At Issaquah High School in the Seattle, Washington area, 600 students voluntarily gave up using social media, computers and cell phones for three days to be participants in an experiment conducted to show students the effects of technology on their brain, emotions and communication skills.
Claudia Rowe writes in The Seattle Times that the experiment was part of a project by Michael Stusser, a filmmaker whose work includes a documentary titled “Sleeping with Siri,” to show how a week without technology affected him, a grown adult. When high school students tried the experiment, despite it being for a shorter amount of time, the majority of them were unable to complete it. For students it surprisingly brought up feelings of isolation, withdrawal and even panic.
Teenagers reportedly multitask online with their digital devices up to 11 hours a day. Many have social media apps on their phones and computers readily available when doing homework and even sitting in class despite admitting that it lowers their concentration and ability to complete assignments. Without their devices on hand though, students reported being bored and not knowing what to do to occupy themselves.
For experiment participant, Josh Eastern, a 16 year old student at Issaquah, going home after school, and simply talking with his family or reading a book did not provide quite the same charge as Eastern’s usual online chatter with friends.
“It did get boring after a while,” he said. “I don’t think I’d want to do it for more than a week.”
Eastern was one of the students who was able to complete the experiment and able to find one distinct benefit of doing the experiment: it significantly improved his concentration for schoolwork. Since the Timeout ended last Thursday, he said he is using Twitter less and has an easier time focusing on books.
“That’s a good thing. Finals are coming up next week and now I can study.”
“I’m so attached to my phone — that’s how I get my sports news,” said Eastern, who describes himself as a die-hard, even compulsive Seahawks fan, deeply attached to Twitter. “I discovered that some of the stuff I was looking up all the time really wasn’t that important, and maybe I can go a little bit longer without knowing some bit of Seahawks news. Nothing needs to be that up-to-the minute.”
Parents were also pleased with the tech time out as one parent reported, their children acted more civilly toward one another and as a whole spent more time as a family even playing board games together.
The experiment was backed by Forester, an insurance company focused on insuring well being for families. The company provided t-shirts and resources for experiment conductors. Flyers and announcements made by students, volunteers and teachers encouraged many teens to try the academic experiment and focus on the three area researchers wanted to learn more about.
Stusser hopes to have the experiment replicated in high schools all over North America and bring its benefits and revelations to more teenagers and the public as a whole about the effects of technology.