The assignment sounded simple for 64 Rochester Institute of Technology advertising students: Go 24 hours without any social media and write a two-page reflection about your experience.
But what most of the students discovered was that social media was more of a part of their daily lives than they realized.
“This generation is so locked in. The moment they get up in the morning to the moment they go to sleep, they have to check it,” said Barry Strauber, a visiting lecturer in the School of Communication in RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, who gave the assignment to his two Principles in Advertising classes.
He said the majority of his students claimed to go without social media for 24 hours, but some admitted checking in out of habit, or used it to communicate or make plans with their friends.
Catherine Shipley, a third-year advertising photography major from Lancaster, Pa., normally uses Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter throughout the day, “constantly consuming pointless information and advertisements for things I do not need,” she said.
She decided to delete her social media apps and block the sites.
“I felt the urge to check my phone at the most random times, when I was walking to class, when I was waiting in line for coffee, even when I was sitting down for dinner with my roommate,” Shipley said. “It was a vicious cycle of being bored and then being frustrated with my boredom.”
The experience left her feeling disconnected and frustrated. But she also came to the realization that she doesn’t need social media.
“I got more work done than I usually do, and I even had time to start reading a book that’s been sitting on my shelf since the beginning of the semester,” Shipley said. “I had the chance to work on a puzzle and just relax. It is comforting to know that I can make it without social media, and I can definitely see benefits of detoxing every once in a while.”
Angela Krieg, a second-year illustration major from Salem, N.Y., called her experiment “an utter failure,” but did resist scrolling to read her friends’ posts.
She said she uses social media to make a presence as an artist, working on her portfolio and posting daily about her artwork.
“In retrospect, I realize how much I am on social media and how much it lowers my attention span, which I consider to be a huge negative,” Krieg said.
Luca Tifone, a third-year furniture design major from Mendon, N.Y., said the challenge wasn’t too difficult, “but it did take effort.”
Tifone did some research and learned social media addiction can be as physically addictive as drugs. “It turns out that every time you look at a notification or a post from a friend, your brain releases a shot of dopamine, the same stuff released when you drink alcohol, take drugs and even have sex.”
Tifone said he used to scoff at people who would check their phones every five minutes to see if something has happened. “I’ve become one of those people,” he said.
Strauber said he was surprised at the impact his assignment had on his students.
“I figured it would be an exercise that won’t kill them and show them the power of social media, but maybe it isn’t the end-all,” Strauber said. “In life, you have to step back sometimes. It’s OK to let go of the reins of social media sometimes. There are other modes of communication you can use to actually bring in a sense of humanity.”
How did the assignment connect with advertising?
“The power of advertising’s use on social media is going to get greater and greater over the next few years. It’s going to be essential to any marketer’s toolkit,” Strauber said. “As a marketer they will be using it a lot. But they shouldn’t blur the lines and think that they have to use it a lot personally. I understand their generation wanting to connect, but there’s something being lost in the translation when they are going through technology rather than the human spirit. They shouldn’t have it consume their daily lives.”