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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Columns

University students are hopelessly addicted to social media


The Harrisburg University of Science and Technology has done the unthinkable.

In the fashion of a similar attempt last fall, Eric D. Darr, the university’s provost, has reinstated a week-long social media blackout. A school-wide filter was embedded within the University’s network with the intent of eliminating wireless access to Facebook, MySpace and several other minor media hives for seven days.

Harrisburg initiated the blackout in order to provoke “genuine thought,” while forcing students to evaluate how vehicles of instantaneous communication affected their performance.

Darr believed that constant social media usage was wreaking havoc on the physical interactions, work ethics and personas of his students on the whole. If successful, the ban would allow him to capitalize on an issue that he viewed as a potential time bomb.

On paper, it seemed like a thought-provoking inquiry; an investigation that would force students to evaluate how dependent they were on Tom and Mark to make it through the day.

Unfortunately, the plan fell through. Although the University found that 15 percent of its students cooperated with no resistance, the remainder of the class expressed their opinion of the experiment through proxy loopholes, neighboring wireless ports, and cell phones with the means to bypass the ban. Disturbed by the sudden disappearance of Twitter on the network, several students went as far as to hike to a local hotel.

Every alternative option for access was pursued. Barring the more outrageous reactions, the overwhelming disregard for the blackout demonstrated that even a hypothetical universe without social media was an uninhabitable one to students of that university — and in a sense, it is.

Since the commercialization of MySpace in 2003, social media networks have become so finely interwoven into our culture that a temporary disengagement is all it takes to completely disrupt our daily routines. Its taken for granted that the lives of friends, siblings, distant relatives, acquaintances, associates, actors, musicians, exes, potentials and improbables are online and instantly accessible in only a matter of moments.

This spontaneity has its benefits, with moments of boredom being farther and fewer between, but as our infatuation with these outlets increased, the line between tool and crutch began to blur. What initially looked like a way to relax for a bit became a necessary fix, and the sudden immersion with social media outlets began to resemble other distinctive pitfalls.

The University of Maryland calls it an addiction. A clinical diagnosis was eluded, but Maryland’s participation in an international study involving smartphone, television and internet usage led them to conclude that virtually every American under the age of 25 is extremely susceptible to some form of social media. The severity of their conclusion wasn’t specified, but a glance across the desktop screens lining the M.D. Anderson Library should leave little to the imagination.

Regardless of the context, addiction is a heavy label, the sort that yields the best results when addressed immediately, but it’s a practice better said than done.

If the students of Harrisburg yielded no other results, they demonstrated the backlash that would follow any permanent attempt to eliminate social media access, and overall, the overwhelming response wasn’t so different from a cocaine or methamphetamine user’s pursuit of a high. On the whole, Darr looks less and less like a heretic with every additional log-in.

Even still, despite the growing prominence of the issue, the average Facebook addiction hasn’t required the construction of in-dorm sanatoriums, or conversion centers adjacent to the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.

But that’s no reason to table the issue. After all, if our dependence escalates any further, we could find ourselves itching for the extra rooms.

Bryan Washington is a sociology freshman and may be reached at [email protected]

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