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January 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Dump your cellphone? High-school students to unplug for three days

Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art

Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art

Most of us sense how reliant teens have become on technology, plugged in every waking moment — and even, sometimes, during sleep. But here’s an actual number: Cellphone users age 13 to 17 send and receive an average of 3,705 texts per month, according to a 2011 study by Nielsen.

That doesn’t even count online chatting, posting or tweeting.

These habits are becoming so pervasive that growing chorus of educators is worried about the fallout of techno-glut on kids’ brains — their ability to plan, retain information and communicate face-to-face. On Monday afternoon at precisely 2:15, Issaquah High mounted its response: a Tech Timeout Academic Challenge, in which 600 of the school’s 2,000 students disconnected from cell phones, iPads and all social media for three days.

The hope was that students would come away with a keener sense of their dependence on technology and a desire to spend more time communicating the old fashioned way.

“Even after timeout started, it was pretty clear that some students were still using their phones — they kind of waved them at us in defiance,” said filmmakers Marty Riemer and Michael Stusser, who will be documenting the withdrawal.

Stusser understands the feeling. Recently, he experimented on himself, going cold-turkey on technology for one week, which he found “extremely difficult.” He was bored within seconds. (It should be noted that Stusser conducted this interview via cell phone, in his car.) For students it may be even tougher, since online technology is embedded in everything from homework assignments to movie dates.

The Issaquah unplug — part of a national effort sponsored by Foresters Life Insurance — has its roots in a mini-test conducted last year at Chief Sealth High. Among the early findings from Riemer and Stusser: what most rattles tech-dependent youths is planning ahead.

“They’re not even aware they need to do it. The idea of planning ahead and not at the last minute sending a text out is totally unheard of for this generation,” said Riemer, recalling an Issaquah student who panicked Monday when she was unable to call her mom and tell her about the Tech Timeout. “We know how important technology is to our society, but there’s a big difference between using it and overusing it.”

The event was scheduled to begin with a mass sleepover at the school, where 250 students planned to play board games and speak to each other, face-to-face. We’ll check back on Thursday afternoon to see what they learned.

In the meantime, check out a video from Riemer and Stusser showing what happened during last year’s challenge at Chief Sealth:

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Issaquah High School, Tech Timeout, technology


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