Teens Go Tech-Free: No Facebook, Texting for One Week

PHOTO Teens Go Tech-Free: No Facebook, Texting for One WeekPlayFacebook

Facebook and texting are like food and water for modern-day teenagers. They think in status updates, check e-mail before brushing their teeth and fall asleep while texting.

But, this week, students at two rival high schools in Washington state are taking a trip back to 1995: no Facebook, no texting, no e-mail, no Instant Messaging. Except for emergencies, they don't even plan to use their cell phones.

In a social experiment somewhat inspired by the movie "The Social Network," the teenagers are competing to see who can last the longest without any of the modern-day communication tools that define their lives.

Trent Mitchell, a video production teacher at Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, Wash., said that soon after the movie "The Social Network" came out, he chided his students for paying more attention to the cell phones in their hands than their classmates by their sides.

"I jokingly said, 'You guys couldn't go a week without social networks and texting,'" he said. "And one of my students [said] 'we should do that.' And about half the class cheered and about half the class booed."

Ultimately, the half of the class that cheered won out and managed to convince not only classmates at their own school, but students at their rival high school, Shorewood, to participate in the experiment.

Student: Posting on Facebook Is Second Nature

Mitchell said about 250 students and teachers at each high school are planning to go tech-free for the week. Students who survive the week – and don't get caught by the "Facebook spies" who are monitoring students' online habits – stand to win prizes donated by businesses in the community. Students in his video production class are filming the experiment and will create documentaries out of their footage.

Nate Matthews, 17, a senior at Shorewood High School, said that even one day into the experiment, he's realizing that old habits die hard.

"When I woke up this morning, I had a thought and my first impulse was to post it on Facebook," he said.

Matthews locked up his cell phone at home so that he wouldn't be seduced into peaking at texts, but said, "It's weird not to have something in my left pocket."

Students Delete Facebook Apps, Ask Parents to Change Passwords

He also said that for the first time in his seven-month relationship with his girlfriend, he had to ask for her home phone number. And, worse yet, he said he'll have to endure the circa 1990s awkwardness of asking the parents if he can talk to his girlfriend.

"She always has her cell phone on her. Why would I call her home phone and have to talk to her parents?" he asked. "I like her parents but it's an awkward [conversation] that I've never had to do until this week."

Katelyn Lahair, the 16-year-old Shorecrest junior who first took Mitchell's challenge seriously, said she warned her Facebook friends about her weeklong commitment Sunday night, with the update: "Bye Facebook, see you next week."

Lahair said she's keeping her cell phone with her in case something comes up, but deleted the Facebook application so that she wouldn't pull it up out of habit because, usually, she's on the site, "like all day, every day."

To keep herself from caving into temptation, Olivia Hepburn, a 17-year-old junior at Shorecrest, said she plans to leave her cell phone with Mitchell during the school day. But she's also contemplating asking her mother to change her Facebook password so that she won't even be able to sign in.

"It's going to be really hard to survive the week," she said.

Teachers Want Students to Reflect on New Tech - the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

But their teachers -- who were actually once classmates themselves -- hope that the experiment encourages the students to think about how technology influences their lives -- for better and for worse.

"Having witnessed how student behavior, and human behavior, has evolved since the time that both [Mitchell] and I were in high school, things have changed dramatically in the life of a high school student and how they communicate with one another," said Marty Ballew, the video production teacher coordinating the experiment at Shorewood High School. "We want to encourage students to reflect on the impact of technology -- the good and the bad and the ugly."

The students are competitive about the experiment, especially since the two schools have long been locked in competition. But they're also open to personal lessons too.

"I figure I can do it and it won't be that hard. And if it is that hard, I'll probably have to re-evaluate my relationship with these things," said Shorewood student Matthews. "I want to prove to myself, as I think I will that they're an addition to my life, not an addiction."