Monday, February 24, 2014

Social Media and Social Accountability

            I'm taking a class this semester that my university calls a "capstone." It's supposed to combine everything you've learned in the liberal arts classes in order to give your college experience a nice climax. Or something, I'm not really sure, since most of my liberal arts classes applied to my simply humongous major. I do really like the class I'm taking, though, as it focuses on aspects of critical thinking and modern social issues. As an exercise, the professor asked us to give up any electronic device for 24 hours, and write a paper on our experience. I went a little above the requirements, so I'm going to share it here.

            In my own personal experience, the fast was only difficult in times of silence. The morning, especially, before I was ready to go about my day. I did my 24 hour period from 10am Friday (when I don’t have any classes) to 10am Saturday. In the morning, I ate breakfast and realized that I didn’t know where I was supposed to be looking. Without my phone or computer, I just stared lamely at the kitchen table. We don’t subscribe to a newspaper, and the books I'm reading are on my Kindle.
            Going about my day, I listen to a lot of music. When I’m cooking, or shaving, or folding laundry, I’m usually playing iTunes on my laptop. So without any electronics, these tasks became unusually silent, and even a little disconcerting. I wrote 12 handwritten pages of creative fiction since I didn’t have Microsoft Word, and it took me over an hour to transcribe everything back into the computer.
            The oddest feeling in the whole day was that I never knew what time it was. I don’t have a clock anywhere in my room, so I would have to walk to the kitchen in order to see the microwave clock. Time seemed very elastic since I wasn’t always checking my phone.
            Once the day got going, though, things got easier. Working out (although I had to do it without my iPod and hear my stupid labored breathing) and running errands are a good use of time that doesn't necessitate an electronic device. I just wish that the weather was warm out. Spending a day outside seems like a good companion exercise to a 24 hour electronic dry spell. Unfortunately, it's still freezing cold.
            The most revealing aspect of the fast was not my experience, but from others' reactions. I’m in a sociology class right now, Social Inequity. The class itself seems more like a graduate-level class, with very cut-and-dried readings from theses and other extremely academic sources. My professor has to explain just about every major point that the readings convey, because the students really don’t get any information from their own reading. This is all to introduce a topic that I did understand my first time around and have begun to notice all around me; social accountability nets.
            Social accountability nets are basically the process that keeps us “doing” our identity. For example, it’s what keeps girls girly, and men masculine. It would show up if a previously manly man ever wore a dress, because all of his friends would bother him about it and peer pressure him into acting more “manly” again. They try to force him back into his identity.
            I found the same interactions happening the day I did my e-media fast. Trying to tell people that I would be unreachable for the next 24 hours or that I didn’t see that thing on the internet always drew confused looks. Everyone asked why, and most even went as far as to get mad at me for giving up electronics for only a day. I realized that part of my identity as a 21st century college student was to always be available and always be online. When I stepped out of those pieces, I was shedding the entire identity, and the people around me tried to put me back in.
            I’ve seen it more so lately because I gave up alcohol for the month of February. Nothing problematic, just a nice exercise I’ve begun doing to give up something I like every month. January was video games, and March might be social media. But my identity as a college student demands that I drink alcohol at some point. Watching people struggle with the idea that I willingly am not drinking for a month, just because, is an odd experience.
            The E-media fast reinforced many things that I already knew deep down. I listen to a lot of music, I’m never without contact, and that I’m probably on my phone too much. But the most revealing thing I learned is that millennial college student is an identity that comes with many rules. Always be available for contact, always be online, and above all else, drink. I don’t begrudge the people who make up my accountability net, they’re not doing this maliciously. They’re so wrapped up in their own identities that the thought of shedding one or two pieces of it seems foreign.