Part of the upper campus as seen from Penrose dormitory.

Beirut: Students from the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences of the American University of Beirut (AUB) participated in ‘the world Unplugged‘ experiment, led by Dr. Jad Melki, an assistant professor of Journalism and Media Studies at AUB,  and a faculty member of the 2010 Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change in Salzburg, Austria.

Before conducting the Unplugged experiment, Prof. Melki discussed the parameters of the study with his students, and as Prof. Melki said, “Students were concerned with being out of touch with friends and family.  Some students freaked out.  One student couldn’t last without his/her cellphone for more than two hours and tearfully asked for it back. Two students refused to give up their cell phones, but promised not to use them.”  In a subsequent conversation with the students after they completed the 24-hour experiment, Prof. Melki noted that “Many students expressed frustration and admitted to an addiction/dependency, but almost all of them were thrilled about the experience and were willing to do it again, as it opened their eyes to alternative activities they can do.”

University background: The American University of Beirut has a population of about 8,000 students.  It is an urban university located in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.  The students mostly come from affluent backgrounds.  The campus has many classrooms with computers, as computers and Internet access are often necessary for coursework.  Nearly every student has his/her own cellphone.

Students’ experience: Unlike most students at other universities, who were at best reluctant to participate in the study, of the 20 students in Prof. Melki’s Digital Media Literacy class at AUB, 18 participated (though only 17 documented their experiences).  All of the students did the experiment from November 30 at noon to December 1 at noon.  This high turnout is quite surprising, especially given the fact that students at AUB had one significant qualification added to their assignment: not only could they not use their cellphones, their cellphones were confiscated during the experiment.  Prof. Melki described the confiscation of cellphones as “akin to removing teeth.”