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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

January 21, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Teens swear off tech for three days: how did they do?

Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art

Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art

Last week, Education Lab reported on a “Tech Timeout” at Issaquah High School, in which some 600 students voluntarily gave up using social media, computers and cell phones for three days.

The experiment, designed to show students how reliant they are on technology — and to indicate the effect of this on their brains, emotions and communication skills — is part of an ongoing project of filmmaker Michael Stusser, who produced the documentary Sleeping With Siri.

In that work, Stusser engaged in a techno-gorge, then went cold-turkey for a week. Even for an adult who remembers life pre-Twitter, it was tough.

So what happened when Issaquah teens did the same?

Predictably, a lot of students couldn’t hack it. But some who did say it may shape the way they use technology in the future.

“I’m so attached to my phone — that’s how I get my sports news,” said Josh Eastern, 16, who describes himself as a die-hard, even compulsive Seahawks fan, deeply attached to Twitter. “I discovered that some of the stuff I was looking up all the time really wasn’t that important, and maybe I can go a little bit longer without knowing some bit of Seahawks news. Nothing needs to be that up-to-the minute.”

On the other hand, going home after school, and simply talking with his family or reading a book did not provide quite the same charge as Eastern’s usual online chatter with friends. “It did get boring after a while,” he said. “I don’t think I’d want to do it for more than a week.”

Many students were shocked at their inability to live tech-free. It brought feelings of isolation, withdrawal, even panic.

“It really was not easy for these kids to do this,” said Stusser, who filmed the Issaquah experiment. “A lot of them had excuses that sounded like somebody trying to give up chocolate.”

One distinct benefit Eastern was able to identify: significantly improved concentration for schoolwork. Since the Timeout ended last Thursday, he said he is using Twitter less and has an easier time focusing on books.

“That’s a good thing. Finals are coming up next week and now I can study.”

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