Two Days Without Cell Phones and iPods

You’d think my USC students would really think I’m an SOB for giving them an assignment (worth one-third of their semester grade) to stop using their cell phones and iPods for two days. They pick the days. But that’s of little consolation.

This is a generation that lives on their cell phones and is never far from from their iPods.

At first, the majority of my students were less than thrilled, but today and Wednesday they will stand up before their classmates and report back what happened when they went cold turkey. Hell, USC is in LA. We detox well in this town. Why not a 12-step program for cell phones and iPods if necessary?

Unfortunately, I’m not kidding.

And my students have since warmed up to the idea (especially when I offered to substitute another term paper instead).

Seriously, these brave students are intrigued with the idea of what their lives would be like without the two things that seem to define their music media lives the most.

Two weeks ago there were only four holdouts. And there was one doubter a week ago – a student from New Jersey. Wouldn’t you know? But now she's on board and ready to bite the bullet.

Perhaps you can see why I love these young students. They are so full of life and so open to ideas that they would actually be disappointed if I pulled the assignment. And they are also smart – very smart. One student said, “Professor Del Colliano, are you going to give up your cell phone and iPod, too”.

Hell no, I thought. I’m the professor! But after thinking about it, how could I not take the challenge as well. (I have already served my two days of abstinence but I'm holding my comments until I hear from them).

Just what am I trying to get to?

If, as I believe, the future of the music-related media is on the Internet and delivered through mobile devices, we need to test whether this digitally-stressed generation can take more stimulation. Are they suffering from digital stress (I say yes, and I’m with them a lot). Just look at Blackberry users (forgive me if you are one but I’m going to insult you) – do you want to really live like that? Well, my students are just like you when it comes to being addicted to their mobile phones and music devices.

If we’re going to send more video to their iPods and digital devices, can the market take it? Are their young lives on overload because they’re always listening to music, online, texting and interacting through online social networks?

The Wall Street Journal made me more legitimate Thursday, October 11 when it reported companies like Deloitte & Touche and Intel were imposing a ban on email on Fridays. The article describes the uprising that ensued. The limits were imposed to force more face-to-face interaction. The results as documented in the Journal article were positive.

You can’t look at just technology today. You’ve got to study the sociological implications of technology. Just as television changed a generation, the computer has changed another generation and what’s ahead is more changes with mobile and online availability.

Now, video, audio, text and social networking is all converging around devices smaller than the channel knob on those first television sets.

I am expecting some insightful reports from my students and if enough of you want to hear about the results, I will write about it in a future piece.

We’re now at the corner of technology and sociology. Which way do we proceed?

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