A Social Media Blackout (Sort of)

Eric Darr is the provost at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, and he’s banning Facebook and Twitter from his campus. Well, only for a week, and only sort of. Darr is interested to see what happens when access to certain social media websites (as well as certain collaboration tools in the campus’ course management system) are blocked from the campus network for a week. That means no Facebook, no Twitter, my MySpace, and no AOL Instant Messenger for students, faculty, or staff all week–at least on the campus network. The “social media blackout” is intended to encourage the Harrisburg community to reflect on how they use social media by examining the effects of not using it for a week.

My initial reactions to this news:

  • Um, MySpace? College students aren’t really using MySpace these days. They’re not really on Twitter, either, for that matter. This is effectively a Facebook blackout, not a social media blackout.
  • Campus network? The provost does realize that many students, faculty, and staff have smart phones that bypass the campus network for Internet connections, right? Especially those at a “University of Science and Technology.” (I can see a cheeky bunch of students coming to class one day this week and spending the entire hour surfing Facebook on their smart phones as an act of protest.)
  • Why target social media and privilege those (mostly faculty and staff) who use other means of communication, collaboration, and networking? Why not, maybe, ban all committee meetings for a week to see what happens when faculty and staff are forced to get things done using other tools? Or shut down the campus email server for a week? I understand that doing so wouldn’t affect the students so much (since, apparently, email is for old people), but it would certainly make life more interesting for faculty and staff. Or why not go one step further and mandate that all university administrators must conduct their work over Facebook and Twitter, avoiding email, phone calls, and even face-to-face chats? Might that also give the campus plenty to reflect on regarding the roles of social media in our lives?

It looks like Harrisburg is planning some interesting events in conjunction with this social media blackout. (Yes, I just linked to the university’s RSS feed. Wonder if that will disappear next week, too.) It’s quite possible that this experiment will foster meaningful dialogue about social media on campus. But might those conversations be enriched by sharing them with the wider world, too, via social media? As Ethan Zuckerman pointed out in his recent (and fantastic) TED talk, we’re remarkably provincial in our use of social media as it is. Will a social media blackout improve that situation? I kind of doubt it.

What’s your take on Harrisburg’s experiment?

Image: “Telegraph Key” by Flickr user photobunny, Creative Commons licensed.

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