Briefly Noted: “Only Disconnect” by Andrew Reiner

Now this is an interesting suggestion. In the September 28, 2012 edition of The Chronicle Review (p. B20) Andrew Reiner, professor of literature at Towson University, writes that college students can better learn how to learn by taking a sabbath from technology–a social-media sabbath. Reiner’s impetus for this suggestion is the rampant preoccupation college students have with social media.

Reiner cites a study by Reynol Junco that suggests American college students may spend, on average, one hour and 40 minutes on Facebook and three hours a day texting. Reiner also shares that, after surveying his own classes, one student admitted to “fake texting” while in public. The problem, Reiner suggests, is not with social-media per se but with many (most?) students’ fear of being left out of the crowd, whatever crowd that may be. It is no wonder that this problem also manifests itself in classrooms. How many of us peek at Facebook or text (or even fake text) while in a classroom, or even (gasp!) in a sanctuary? For college students and others, then, endless access to social-media may not be a sign of humanity’s tech achievements but rather its desire for distraction.

Going beyond this diagnosis, Reiner suggests that all the social-media activity reveals students’ fears of vulnerability and failure. He claims, “when we allow for intimacy, we open ourselves to two of the most dreaded conditions in our culture–vulnerability and failure.” So, learning requires intimacy, relationship with one’s subject. Yet, because hyper social-networked students seek the crowd, they eschew taking the necessary risks inherent in learning about something other than themselves or their status update. Why spend time learning about something new when I can find out what new pics my “friends” may have uploaded today? For Reiner, education suffers because social media is a safe place for this generation of American students.

To provide a remedy for this problem Reiner suggests that students take a social-media sabbath in order to “create a space of deceleration–and detachment from outside distractions.” Reiner follows the suggestions of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Sabbath. In 1951 Heschel argued that mankind’s solution to its many problems would not be total renunciation from technology but “in attaining some degree of independence of it.” Thus, he called for a day of rest from that technology. Reiner calls for the same. To that end, he gave his own students an assignment to take at least four hours away from all social media. After the experiment one student wrote that she “hadn’t felt so light in years.” It remains to be seen if students will automatically learn better due to such a sabbath, but it does seem a more human way of living. Indeed, for those with a biblical worldview, Sabbath has always been a godly thing.

Now, after I post this blog, I think I’ll tweet a link to it, and then say something about it on my Facebook update. Grin.