2012-02-03 / Front Page

Bowdoin College students experiment with Facebook freeze-out

BY DARREN FISHELL Times Record Staff

BRUNSWICK — Bowdoin College senior Tyler Patton is searching to find his social network, without his generation’s social network.

In some ways, Facebook may be good, Patton said. In some ways, it may also be bad.

He’s not sure. But with the idea that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, Patton is encouraging students — and members of the greater Brunswick community — to test a “Mass Deactivation” of personal Facebook accounts for a month.

“Ever since I first got Facebook, I’ve been thinking about what it meant to live with Facebook and have people surrounding you living with Facebook,” Patton said.

By the end of 2011, Facebook had 845 million users worldwide, according to statistics from the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social networking giant.

A website Patton set up for the project states that the effort “is not an anti-Facebook campaign or boycott.”

The main idea, Patton said, is to find out “what it means for us to grow up with Facebook and to live with Facebook rather than placing a value judgment on Facebook itself.”

And the generation now at the small college campus, Patton said, is in a unique position to undertake such an experiment.

“If you are a Bowdoin student today, you can remember a time when Facebook did not exist; Facebook was launched in 2004,” the website states. “This cannot be said of children born within the last decade. As the last generation to know a world without the social network, it is our responsibility to ask questions about its effects upon society.”

Patton said he “deactivated” his Facebook account six months ago, but the experiment, he said, is not making a statement that life is better without Facebook.

“I don’t want there to seem that there is one right way to think about Facebook and it’s not as if your life should improve if you take part in the experiment,” Patton said. “In actuality, we don’t know how Facebook is affecting our lives, especially for our generation.”

And Patton is worried that his generation may never know what that is like.

“It could literally be the last time for the rest of your life that you and the people around you exist without Facebook,” the website reads.

Patton said he has no plans for a formal evaluation of the experiment, but will plan a discussion for participants at the end of the month-long Facebook hiatus.

So far, Patton said that word has been spreading fast around campus. As of Thursday, he had received approximately 30 email pledges from fellow students interested in deactivating their Facebook accounts.

According to the website, Patton is open to any discoveries that might arise from the project, but the site outlines social, historical, political and economic “hypotheses” that guide his interest.

Included in that, the website outlines ways that Facebook changes not only interaction with others but with oneself.

“Arguably, people today look at pictures and other representations of themselves more than ever,” the website states. “Often, when you look at yourself on Facebook, you are not looking at your true self.”

Patton outlines other “hypotheses” about the project’s findings at massdeactivation.blogspot.com, though he’s open to whatever may come of it.

“By the end of the experiment,” the website states, “all of these reasons for carrying out Mass Deactivation may be disproved or rendered irrelevant.”



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