Jeff Hancock likes to give his Stanford University students weekend assignments that let them experience concepts discussed in class for themselves. Before 2008, he would sometimes challenge his students to stay off the internet for 48 hours and then discuss how it affected them. But when Hancock returned to work in 2009, after a year-long sabbatical, things had changed.
“When I tried to introduce the task, there was a class revolt,” says Hancock, who studies the psychological and social processes involved in online communication. “The students emphatically said the assignment was impossible and unfair.”
They argued that going offline even for a weekend would prevent them from completing work in other classes, ruin their social lives, and make their friends and family worry that something terrible had happened to them. Hancock had to concede and cancelled the activity – and he’s never attempted it again. “That was 2009, and now with mobile as present as it is, I don’t even know what students would do if I asked them to do that,” he says. “They’d probably report me to the university president.”