The Freeway Flyer: When Did Free Time Become Facebook Time?

By Jenny Ortiz

You’re on it now, aren’t you? Okay, don’t admit it. I will: I’m on Twitter. Even though I checked my feed before I started this blog, I am now compelled to check it again. I’ll check both Twitter and Facebook a few more times before bed…and, chances are, so will you.

On the first day of classes and on every campus, I explain to my students that the world isn’t going anywhere and for the time the class meets they can tear themselves away from checking their friends’ status feed or sending an @reply to their significant other. Here’s the thing: as soon as class finishes I, like my students, check my phone for updates!

As I travel from one campus to the other, I find I have time to kill and recently I’ve found myself checking my Twitter feed or looking up friends on Facebook. Before I grade that stack of papers, I have to write a status about it. Writing an essay or lesson plan is impossible for most without a screen open to see what is going on with the people they know or at least they know through their social networking page of choice.

What has happened to discipline and focus? When I ask my students what the attraction is of social networks or at least why do we need to check it every twenty minutes, they can only shrug. I get guesses at best: addiction, procrastination, multitasking…

Go into the adjunct offices or to the faculty labs and most of the computers will be on Facebook, Twitter, or even Tumblr.  Some teachers have even created accounts specifically for their students to interact with them. I suppose that’s a productive way of looking at social networking, but after every log-in and half hour of mindless searching, I wonder: isn’t there anything better I can be doing with my time. Or at least a better way to procrastinate?

There was a time when professors grumbled about how much time their students spent adding friends and commenting on photo albums; now, it seems they too are finding the quick entertainment seeping into, not only their daily lives, but into twenty minutes of every hour.

College is supposed to be the quintessential social network for everyone on campus. Students interacting with their peers, and faculty engaging with students are becoming obsolete. Everyone, myself included, is hunched over to look at their cell phone screen. As a Freeway Flyer, I get to experience, or am supposed to experience, a diversity of college culture and am allowed to interact with people on an intellectual level. Conversations are focused on academic pursuits, not how much fencing you bought on Farmville.

However, the more time I spend on each campus, the more heartbreaking it becomes as I realize that everyone on every campus is doing the same thing: retweeting a Charlie Sheen quote.

The other day, I had a meeting with a student on a project she is interested in pursuing. For two hours neither one of us checked Twitter or Facebook. We focused on the task at hand and it was refreshing. It reminded me why I’m willing to travel from one campus to another: to experience brilliance from my fellow colleagues and my students.

I’m not saying all social networking is bad; on the contrary, Twitter keeps me up to date on the crisis in Japan and how I can help, it’s helped me keep tabs on my friend who is in the hospital, and it even helps me make plans with other adjuncts for group grading.

With everything, there needs to be moderation. Rather than preaching the evils of overdrinking, perhaps colleges need to start preaching the evils of continuously refreshing the status feed.

How can colleges take back their socializing? More homework? Mandatory clubs? Denying access of social networks on campus? What are your thoughts. Have all campuses become the same: slaves to the @reply and iLike buttons? Don’t forget to @reply your comments to my Twitter page!

About the Freeway Flyer: Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious 24 year old New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off  earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun).  When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream.  If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on fictionatwork.com, Blink-ink.com, Jersey Devil Press, dogeatcrow.com, Eighty Percent Magazine and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/jnylynn.

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