The “Unplug” Experiment




BACKGROUND Sociologist Bernard McGrane is noted for having designed a series of experiments that are widely used in teaching sociology students. In the 1990s, he conducted the famous “Un-TV” experiment, which he asks students to “watch” TV without turning it on. While these experiments may appear simple at first, the ideas they highlight are very sophisticated. Students are required to use a beginner’s sociology mind and set aside all their prior judgments, opining and even experiences. This helps to achieve an unusual level of consciousness about a particular aspect of their everyday lives. This assignment is inspired by the “Un-TV” experiment but lets you decide which form of media technology you’d like to unplug from. It should be something that regularly takes up your time and attention and that might actually be hard for you to give up. For most people, the most ubiquitous device in their world is a smart phone, but you could also choose a computer, music player, or a tablet, or some other media format you use a lot, like cable TV, radio, or video games. Think about how long you can go without using this technology or device on a typical day (or longer). If you’re like many people, even a few hours away from your phone or computer screen might seem like a very long time. How are you going to feel when you can’t text message, watch video on YouTube, post pictures on Instagram, or check your newsfeed on Facebook? We take these technologies for granted and cannot imagine our lives without them – but maybe life would be better! What are some of the benefits of unplugging? When we detach from our devices we also get to disconnect from the overstimulation that comes from living in a media-saturated world. Can just a few hours of being unplugged reduce anxiety, dependency, fatigue, and information overload? Or does unplugging make you feel even more stressed out? That’s what this experiment is designed to reveal. A great part of the difficulty of this experiment is actually getting yourself to do it. But even more so, it can be a challenge to confront your own habits and dependencies on a deep level. The “Unplug” experiment asks you to do just that.


Choose a media technology for the experiment. What’s important is to create an impact by turning it off. Is the time period you determined adequate in length to produce meaningful results?