The thought of turning off your phone for a whole week might cause some people mild panic, but this is exactly what groups of secondary school students have been doing as part of a new project to raise awareness about the amount of time we spend online.
The Reconnect Project, a screen-awareness initiative that promotes a balance of online and offline activities, has been asking school students across the country to switch off for a week in order to reconnect with offline activities.
The project is targeted primarily at secondary school pupils, but is designed to promote wider debate and conversation. It begins with a six-week scheme of work that explores issues around the use of digital technology. In the penultimate week, pupils are encouraged to switch off for seven days and then reflect on the experience.
The ethos of the Reconnect Project is not anti-technology – the benefits of online connectivity are obvious to us all. At its best, digital technology provides a valuable lifeline to the wider world. But it’s a question of balance. When pupils spend too much time looking at their screens, there is a knock-on effect in terms of health, happiness, concentration and employability. It’s not surprising that so many industry leaders in Silicon Valley (most famously the late Steve Jobs) enforce screen limits within workplaces.
Jason Badu is head of Year 10 at Capital City Academy, in North-West London, one of the schools that took part in the project. He took his students on a school trip during their week-long break from technology.
“They were talking more to each other and to members of staff,” Mr Badu says. “With their phones gone, they had to work for themselves and ask questions. They were like modern-day explorers.”
“Better conversation” was high on the list of positives reported by the 1,500 pupils who have participated in the project so far. They also reported improvements in family life, sleep and homework, amongst other benefits.
Although they spent an average of three hours a day on their screens, a significant number of the pupils who took part said they were regularly online for six, seven or even more than eight hours a day before the project. Many believed they were “addicted” and were surprised to find that spending time offline wasn't as hard as they anticipated.
“The internet is an amazing tool for enhancing your access to information and the world; it becomes a problem when it replicates life itself,” says Reuben, a 17-year-old participant.
By opening up these issues for discussion, the Reconnect Project hopes to encourage pupils to become active users rather than consumers of technology.
The Reconnect Project is currently looking for more schools to pilot the six-week initiative in the summer term. For more information, contact email@example.com or visit the Reconnect Project website
Erin Cotter is the creator of Reconnect. Pictured: students from The Studio Academy, Liverpool