren't on Facebook, you are disconnected from invitations.
"There is also a lot of anxiety around responding to people and projecting the right image of yourself. I was anxious about making sure I had the right photos up."
As he read their journals, Doede observed his students confessing and confronting this anxiety. The fast also freed up more time for prayer, reading, exercise, enjoying nature and thinking deeply and critically. They escaped what Doede calls the "de-skilling that these technologies are inflicting upon students."
"Their attention is so multiplied across all these solicitations," he says. "That they're always feeling this subtle anxiety to move on and to not give their whole selves to any one thing. And as students work through this, they begin to relax a little bitand to relax before God is so liberating and so purifying...and they want more of it."
Gayle Goosen, the founder and creative director of Barefoot Creative, a marketing and communications company in Kitchener, Ontario, says this sort of polarized response to an innovative medium is historically nothing new.
"New forms of media that grab popular attention are always seen as damaging the social framework," she wrote in an email. "The same critiques have been made for radio, television, video games, the Internet."
A recent Barefoot survey of 1,200 high school and post-secondary students that included Christian institutions found that while nearly two in three (65 per cent) still prefer talking face-to-face, their second choice is Facebook (24 per cent).
"I have little doubt that social media and other forms of web-based activities have changed the way young people communicate, but the stress of college or university has deeper roots," says Goosen. "Overuse of a social media platform is simply a human diversion from stress and requires discipline to control.
"The media format is simply that: the user holds all the power."
Jenkins wrote in her journal she attributes much of the popularity of Facebook and "meaningless" TV shows to "people being dissatisfied with their lives….They offer an escape from reality, but for so many people they become the reality, and the inadequacies which they were trying to escape simply mount higher."
Doede has been able to stay in touch with four students who successfully completed the fast. One has completely repudiated these technologies, while the rest have learned how to use them wisely, "maximizing what they give, minimizing what they take," he says.
"That to me is the ideal, because it keeps them . . . from just a negative posture. But I think some people have to go there [total abstinence] for a while, too."