April 9, 2013

More Than 100 Students Vow to Ignore Phones for Three Days

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If a friend doesn’t respond to your Facebook messages this week, he or she may be one of more than 100 Cornell students who have pledged to disconnect from technology for three days. The commitment is part of a social experiment by CU [dis]connect, a student-led project that aims to encourage face-to-face contact on campus and beyond.

Participants have vowed to spend three days without cell phones, Facebook or any other social media platforms and to actively participate in face-to-face conversation, according to Rudy Gerson ’15, founder of the project and a Sun columnist.

“Our goal is to see what happens when technology is out of the picture — from changing how we see ourselves to noticing more things on the way to class,” Gerson said.

The event, which will run from Wednesday to Friday, will include several events during which participants will discuss the impact of technology and social media on their lives and community. According to Gerson, CU [dis]connect is working with Cornell Minds Matter, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Science and Technology Studies, Coffee Hour, the Ask Big Questions fellowship program, a fellowship that supports those who promote civil discourse on campus and the Student Assembly to fund, promote and oversee the event.

The project’s goal is not to discourage the use of technology or social media entirely, but to encourage students to reevaluate their relationship with technology, according to Gerson.

“We’re not anti-technology or anti-email. We just want to look at the effects of hyper-connectivity, especially in regards to smart phones,” Gerson said.

Around 100 Cornell students have signed the online pledge, and many others have expressed views sympathetic to the group’s goal of promoting conversation on campus, according to Gerson.

“I think CU [dis]connect is a great idea. It’s remarkable how often we pass each other and fail to say ‘hello’ or even offer up a smile. I’m guilty of it too. … Being able to disconnect from your phone and email — even if only for a few hours — can help you feel way more integrated into the Cornell community,” said Cristina Lara ’14, who said she will be participating in the event.

Some students say they feel that social media and texting can actually facilitate friendship by overcoming physical distance and inconvenience.

“Many assume that the use of phones and social media inhibits meaningful conversation and relationships, but I say that in many ways it does exactly the opposite,” Mark Yoon ’16 said.

Others felt the project was simply infeasible for the average Cornell student.

“It makes sense in the context of social media, but many Cornell students need to check their email for academic and professional purposes,” Thora Bjornsdottir ’14, said.

If the project proves to be popular with Cornell students, Gerson said he hopes the three-day event will blossom into an annual tradition.

“We’re waiting to see the reaction, but personally, I’d like to see it become a yearly event. But it won’t happen if the buzz isn’t there. We want to see that something’s been gained from it all,” Gerson said.

Original Author: Christopher Yates