Steve Hicks finds it ironic: Some of the technology that’s intended to improve our quality of life can do just the opposite.
So he does something about it.
The Covenant Day School AP language teacher recently completed the sixth annual Technology Freeze-Out for his high school students, most of whom were surprised to find that no Facebook and less texting and less iPad use was a good thing.
Highlights of the weeklong challenge included no Facebook visits and only 30 minutes a day for students to use other technologies such as the Internet, email, iPads, television and video games.
“This stuff’s not going away,” Hicks says. “But what I always tell the kids is, ‘A lot of you are under the elephant. I want you to be on top of the elephant, controlling the elephant.’ ”
Hicks says about 40 of the 48 students in his AP language class participated in the experiment, which offered 10 extra-credit points and one late homework pass. A great many of them noticed less stress and more efficiencies in their daily lives; some resolved to make lasting changes in their technology habits.
“At first I was really skeptical about the whole thing. I didn’t think it would be that helpful,” says Covenant Day senior Sheldon Roper. “I didn’t think I was that addicted to Facebook. Getting off my technology helped me to focus on whatever I was doing, and I made a habit of turning off my technology for the rest of the year to really focus. I felt so stress-free.”
In their essays about the freeze-out, “many students wrote about how they regained the ability to talk with their parents and talk with their peers,” Hicks says. “They wrote things like, ‘I finally sat down and had a meal with my parents. I played board games again.’ They lost themselves in their books.”
This isn’t a recent crusade for Hicks: “The idea kind of came as sort of an updating I did about 30 years ago, pre-Internet, when all we had were TVs and I was at a public school in Illinois and I got tired of the kids watching TV all the time and not doing their work. So I challenged them to go two weeks without TV.
“The paper did a story on it, and it went kind of national because it was a Gannett newspaper. There were people writing me from Arizona and other faraway places. So I thought about five or six years ago that I would adapt it to this modern time.”
He says the challenge at Covenant Day was originally meant to just get students off Facebook. He’s not shy about saying “I’m anti-social media.”
“What I saw was, the kids weren’t having quality study time. It was study for the history test for 10 minutes, check Facebook, study math five minutes, check Facebook. Check Facebook. Check Facebook. Just from a purely academic point of view, I wanted to see if they could sort of rediscover time again by not always needing to know about what some friend said about somebody else.
“There’s enough trauma in high school. Facebook has quantified it times 10 ... they destroy each other on Facebook sometimes. Some of them were complaining, ‘I have five hours of homework every night.’ Well, once they did this (the freeze-out), they realized they maybe had only two hours or three hours because Facebook was just killing their study time.”
Students point out that class socials and events at school are often through Facebook. Hicks says the social networking site can be a benefit, but too many people either don’t know how to use it or turn it into a daily obsession.
“I have grown children, and they all have Facebook accounts,” he says. “They manage a lot of friendships through them but in a lot better ways than teenagers do.”
Alex Rousseaux, a junior, knows she needs to improve there. “I get on Facebook all the time. I will finish an assignment, and then I automatically - even though I don’t really care - I just go click the button for Facebook on my computer. And nothing’s changed in 10 minutes, but I do it anyway. It’s just a habit.
“Homework can last forever because you’re always distracting youself with that.”
Alex and fellow junior Annie Pearson had a tough time adjusting to sending fewer texts.
“The only texts I sent was when I arrived at school or got home,” Annie says. “I had to make all plans in person. It was really hard. But the biggest impact for me was how much free time I had once I stopped using all that.”
Morgan Mosteller, a senior, says her parents loved the change. “I got to bed at least an hour earlier than I normally would, every night. I wasn’t wasting so much time.”
Students say they feel the word “addiction” isn’t too strong to describe some of their habits: “When you check Twitter and Facebook all the time, you kinda feel like you need to keep checking it to see if something’s happened,” says junior Anne Fuller. “It’s kinda like a burden.”
Hicks smiles and mentions another irony that’s not lost on him or his students.
“I’m a half-time English person, half-time IT person. I fix computers. I’ve always had an interest in computers, but it’s never dominated my life. I’m an English major first, a book person first.”