Jennifer Smith Maguire, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Production and Consumption at the School, outlines the motivation behind an experiment-in-abstinence undertaken by some of her freshman tutees.
As a relative newcomer to the School, I’ve spent much of the past year thinking about what it means to teach ‘Critical Management Studies’ (CMS). Across the modules I could spot the usual (unusual!) suspects on the reading lists (e.g. Marx, Foucault, Bourdieu, among others), as well as a variety of exam and essay questions which challenged status-quo thinking about power, markets, and ‘the good.’ These have long been features of my own teaching and have made the migration with me from the Media and Communications Department into the School of Management. My teaching this year, however, has also included small group tutorials with first year Management Studies students, a quite unconventional pedagogical context unencumbered by assessment, untethered from reading lists, and ostensibly open to experimentation with the ‘Leicester model’ of management studies.
The impetus for this blog is provided by one such group. Inspired by our first semester discussions of the nature of critical management studies (e.g. http://youtu.be/vvIVrnnDrAI) and reflections on having participated in November’s ‘Buy Nothing Day’ (http://www.buynothingday.co.uk), the students were given the challenge of identifying a taken-for-granted mode of behaviour and designing a strategy for disrupting people’s usual habits and thoughts about it. Towards this end, they organised a social-media-free-day. Over to Yetunde Murphy and her respondents, to whom we should all be very thankful for these reflections. I’ll close with my own at the end of the post.
The ‘Social Media-Free Sunday’ took place on the 2nd of March as a means of encouraging the University of Leicester community to abstain from social media for a whole day (specifically, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). Our objective was to evaluate how the use of social media impacts on the quality of communication and flow of information. Would friends, for example, have a better conversation face-to-face or on the phone, that is to say, without social media? Would people feel uninformed about their surroundings without regular notifications from social media sites? These were the sorts of questions we were interested in exploring from the outset. Three themes characterized the reflections of those who took part:
1. It is very difficult to give up social media. Participants described the task as seeming ‘unachievable’ and‘tedious,’ and having to prepare themselves for a day without social media. For example:
It’s harder than you think. On a Sunday when there is nothing planned to do, no work or uni, and the weather is bad it is inevitable social media will be used.
Kaleb Patel, BA Management and Economics
Initially, I found myself checking my phone frequently and almost logging onto the social media sites, about once every five minutes due to my usual habits. So I engaged myself in other activities such as study work and going for a walk with some friends to keep me away from going on the computer or going on my phone to check my news feed.
Sneha Sagar, BSc Mathematics
The day led me to realise that social media takes up quite a significant amount of my time. I felt I had to keep checking myself not to go on these sites more often than not. I quickly came to realise that it is a tool that offers more than just a social environment. It creates a means of communication.
Jacob Ofosu-Koree, BA Management and Economics
2. There are advantages to freeing up time by taking a break from social media. Some participants mentioned having long conversations with those nearby: something that they would not normally have made time for (or been free to pursue, uninterrupted). For example:
I managed to have a meaningful conversation with a flat mate and complete two pieces of work. I do not feel that not having access to social media for one day made a dramatic change in my personal communications and relationships to others, but if it was two days or more, I believe it would have encouraged me a lot more to be interactive with those around me to avoid boredom.
Yetunde Murphy, BA Management and Economics
When I stop spending time browsing social media websites, I realized that I have a lot more time to work on other things such as studying, writing my internship application and socializing with my friends. The absence of social media provides me with some bonding time with my flatmates, which improves the quality of our friendship.
Ashley Khor, BA Management and Economics
3. For most, giving up social media represented a loss of communication and connection. Feelings of being ‘distant’ and cut off meant that participants had a renewed appreciation for the benefits of social media. For example:
I learnt that these are in fact helpful tools that increase productivity and ease communication. It’s not about allocating certain windows of time to use social media, rather, using them in conjunction with your work to make your day move as liquid as possible.
Rohan Kapoor, BA Management and Economics
I feel that it would have really helped if we got more people involved, mainly because I feel that one person alone couldn’t benefit from this day. Instead, it just made a person feel isolated. Overall I managed to learn more about how much I really depend on social media and what its benefits are.
Dania Ahmed, BA Management and Economics
I realized that social media has a major effect on my daily interactions and has become necessary in my life. Just the mere fact of being so distant from my relatives requires me to rely on social media. Our campaign increased my appreciation for the technology and made me value more the interactions I have both online and offline.
Kay Mbizule, BA Management and Economics
Following the ‘Social Media-Free Sunday’, the tutorial group reflected on the two-sided coin of social media: a tool to enhance communication by sending information to those not around you, and an obstacle to (or tool to avoid) communication by personal contact. We also considered the strengths and weaknesses of our experiment, and what is involved in intervening in people’s usual behaviour to encourage critical reflection. Lessons learned included:
- It was a difficult task to do by oneself – it would be more effective with as many others as possible doing it as well.
- Telling people what not to do is vague – it would be better to emphasize what people could do, to make the task more specific and allow participants to fill the void with something other than old habits.
- Testing out the task helped us to see how feasible it is and how to improve if we were to develop it into a large-scale campaign and inflict it upon others!
For social media luddites like me, a Social-Media-Free-Day was something of a non-event! Nevertheless, for students who blithely refer to mobile phone ‘addictions,’ the prospect of giving up Social Media for a whole day represented a significant challenge, as we can see. That, of course, was precisely the point. In attempting—successfully and unsuccessfully—to intervene in typical market behaviour, the students got their hands dirty with the task of ‘doing’ critical management.