is a great protector of reputations
since all places one cannot go
are fabulous, and only the rare and
enlightened plowman in his field
or on his mountain does not overrate
what he does not or cannot have.
-From the poem Doing Without from Gathering Firewood, 1974
Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT Copyright 1974 by David Ray.
It is somewhat paradoxical that we require each student in our Emerging Media graduate program at Loyola University Maryland to spend a short time doing without technology, to go on a digital detox. This is a hard task for working adults, but nevertheless, the exercise serves the purpose of teaching students how important technology has become in their everyday lives. It’s a real struggle to do without: you feel at a loss, disconnected, unable to participate in not only work, but in the daily activities we have grown accustomed to doing like texting, Facebooking, and tweeting, among others.
In a world that relies so heavily on technology, it feels like a real sacrifice to do without. While the 1974 David Ray poem was written before there was an Internet, as we know it, the passage does serve as an allegory for the choices we make and the implications of those decisions. The goal of our little exercise is to, as the poem above suggests, reinforce that technology is something we choose to use in our everyday lives, and the feeling of loss—while swift and immediate—dissipates in a short while. Indeed we can do without. We can do quite well. But that’s not the point: the fact that we can get along without technology doesn’t mean we should.
A secondary purpose of our exercise is to reinforce to our graduate students, who will leave our program as thought leaders and managers of communication programs for businesses, non-profit organizations, and government, that new and emerging media are not to be taken lightly, even though we may take them for granted. We need to be mindful of what we are doing and perhaps imposing on others; and we need to be ethical and moral in the ways in which we use new and emerging communication technologies on behalf of the organizations for which we work or will work. Going through a digital detox has been demonstrated elsewhere; this is not something new. But in the context of graduate education, we believe it is a practical way to drive home an important message to individuals who will be consumers of new and emerging social media and those individuals who will produce and disseminate content.
Neil M. Alperstein, PhD
Professor and Director MA in Emerging Media
Loyola University Maryland