The eQuality Project’s Valerie Steeves was approached by a group of eight teens working with Queen’s researcher Valerie Michaelson. The teens were interested in exploring the impact of their own media use on their sense of connection to themselves, to others and to nature. At their request, Steeves presented the findings of our Decision-making and Privacy Project to them and they decided they wanted to take action, to better understand their own networked environment.

The group decided to go on a one-week media fast: avoiding social media platforms, Internet browsing (except for schoolwork), texting (save for their parents), and listening to music with headphones. They discovered that their social media use had blurred the lines between their public self-presentations and their private lives and relationships. They also discovered that taking a break from social media gave them a chance to spend more time with friends and family, get their home work done well in advance, ‘think deep thoughts’, and spend more time outside. After the fast, they chose to cut back on some disclosure practices (such as feeding Snapchat streaks) and were much more deliberate and thoughtful about the information they shared online.

The group was excited by what they had learned, and wanted to share their experiences with other young people. Steeves and Michaelson worked with them to create a three-minute video entitled #DisconnectionChallenge detailing their experiences, and the surprising results of their week-long media fast. In the video, they challenge other youth to undertake their own media fast in order to determine the effects that lower media consumption would have on them, and to see how disconnecting can have its upside.

The video was launched in Kingston in August 2017. Numerous media outlets, including: CBC Radio Ottawa Morning, CBC News Ottawa, Global News, Kingston Whig, Queen’s Gazette, and The Toronto Star covered the launch, and interviewed Steeves, Michaelson, and all eight teen members of the group. We have since been contacted by three community groups interested in using the video in their work with children, including the YWCA (an eQuality partner).