Could you give up your cell phone for a semester? The Oregon Extension is a one-semester liberal arts college program located at an old logging camp in the mountains of southwestern Oregon near Ashland. As they describe it, “Daily reading, small group discussion, and one-on-one conversations with faculty members comprise the heart of the OE program.”

When students enroll they agree to limit their use of technology including televisions, laptops, and cars. This also includes giving up their cell phones during the week while they are on the mountain. In a post titled “Community,” they explain their reasoning this way:

One of the most effective means toward creating a refreshingly alternative atmosphere has been our policy of limiting the use of cell phones for students and faculty alike. We ask that you ‘check’ your cell phone with us when you arrive. We store your cell phone safely, and return it to you for use during our week-end town trips and during our trip to San Francisco. Public phones and email are available for your use while you are on campus, and the OE has limited web access for necessary functions like college registration, travel reservations or required research. You are welcome to take your laptop into Ashland on weekends, where you’ll find free access to high-speed internet connections.

They have posted some responses from students who gave up their phones for the semester at “OE students reflect on a semester of limited cell phone access.” Some comments include:

“During my time at the OE, I wrote a lot of letters and made a good amount of phone calls. While they were inconvenient methods compared to a cell phone, they made me more aware and appreciative of my relationships.”

“I know if I had my cell phone on me the whole time, I would have been more focused on things going on at home than on getting to know my classmates, having amazing conversation with my cabin mates, and enjoying the incredible experience at hand.”

“I had to admit I liked living without my phone. I didn’t feel stressed or pulled in so many different directions.”

I found this interesting because in my Social Problems course this past spring, when talking about technology and its impact, I coincidentally suggested that  students either give up their cellphones or go on a Facebook fast for just a weekend. I suggested that by doing so we might learn something about our taken-for-granted practices. I ended up with no takers, but we did have some interesting discussions about how much we take technology for granted and a few examples of people who’d  found themselves without their phones or computers for some reason or another and found it to be an enlightening experience.

Don’t forget, the next International Shutdown Day is May 1, 2010.

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