John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Let’s Try Going Wire[LESS]!

October 16, 2013John N. GardnerInsights0

John N. Gardner

I wrote a post some time ago in which I suggested campuses needed to create some intentional, designated spaces for quiet, private, reflection, contemplation, solace and sanctuary. Good thing I don’t earn my living writing this blog. My thoughts on this topic did not land me a best seller.

But I persist anyway. And this is prompted most immediately by a conversation I just had with a man in his thirties who was telling me about his recent ocean cruise with his wife. He told me it was so different having electronic disconnectivity (is that a word?) forced upon them by exorbitant rates on the cruise ship for wireless internet connection at the rate of 85 cents a minute. I asked him what they did in lieu of using their electronic devices and he replied that they drank and ate “a lot more.” He also related that when they entered the return harbor “about a thousand passengers rushed to the outside uppermost decks with their laptops and smartphones to get reconnected.” This recounting came the day after three of my colleagues had given me very specific feedback on what they described as my “practice of a twentieth century communication style” which they defined as retaining a curious fondness for actually talking on telephones, and writing e-mail messages that included a salutation, conclusion, paragraphs, compound complex sentences. So there is not a day that goes by when I don’t have some reason to think about how it is that we are connecting (or not connecting) these days and what are the consequences related thereto. This also leads me to reflect on what it might be like if we weren’t so “connected.”

Let me take that a step further. I would be very curious to see what would happen if a campus would declare, say, one day a term as a Wire[less] Day—a day when, except for medical and safety emergencies, no one use electronic communication. What would we do? How would/could we communicate? The expected norm would be that instead of sending a fellow student, professor, staff member a text or e-mail we would actually seek them out and speak to them. In order that the day is spent productively so that employees would not be paid for doing no observable work, the day could be set aside for in person convenings, discussions, and forums.

What a bonanza this would be for researchers! They would have a ready made laboratory to study what would a college community do in the absence of its now preferred modes of communication. Just how would people communicate? Would people expend more calories because they had to walk somewhere to speak to someone? Would roommates actually “talk” to each other? Would we find, as has been the case in studies of the New York City Blackout, and loss of TV cable in rural areas, that people (in this case the students) were more likely to have sex?

John, that’s going too far. But such is the gift of my academic freedom.

I am very serious though. I think that we ought to try a Wire[less] Day. I hope at least one place will and let the rest of know how it went and felt. My prediction is that others would want to try it.





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